By Tashi Lundup, Murtaza Fazily and Sunetro Ghosal, Stawa 09-19
On 9 August, Government of India declared that the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 will come into effect on 31 October. In his televised address to the nation on the issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the abrogation of Article 370 as historic. “The people of J&K and the people of Ladakh were denied rights…Both Article 370 and 35 A were being used a weapon by Pakistan against India. No one could say how these two articles were helping the people of J&K and Ladakh and there was never any discussion on how these articles were having negative effect on the citizens of the state. Both J&K and Ladakh have not seen much development,” he explained. He also tried to assuage concerns with assurances that J&K will not remain a UT for long. “As J&K will see more and more development, I do not think it will remain a UT for long. Ladakh will remain a UT,” he added.
In Ladakh, the response continues to be mixed. MP from Ladakh, J.T. Namgyal said that the development has restored the cultural identity of the people of Ladakh. Speaking to All India Radio, he said, “There is not a single person in Ladakh who has not been part of the movement for UT status. Finally, Ladakh has been freed from the rule of the Kashmiris. Article 370 had put a doubt on our identity as Indians. Secondly, laws and schemes launched and implemented in India were not extended to J&K and Ladakh due to Article 370. There were 106 central laws that were not implemented in the state. This impeded the development of the state.”
CEC of LAHDC, Leh, Gyal P Wangyal said he is elated. “I do not have words to describe how happy the people of Ladakh are today. We have been demanding freedom from Kashmir for the last 70 years,” he added.
Former Ambassador, P. Stobdan termed the development as ‘a divorce between Ladakh and Kashmir’. He said, “We should be happy about divorce with Kashmir and celebrate. We got the UT without a fight or arguments with Kashmir. It isn’t an ugly divorce and we should be happy about it. We must be clear that the granting of UT did not happen just because the people of Ladakh wanted it, but also due to national interest. The centre had to strengthen the place because of India’s relation with China and Pakistan.”
The response in Kargil was starkly different. Kargil remained shut for many days till Eid and section 144 of CrPC has been imposed in three tehsils of the district with severe restrictions on the internet. CEC of LAHDC, Kargil Feroz Ahmad Khan said, “We opposed the reorganisation of the state and our demand was divisional status. Article 370 was meant to safeguard our interest. Now, our safety and security have been diluted. We have been protesting as we never demanded UT and do not favour the bifurcation of the state.”
His views echoed that of former CEC of LAHDC, Kargil, Qamar Ali Akhone, who said, “Our identity is related to Article 370 and it safeguard our rights. We are nationalists too. When the Principal Secretary visited Kargil, he asked us why there were protests. We replied that we are against the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A. There was no need to impose section 144 as Kargil is not a troubled area and we were protesting peacefully.”
This was echoed by President of Islamia School, Kargil and Chairman of Joint Action Committee in Kargil, Sheikh Nazir Ul Mehdi, He said, “Our main connectivity with the outside world is through Kashmir. Each time faces chaos, we also get affected. The Principal Secretary mentioned that Kargil has a reputation of being peaceful. We replied that we could not understand why we are always ignored. If our demands are taken into account the situation will improve.” He criticised the imposition of Section 144 of CrPC in Kargil. “There is social unrest and disorder when people are deprived of their rights. We wanted to protest peacefully but Section 144 was imposed in Kargil. We don’t even have the opportunity to protest. Who will be responsible if the youth turn to sloganeering and stone-pelting as the government deprived us of the right to protest peacefully?”
Others like former MLA from Kargil, Asgar Ali Karbalai said this is the first time in history that a state has been reduced to UT. “We have already lost a lot land and families due to Partition and we don’t want further divisions. We are shocked that the centre implemented UT without even consulting and understanding our aspirations. The alienation of the state should be stopped before anger turns into hatred,” he added.
He criticised J.T. Namgyal for distorting facts in his speech in the Parliament. “He mentioned that Buddhists are in majority in Ladakh and has communalised the region. According to the last census 50% of Ladakh’s population is Muslim. He said that 70% of Kargil are in favour of UT, which is not true. He also knows the reality but gave the speech to please his lords,” Karbalai added.
When asked about this, J.T. Namgyal said, “During my speech I said a majority of the people of Ladakh, including Kargil district, are in favour of UT. Just because few percent of people do not favour UT does not mean that the whole region is not supporting it.”
A youth from Kargil, Najum Ul Huda hoped for a more judicious approach to the issue and called for a critical evaluation of UT. “It appears desirable now but its drawbacks may emerge later. We live in a democracy and have the right to disagree. We must use legal channels to protect our rights and understand all the issues at stake.”
