One Year On: Ladakh still awaits Development

Photo by Chaitanya Maheshwari on Unsplash

On 5th August 2020 Ladakh completed one year as a Union Territory (UT) of India as a result of last year’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. Now, the new Union Territory of Ladakh consists of two districts of Kargil and Leh.

Ladakh although strategically significant has not received the required development projects over the years. People from Ladakh alleged that the development funds provided by the Government of India were majorly used in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and they had hardly received any help. Therefore, for achieving economic development of Ladakh they had been proposing to make them a Union Territory.

Last year the proposal was accepted and Ladakh became one of the UTs in India. On this occasion, people from Ladakh celebrated a new ray of hope in their lives. Some of them were worried about the ecology and culture which they felt should be preserved despite of the progress they make. They aspire to have basic services such as education and health care institutions in Ladakh. 

This integration aimed at benefitting the citizens of Ladakh through application and implementation of Indian laws and various developmental schemes like Saubhagya, PM Ujjwala Yojana, Ujala, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Ayushman Bharat, PM Kisan, and so on. There has also been a push to implement pension and scholarship schemes, including special minority scholarships. 

Last year in October, former J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik had said that the UT status given to Ladakh will be the harbinger of employment and development. “Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh will open new doors for employment and development in the region”. 

However, the ground reality seems contradictory. The students and activists have claimed that not even a single job advertisement has been released in the last one year for which they can apply and get the job. The administration has been hiring people but the youth of Ladakh do not necessarily possess the education or skills necessary for the job. Therefore, they find it difficult to get a job. 

Moreover, recently the Ladakhi youth had to protest for seeking equal job opportunities for the post of PO in the J&K bank. Their requests were denied on the basis of eligibility as the criterion to apply required J&K domicile. 

While lack of employment opportunities are posing a serious challenge to Ladakhi people, one relief is that Ladakh soon will have its first central university. 

On 20th July 2020, Government of India has approved the first Central University in Ladakh as at least 10,000 Ladakhi students have been forced to enrol in educational institutions outside the UT. Barring engineering and medical education, the proposed university will offer degrees in all courses including liberal arts and basic sciences.

According to the HRD ministry’s proposal, the Ladakh Central University will also cater to students from Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh once the Rohtang La tunnel opens this year and ensures round the year access to Leh via the Jispa-Sarchu-Upshi route. The university will have a Centre for Buddhist Studies to cater to the largely Gelug (to which the 14th Dalai Lama belongs) and Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhist population of Ladakh.

Likewise, there is a dire need to set up health care facilities, basic infrastructure and jobs in Ladakh so that people need not have to travel for fulfilling their basic requirements. 

Other than these requirements, people feel that the rules and regulations should be in place to avoid confusions. “This is why there is so much anxiety. It’s been a year since the state of J&K was partitioned but the rules and regulations that have come are so confusing. There is no coherence. Naturally, some Ladakhis will demand an amendment to the J&K domicile law because they don’t know what the future holds for them,” said a Ladakh resident, who lives in Srinagar.  

Thousands of Ladakhi families live, work and own businesses in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir. If there is a domicile law in Ladakh, these families will most likely have to make a choice between opting for Ladakh or J&K. Residents said they will choose Ladakh even as they admitted that limited opportunities in the region will complicate their lives.

Currently, keeping aside the development they aimed at, Ladakhi people are suppressed between COVID-19 and border challenges. For locals who have seen the 1999 Kargil War, the build-up is familiar but the lack of information is only adding to the tension.

The surge in positive cases has led to a re-imposition of lockdown rules. Shops and vehicles can now only function on an odd-even basis from Monday to Saturday, while Sunday is meant for a complete curfew. The re-imposition has meant that business has been severely hit during peak tourist season, which is already low due to the pandemic. Ladakh saw a footfall of 2.3 lakh tourists last year.

Therefore, there is a pressing need to create employment for the development of the region. Therefore, the first point of focus should be reducing the gap between the jobs demanded by the administrators and the kind of jobs supplied by the youth of Ladakh. 

To create employment opportunities, Ladakh should adopt the ‘bottom to top’ approach. One way to do it could be, the administration undertaking a survey focusing on skills possessed by the Ladakhi youth and accordingly find and match their skills with the jobs. Secondly, this young population can be provided on-the-job training rather than not giving them the opportunity to prove themselves. Lastly, the tourism sector has been creating many jobs and entrepreneurs in Ladakh. A boost to encourage young entrepreneurs through schemes such as Mudra Yojana loan scheme to start a business should be initiated and promoted on a large scale.

These measures can help the youngsters to find jobs locally and expand their livelihood opportunities. Through necessary actions, the Government of India is showing that Ladakh is an integral part of India, would not be left behind in the development process. Nevertheless, these steps need to reach the people and also match with their aspirations and dreams. 

In the year 2005, a document titled the ‘Ladakh Vision 2025’ was created after receiving relevant information from all the stakeholders in the development process of Ladakh. It envisioned various sectors such as agriculture, IT and communication, health, infrastructure and their use for growth and development of Ladakh. 

Now it’s high time that the document is re-created for Ladakh.  For all-purpose and intents, the newly created document should match the aspirations for economic growth and development of today’s Ladakhi people and take into consideration the needs of future generations. 

Vaibhavi Pingale

Vaibhavi Pingale is an independent economics researcher based in Pune. She holds the Masters in Economics from Symbiosis College and is pursuing a Masters of Development Studies from IGNOU. She has varied interests such as labour and development economics, macro and international economics, public policy and governance.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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