The questions of disagreements
There are misgivings about UT in Kargil and it has observed several rounds of protests. Assistant professor at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Muzaffar Hussain argues that the lack of dialogue on UT between Leh and Kargil has led to misunderstandings, “Fissures appeared in the movement due to electoral competition. After the hill council was empowered, UT became electoral rhetoric. A dialogue was needed between the two districts but it never happened and the movement never gained a pan-Ladakh appeal. Kargil has been presenting its own counter rhetoric of ‘Greater Ladakh’ to mark its distinct presence in wider political discourses on the issue of J&K. Ladakh remains divided in its political aspiration and its articulation.”
Qamar Ali Akhone lamented the lack of clarity on various issues. “Things would have been different if the state had remained a state. Now Ladakh has become UT and we will have to protect our interests. We will lose institutions like the hill council if we go with J&K as it is also a UT. We have many reservations and need to understand how UT will impact us. We have framed a Joint Action Committee in Kargil to understand these issues and discuss Kargil’s future course of action. This committee has representation from all political, religious and social organisations in the district,” he added.
Kargil-based journalist Sajjad Hussain explained that Kargil has always had to fight for its rightful share. “We were cheated during the university issue. We demanded a central university and Leh was given the cluster centre. The same thing happened with divisional status. We have been forced to demand our rightful share. As we look back, the divisional status was a fraud and it has been dissolved before it was established.”
However, fissures are starting to emerge in Kargil’s political unity. In a significant development, senior leaders from J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Kargil hailed the abrogation of Article 370 as they joined BJP at an event in New Delhi on 26 August. This included MLC chairman, Hajja Anayat Ali; EC Mohd Ali Chandan; Councillor; Mohsin Ali; President of Municipal Committee, Kargil; Zahir Hussain Babar; District President of PDP Kargil, Kacho Gulzar Hussain, PDP Youth President, Asadullah Munshi; and senior PDP leader Mohd Ibrahim.
When asked, Kacho Gulzar Hussain explained that it was done for the development of Kargil. “It’s a hard reality that the decision [Article 370] cannot be revoked and in the current political landscape, BJP seems to be the only viable option for the development of Kargil. PDP has an illustrious history bit it has lost its importance. We want to begin a new chapter of development in Kargil.”
The question of legislature
Most people are concerned that Ladakh will be a UT with legislature. Former CECof LAHDC, Leh, Rigzin Spalbar said, “Everything announced by the Home Minister was fine, except that we did not get a legislature. Now it will still be hard for us to frame our own rules but we will fight for it.”
According to Article 240, President of India has the power to make regulations for a UT without legislature. A UT with legislature elects it MLAs, but does not have a Vidhan Parishad or upper House. The final decision rests with Lieutenant Governor, who is appointed by the centre.
Former President of District Congress Committee, Leh, Tsering Samphel feels that UT with legislature would have been better for Ladakh. “We were demanding UT with legislature. However, getting UT is a historic decision. Now, Ladakh will get equal opportunity to represent and express views in building the nation.”
Former Cabinet Minister, Tsering Dorjey Lakrook explained that UT with legislature would have created more problems between Leh and Kargil. “The government did not want a repeat of the protests seen after divisional status was granted to Ladakh.”
Former MLA from Leh Nawang Rigzin Jora hailed the decision to keep the LAHDC intact. “It would have been a cherry on the cake if we were given UT with legislature. Thankfully, we still have the hill council. It is important that we chalk out the powers of L-G and CECs to avoid a power struggle.”
Najum Ul Huda felt there is a lot of ambiguity on these issues. “We must study case such as the rift between the L-G and the elected governments in Delhi and Puducherry. We need to understand it better and find ways to safeguard our rights.”
When asked about representation, J.T. Namgyal responded that the absence of a legislature will be compensated by the presence of the hill council. “The LAHDC Act will be amended soon to define the roles of the CEC and L-G,” he added.
The question of protection
People in Ladakh have also expressed concern over land transfer and ownership, which J.T. Namgyal acknowledged. “There is concern over land transfers under UT. I can assure you that the LAHDC will be intact and the power to transfer land rests with it.” We checked the LAHDC, Act, 1997 and Section 42 under chapter VII says, “Save as otherwise provided in this Act, all land within district, on the constitution for the first Council, shall stand transferred to such Council.”
There is still remain fears of potential misuse. Sonam Angmo, who is pursuing a PhD from Jammu University, explained that centre can still order land transfers. She explained, “If big industries ask the centre for land, it could tell the L-G to force the LAHDC to comply.”
Furthermore, several companies have declared their intention to invest both UTs. Similar Maharashtra government has stated that it will build a resort in Ladakh, while individuals are exploring the possibility of buying land in Ladakh.
When asked about protection of land ownership, J.T. Namgyal said Ladakhis fear that investors from outside will hurt their business. “If Ladakhis feel that they can sustain tourism on their own then it’s fine. However, business is not limited to tourism. We also need to encourage other sectors. We can always add a clause that land cannot be sold to outsiders and ensure that they employ a certain percentage of locals. But saying that we won’t let them enter Ladakh will hurt us,” he added.
Stanzin Phuntsog, a teacher by profession, spoke about his concern for the environment. “We are ecologically fragile. What will happen to our environment if we allow industries and mining?” he asked.
J.T. Namgyal has given assurances that future projects will have to be ecologically sustainable. “The concerns are genuine and we are collecting feedback to prepare policies. Every scheme or policy that will come to Ladakh UT will have to sensitive to its ecosystem. Otherwise we will not encourage them,” he added.
There are similar concerns about employment opportunities with several people wondering if they will now have to compete at the national level. J.T. Namgyal dismissed these fears, he explained, “The competition for UPSC will remain the same. However, competition for the district cadre will now be limited to Leh and Kargil districts.”
In addition to concerns, the current vagueness has become a fertile ground for rumours and misinformation. For instance, there were reports by Press Trust of India that a Group of Ministers (GoM) has been constituted by the centre to look into development, economic and social issues of the two UTs. Later, an official spokesperson said the information was incorrect. Even later J.T. Namgyal said that a committee will be constituted once UT comes into effect to oversee division of resources between the two UTs. He said, “The committee will study this issue for six months and submit a report to Home Minister, who will then issue an order within a month.”
In response to the concerns being raised by people LAHDC Leh issued a circular on 17 August to constitute a committee to consult stakeholders and prepare a report for the centre. The committee includes CEC Gyal P Wangyal, Deputy CEC, Tsering Sangdup, ECs Phuntsog Stanzin, Mumtaz Hussain, and Konchok Stanzin, MP Ladakh, J.T. Namgyal, former Cabinet Minister, Tsering Dorje Lakrook, former Ambassador; P Stobdan, former IG of Police, T. Phunchok, and Councillors Phuntsog Dorje; and Tsering Angchuk. Also from 2 September, it is also sending a team of councillors, politicians, government officials and NGOs officials to visit UTs and consult experts.
The question of identity
After the centre’s failure to give UT with legislature, there is a growing demand to declare Ladakh as a tribal area. CEC of LAHDC, Leh said, “Our only demand is that Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution so that our land is protected.”
On 17 August, J.T. Namgyal submitted a memorandum to Union Minister Arjun Munda stating Ladakh is a tribal area where 98% of the population are recognised as scheduled tribe and demanded recognition under the Sixth Schedule. The minister has promised to look into the matter.
J.T. Namgyal said, LAHDC will have the authority to transfer land. However, recognition as a tribal area under the Sixth Schedule will help protect our land business.”
His view was echoed by Sheikh Nazir Ul Mehdi who said, “Our land and employment opportunities must be protected as a tribal area. Whatever benefits we derive from UT will be irrelevant if we are not able to protect our identity and culture.”
By Tashi Lundup and Murtaza Fazily, Stawa 07-19
Ladakh is famous for its beautiful landscape, which attracts thousands of tourists each year including bikers and motor enthusiasts. However, road safety is emerging as a major issue in Ladakh with an increasing number of fatal and non-fatal vehicular accidents. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid now when they hear of road accidents, head on collisions, and drunk driving. While roads are an important aspect of physical connectivity, what has turned them into death traps that claim many lives each year?
The dramatic increase in the number of vehicles in the summer seems to be one factor that has contributed to the increase in road accidents. In the tourist season, thousands of tourists are concentrated on the two towns of Ladakh and the volume of traffic increases dramatically. There is a related increase in the number of accidents and fatalities.
Senior Superintendent Police (SSP), Leh, Sargun Shukla said, “The quantum of traffic increases in summers. For instance, suppose we have three vehicles plying on a road each minute in the winter, this number increases to 42 vehicles per minute in the summer. This is a significant difference. The commercial traffic in winters is almost zero, whereas the road is full of commercial vehicles in the summer. We have commercial taxis, two-wheelers, and big vehicles on the road in the summer.”
Once the Leh-Srinagar and Leh-Manali roads open in the summer, there is a sudden influx of vehicles in Ladakh, especially bikes. Hundreds of bikers visit Ladakh each year. Unfortunately, some of these bikers meet with road accidents some of which turn out to be fatal. According to the data available with District Police Headquarters, Leh, a total of 52 First Information Report (FIR) related to road accidents have already been registered till June this year. As many as 25 people have died and 80 injuries were recorded in these road accidents. In 2018, 128 FIRs were registered in Leh district with 32 deaths and 142 injuries. In 2017, 82 FIRs were registered and 36 people died and 123 were injured in road accidents in Leh district. In comparison, the number of accidents recorded by District Hospital, Kargil is much lower. We were able to get data for 2018 and 2019. In 2018, fiyr major accidents and 39 minor ones have been recorded with four death. In 2019, three major accidents and 42 minor accidents have been recorded with one fatality.
Dr Tsering Samphel, Medical Superintendent, Sonam Norboo Memorial (SNM) Hospital, Leh said that a majority of the accident cases in Ladakh involve bikers. ‘A large number of these bikers are from outside Ladakh,” he added.
According to J&K Traffic Police 31 and 25 cases of road accidents were recorded in the months of April and May this year in Leh and Kargil districts respectively. The number of persons in this period was 58 and 36 for Leh and Kargil respectively. As many as four people died in road accidents in Leh in April and May compared to two deaths between January and March in Leh district. Total number of road accidents from January to March was seven each in Leh and Kargil.
Dr Tsering Samphel confirmed the dramatic difference in accident incidents in summer and winter. He said, “We receive an average of one accident case at the SNM Hospital in Leh in winter. The number shoots up in summer due to the influx of tourists and tourist activities. A majority of these cases involve two-wheelers.” This is evident in the hospital records that show that nine road accidents victims were admitted to SNM Hospital between January and April this year. The number increases to 44 in May and 49 by the third week of June. Two deaths each were registered in May and June. Dr Tsering Samphel explained, “These figures are for patients with major cases who were admitted to the hospital. There are numerous minor cases in which the victims get a medical check-up and treatment in the OPD. So the actual number of road accidents will be much higher if you take major and minor cases into account.”
A similar pattern is evident in Kargil too, though the numbers are comparatively lower. Senior surgeon at District Hospital, Kargil, Dr Sajjad Hussain explained, “In road accidents we find injuries to the head, neck, spine, and limbs. Some injuries are life-threatening and require immediate attention.”
Playing with lives
Besides the seasonal changes, rash driving and negligence are two major causes of accidents in Ladakh. According to the 2011 Census, Leh has a population of 13,487 individuals and Kargil is home to 140,802 people. Leh averages a little more than seven persons for each registered vehicle. According to the J&K Motor Vehicles Department, a total of 17,979 vehicles were registered in Leh district till March 2018, including 6,510 cars, 4,010 two-wheelers, and 3,487 taxis. Kargil had a total of 6,525 vehicles registered till March 2018. If the number of second-hand cars is included then the total number of vehicles in Ladakh would easily exceed 20,000. This number is relatively high in the context of Ladakh. However the manner in which people drive is a bigger concern than the number of cars.
For instance, Stanzin Nurboo, a driver by profession, expressed fear of rash drivers. “I am scared of driving in the night. I see young kids driving rashly and trying to overtake others without following any traffic rules. Even when I have some important work at night, I think twice before stepping out.”
SSP Leh Sargun Shukla acknowledges that a majority of the accidents occur due to rash and negligent driving. “We book culprits engaged in rash and negligent driving under relevant rules. We are not only taking punitive action but also trying to increase awareness level among the people. We are now recommending cancellation of license for rash driving and negligence so that it serves as a deterrent for violators. Issuing challans (fine invoice) for ₹500 does not seem to work as an effective deterrent. Drivers must understand that the purpose of such sanctions is to instil a sense of responsibility and safe driving in people. The District Police is trying to balance preventive, punitive, and educative actions,” she explained.
In addition to rash driving, SSP Kargil, Dr Vinod Kumar mentioned that road engineering also contributes to accidents. “We focus on spreading awareness and enforcing various rules. We also conduct police-public meets and ensure that police posts sensitise drivers.”
Recently Assistant Regional Transport Officer (ARTO), Leh suspended the route permit of a driver who had hit a pedestrian and caused grievous injuries. During the investigation, they found out that the driver was driving without a license. When asked about the provision of cancelling a license, Khadim Hussain, who serves as ARTO for Leh and Kargil, said, “The driving license is permanently cancelled in drunken driving cases. If the person is a criminal then the concerned SSP can forward the case to cancel the license. In the past, there was no way to test passengers till they submitted the form. Now, every applicant has to clear an examination before receiving a learner’s license. They can apply for a permanent license only after six months.”
The ease with which people get driving licenses also contributes to the rise in road accidents. Khadim Hussain explained that road safety remains the top priority of his department. “On numerous occasions, I have requested the government to make it mandatory to conduct thorough verification of each applicant. Trends are changing in traffic-related acts and the process of getting a license should not be easy,” he added.
Ignorance of traffic rules has emerged as another factor that contributes to accidents in Ladakh. This includes over-speeding and use of mobile phones while driving. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), drivers who use mobile phones at the wheel are four times more likely to be involved in accidents.
Phuntsog Angmo, a teacher by profession, rued the fact that there is little traffic sense among people. “A majority of the drivers don’t use seatbelts while most people drive while speaking on their mobile phones. People do this despite knowing that it is against the law. They quickly disconnect the phone and immediately put on the seat belt when they see the traffic police. We must remember that these rules are for our own good,” she said.
At the same time, under-age driving has also emerged as a factor in many accident cases in both districts. These minors take the wheel without full knowledge or experience, which poses a huge risk to other drivers and those accompanying him or her.
SSP, Leh, Sargun Shukla confirmed this trend. She said, “There are several accidents cases involving minors. There is a provision in the Motor Vehicles Act that if a minor is caught driving a vehicle then the owner of the car is liable for prosecution. I personally feel that parents lack awareness about this issue. In some cases they are ignorant as well as arrogant. Some parents buy cars for their children simply because they have the money. We are trying to address the ignorance and arrogance through counselling. One has to provide counselling to the parents and the child. Merely issuing challans will not reduce the number of accidents. We also need to address things such as road engineering designs, improve driving skills and increase awareness among people. One needs to have a holistic approach to improve road safety.”
In addition to this, people need to ensure that vehicles have the necessary safety features. For instance, Dr Sajjad Hussain said, “Parents should be concerned about their children. They must discourage their children from riding and driving without a license and awareness of safety issues. People should ensure that their vehicles are fitted with air bags and use seatbelts and helmets to reduce the risk of injuries in the case of accidents. It is very disheartening to see children dying at such a young age.”
Khadim Hussain suggested that drivers must be forced to undergo training in safety and etiquette. “In Srinagar and Jammu, our department has initiated a programme to train drivers about driving techniques and etiquette on the road. A proper syllabus is drafted for that purpose. In our country, it is very easy to get a license, which needs to change,” he added.
He also linked traffic discipline with the social values and culture. “Good traffic discipline shows that the people of an area are cultured and have certain social values,” he explained.
Shortage of traffic police
Another factor that has contributed to the number of accidents is the shortage of traffic police in Ladakh. As a result, many traffic violators manage to escape punishment. The District Police in Leh and Kargil have been trying to bridge this shortage by deputing police-persons on traffic duty. However, when an accident occurs, the police is unable to record the human, infrastructural, and vehicular aspects that play an important role in each incident. Sargun Shukla said that she has been stressing on the shortage of staff from the beginning of her tenure. “The district police is trying to provide as much support to them as possible. I had sent a proposal to recruit more staff in the traffic division. After the recent recruitment process, traffic police have finished their training and are reporting to their respective battalions. I hope we will be able to manage traffic better with their help,” she explained.
In addition to this, SSP, Kargil, Dr Vinod Kumar felt that there is a need to involve social and religious organisations to spread awareness about road safety. “Different stakeholders like social and religious organisations must help sensitise about violating traffic rules. Violators are risking their life and that of others. Traffic violations account for a maximum if crime cases in Kargil. We can reduce the number of accidents and causalities only by sensitising and enforcing the law,” he added.
Religious scholar and Vice President of Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, Sheikh Bashir Shakir echoed Dr Kumar’s suggestion. “We must raise issues related to traffic rules during religious sermons and congregations. Then people will recognise them as legal as well as a moral issue. We do advice people to follow traffic rules? In fact, we had planned a programme on this topic last year but it did not materialise,” he added.
Poor design of roads
As mentioned by several people during the investigation, bad maintenance and poor road designs are also major factors that contribute to road accidents. While a lot of effort is invested in designing roads in urban areas and national highways, roads in remote areas in Ladakh are poorly developed with unattended hazard zones. The death of four members of a family on the Khaltse-Batalik road in June 2019 underlined the cost of poor road design. The four of them were travelling in a car to Gumta area when their car went off the road and fell into the Indus.
A similar accident claimed lives of six members of a family close to the same spot between Takmachik and Domkhar in November 2017. Sarpanch of Domkhar, Tsering Namgail reported that there have been three major accidents near Takmachik village in which all members of the respective families were killed. “The main problem is that the road is very narrow. Furthermore, some patches of the road need to be repaired and widened. There is an urgent need to double-lane some stretches of the road, especially where there are blind turns. Right now, the road is a single lane even along the blind turns, which increases the risk of accidents. I am very concerned about the situation along this road. Our councillor has already submitted a request to the Governor to address this issue. However, most roads in Ladakh are maintained by Border Road Organisation (General Reserve Engineering Force or GREF) and we request the governor to take up this matter with the relevant officials,” he added.
In the wake of these accidents, safety barriers have been installed along some stretches of the road. However, this will not mitigate the risks till the road is widened. Councillor from Lamayuru, Morup Dorje confirmed that he had written to the governor about widening the road between Batalik and Khatltse. “However, in the short term we need to install safety barricades along the road. I intend to meet the Chief Engineer of GREF once I hear back from the Governor as they are responsible for this road,” he added.
Meanwhile, in response to the dramatic increase in road accidents and fatalities, the state government introduced the Jammu and Kashmir Safety Council Act in 2018. This act advocates the formation of a State Road Safety Council. According to the bill, the proposed council will be responsible for ensuring road safety across the state and to advice the state government about safety measures. The council, headed by the Minister of Transport, will be involved in charting safety policies, enforce road safety standards and conduct awareness programmes. However, this remains on paper and nothing has so far materialised on the ground.
By Tenzin Jamphel, Stawa 01-19
The “Dog Menace” in Ladakh is definitely something! It has been popping up in different media platforms over the last few years. Even the people at the BBC made a brief feature on this issue, which somehow undermined its real purpose. I noticed that many people shared the BBC report on social media less out of concern and more out of excitement. After all, how often does BBC say anything about Ladakh? So what if they portrayed Ladakh in a bad light!
More seriously, we do have a grave problem on hand. Initially, we could have dismissed them as isolated incidents. However, the number of incidents has continued to grow steadily and pattern that has emerged is too gruesome to ignore.
I remember being chased by dogs on numerous occasions when I was much younger. This was fairly normal for me as my neighbourhood was notorious for large stray dogs that lurked in every corner. I remember my friends being reluctant to visit my home due to the presence of these dogs. In fact, some of my friends are still reluctant to visit me even now. Though the probability of getting bitten by one of these dogs has been fairly high, I have somehow managed to dodge them so far. Fingers crossed!
Since I was familiar with my neighbourhood, I was able to work out details such as when, where and how many dogs I was likely to encounter during each journey. I would use this information to dodge them rather effectively. And of course, a little running to the right place at the right moment always helped! I don’t remember a single night that could be considered as ‘peaceful’. Stray dogs are quintessentially the background score in the old quarters of Leh town (old town). It is difficult to imagine that the king lived here at one time!
Well, I seem to have a charmed life when it comes to avoiding stray dogs. Others have not been as lucky. Very recently, a friend of mine was about to be mauled to death by 12 dogs at three in the afternoon. Right here in Leh town! She was miraculously saved by a passerby and suffered multiple injuries as one can imagine. The incident has not only traumatised her but also shaken up her family and friends. I understand that one of her younger cousins was also attacked at the same location some months earlier.
So, who should we blame for this incident? I don’t think you can blame the dogs. They are vicious animals and are expressing their natural instincts. At the same time, you cannot blame my friend either as she was attacked at three in the afternoon!
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, India accounts for 36% of the world’s death from rabies each year. This is a matter of concern. Luckily, there have been no recorded outbreaks of rabies in Ladakh. Nonetheless, around 30 to 40 cases of dog-related incidents are reported to SNM hospital each month. Animal Husbandry Department estimates that there are more than 5,000 stray dogs in Leh town alone with one rescue shelter in the entire district.
I have seen catchers trying to capture dogs with a large net and fail miserably. The local authorities have been under tremendous pressure over this issue for a while now but the wheels of bureaucracy turn at their own pace.
Most media reports simply distribute blame along with unsubstantial opinions. Many just simply ask, “What is the government doing?” I personally think that the government could have done a better job at neutering the animals. If they had started an animal birth control programme a long time ago, we may not have been in this situation today.
Spaying and neutering are said to be the most effective methods to control the population of stray dogs. In such programmes, male and female dogs are captured, vaccinated, and sterilised and then released in the location from where they were caught. Once they have been neutered, these dogs tend to become calmer and more importantly are no longer able to reproduce. If I am not mistaken, this was done in Leh town about two years back but only on female dogs. Alas! I see more dogs today than ever before! What is really happening here?! I have come to realise that there are no instant solutions to this issue. Yet, there are small things that each of us can do to help address this issue.
For instance, there are plenty of open garbage bins across Leh town, which attracts dogs. In fact, stray dogs thrive around these bins. We must remember that dogs are happy to scavenge. Even a dog of immaculate pedigree will happily feed from garbage if given the chance! So, it is really important to manage our garbage better. Hold on to your garbage if you see that the bin does not have a secure lid. This problem is especially acute in old town, where many people throw their wet waste from their window. We seem to be creating our own mess and the problems that come with it! We must learn to use those loud and annoying trucks that come around to collect wet and dry waste.
Some people would say that killing the dogs will help solve the problem. Well, first of all, killing dogs is morally wrong and also illegal. More importantly, it has proven to be utterly useless and ineffective in controlling dog numbers. In fact, WHO claims that this strategy does not have any significant impact on managing the population of stray dogs.
Why don’t we create more animal shelters for them? Well, the Live to Rescue Centre, which was started in 2014, is the only active animal shelter in Leh district. To me, this seems to be too little for a place that has so many feral dogs roaming around. These dogs have been known to not only attack people but also wild life. Many of these dogs need to be neutered and rescued!
In addition to this, the most important factor that we need to change is our attitude towards dogs. I have seen people chucking large stones at them for no apparent reason. Similarly, there is a misconception that feeding stray dogs will add to the problem. Overall, dogs live on garbage and handouts do not make a significant difference. In fact, the gentler you are with them, the friendlier they become. It is our aggression towards them that literally comes back to bite us later!
Lastly, most of us are rather obsessed with adopting pure breed dogs. We seem to have forgotten that stray dogs are amongst the oldest breeds and remain best suited for our weather conditions. They are also one of the most loyal and friendly dogs I have seen. Unfortunately, we have come to regard them as ‘street dogs’ and refuse to think of them in any other way. If we were to start adopting these dogs instead of buying expensive dogs, we could significantly reduce the chances of getting bitten by them. As a compassionate society, each of us can start by adopting one dog at a time.
By Murtaza Fazily, Stawa 01-19
Over the last few months, the demand to grant Divisional Status for Ladakh has gained momentum in Leh and Kargil. In fact, the CECs of the two Hill Councils met J&K Governor, Satya Pal Malik and submitted a memorandum reiterating the demand. In December, both Hill Councils passed a resolution to create a “better administrative set-up” for the region.
A delegation from Leh led by CEC of LAHDC, Leh Jamyang T Namgyalmet Governor Satya Pal Malik, Advisors Vijay Kumar and Kewal Sharma and Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam to demand the granting of Divisional Status for Ladakh. Similarly, a delegation led by CEC of LAHDC, Kargil, Feroz Khan met the Governor and Advisors to demand Divisional Status for Ladakh.
CEC of LAHDC, Kargil Feroz Khan said “While we oppose the trifurcation of the state, we have been demanding Divisional Status for Ladakh. It is good that Leh is also supporting this demand. The UT demand is a political issue, while the Divisional Status is an administrative one. The two districts must work together for Divisional Status. We can resolve our differences over issues such as UT later.”
In November, LBA organised a rally to demand UT status for Ladakh. At the rally, President of LBA, Tsewang Thinles said, “The UT demand has been pending for more than 60 years. The leaders in Kashmir cannot decide the fate of Ladakhis. We have been forcefully kept under Kashmiri rule. We want to stay with the central government.”
In response to the growing demand to grant Divisional Status to Ladakh, Governor, Satya Pal Malik said that the administrative would decide if this was in the interest of the people of Ladakh. “It has been a long-standing demand from the people of Ladakh and they will evaluate its merits and demerits before taking a decision,” he added.
Governor’s rule has been a boon for Ladakh as the Hill Councils were granted during such a period in 1995. More recently, Governor Satya Pal Malik announced cluster university for Ladakh. Ladakhi leaders are hopeful that Divisional Status will also be granted in this period.
State Secretary of BJP Yuva Morcha, Mohamad Hasan Pasha said, “The leadershipof the two districts have to work together for Divisional Status and very stakeholder must join to ensure that Ladakh gets its rightful share in development.”
The recent demand for Divisional Status has pushed the UT demand into the background. However, Jamyang T Namgyal said that there will be no delusion of the UT demand. “This will strengthen our quest for UT. Right now, all our proposals have to be sent through Kashmir and are identified as Kashmiri. We have a distinct identity and Divisional Status will strengthen our demand for UT.”
Long pending demand
The UT demand goes back to 1947. After the Instrument of Accession was signed, a delegation led by Kalon Tsewang Rigzin met Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to submit a memorandum in 1949. Jamyang T. Namgyal explained, “We want to free ourselves from Kashmir and work directly with Government of India. It will take a few years to achieve UT status as the government cannot grant it so easily in the context of Article 370, Article 35-A and terrorism in Kashmir.”
In 1964, Ven. Kushok Bakula led an agitation demanding North East Frontier Agency-type administration for Ladakh. Another agitation took place in 1974 under the leadership of Lama Lobzang, Thupstan Chhewang and Tsering Samphel. The demand reached a fever pitch in 1989 just as militancy was taking root in Kashmir.
Former president of District Congress Committee, Tsering Samphel said that there is no substitute for UT. “Divisional Status cannot substitute UT. I understand that Divisional Status will bring some relief to the people of Ladakh but we must not forget the larger goal of UT.”
Implication of Divisional Status
The demand for Divisional Status gained momentum after the resignation of MP from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang. He accused the state and central government of not being serious about addressing the issues faced by the people of Ladakh. In the wake of this, the two Hill Councils raised the demand of Divisional Status for Ladakh. Divisional Status will be granted by J&K Government, while UT can only be fulfilled by Government of India. It is assumed that administrative autonomy will benefit the people of Ladakh.
If Divisional Status is granted, separate directorates will be established in Ladakh along with a separate police zone. All promotions will be done in Ladakh instead of having to go to Srinagar for such issues. However, the Divisional Status will not serve any purpose if it fails to recruit Ladakhis for the newly created posts. Tsering Samphel said, “Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges today. I hope they recruit Ladakhis for the new posts that will be created in the new Division.”
President of PDP, Kargil, Kacho Gulzar Hussain argued that Division Status is necessary for Ladakh due to its unique geography and social structure. “Ladakh will benefit immensely.” The establishment of a Divisional Commissioner is expected to strengthen the regional aspirations of Ladakh. Former Indian Ambassador, P. Stobdan has written in the media to explain, “Currently, only a DC-level officer exists in Leh and Kargil and they report to the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir. The Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir supervises 12 districts including Leh and Kargil. Having a separate Divisional Commissionerate in Ladakh will go a long way in meeting the regional aspirations of the people.”
Problems and politics
In December, Governor Satya Pal Malik hinted that he was considering Divisional Status for Ladakh. This was greeted with varied reactions. BJP welcomed the news, while PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti declared, “If the governor is giving Divisional Status to Ladakh then he should also extend autonomy to the Pir Panjal and Chenab regions. If not, we will be forced to agitate peacefully against this move.”
Senior Congress leader, Dr Karan Singh responded by saying that Mehbooba Mufti was trying to divide the Jammu region along communal lines. He released a statement to say, “The attempt to link this [Ladakh] matter with some Pahari areas in Jammu is an unfortunate effort to divide Jammu on communal lines. This is wrong and is in no way connected with the Ladakhi demand.”
When asked about the PDP’s stand, Kacho Guzar Hussain explained that Mehbooba Mufti’s statement was misinterpreted by the media. “She said that Ladakh deserves Division Status while also highlighting the need for a similar framework for Chenab valley. It was the PDP that gave special powers to the Hill Council. How can she oppose any development for Ladakh?”
Congress favoured the creation of a separate division for Ladakh but raised doubts on the timing of the move. Jamyang T Namgyal responded by saying party workers in Ladakh must brief their leaders on the issues faced by Ladakh. “The Government of India and the Governor seems to have been discouraged by these reactions. Why are these parties interfering when someone is doing something good for Ladakh?”
There is a lack of clarity on how Divisional Status will impact the Hill Council. Tsering Samphel said that there might be protocol issues and warned that the Divisional Commissioner may overshadow the Hill Council. Jamyang T Namgyal countered this by saying that the Hill Councils are already dealing the Divisional Commissioner without any problems. “Moreover, the Hill Council is governed by LAHDC (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which does not mention a role for a Divisional Commissioner. They will function in their own domains.”
Another big challenge is the location of the headquarters once Divisional Status is granted to Ladakh. This question gains importance in the light of the protests in Kargil after the office of the cluster university was located in Leh. President of the National Conference, Kargil, Hajji Hanifa Jan explained, “We support Divisional Status for Ladakh but oppose the UT issue as we do not want to divide the state. People in Leh know that UT cannot be achieved and use it as a political gimmick during elections.”
This was echoed by Vice Chairman of Religious Affairs at Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, Kargil, Sheikh Bashir Ahmad Shakir. He said, “In the present political context, we cannot undermine the integrity of the state by demanding UT. However, we must fight for Divisional Status as this is our right and easily achievable.” Others like Mohamad Hasan Pasha did not oppose or support UT demand as it was not achievable under Article 370.
Thankfully, the demand for Divisional Status has brought Leh and Kargil on the same platform. Kacho Feroz Khan said, “When a decision is taken to grant Divisional Status for Ladakh, we need to give some thought to the location of the divisional headquarters to ensure that Leh and Kagil are not pitted against each other.”
Recently, BJP’s National General Secretary, Ram Madhav tweeted that several pending bills for J&K will be cleared once President’s rule is imposed in the state. He wrote, “Understand d order is awaiting proclamation of President’s Rule which is before d Parliament. As soon as that happens several pending bills in J&K will be cleared, I was told.”
Jamyang T Namgyal welcomed this and said that BJB supports the people of Ladakh. “I am very optimistic that Divisional Status will be granted to Ladakh soon.” However, Chairman of J&K Legislative Council, Hajji Anayat Ali was less enthusiastic. “Once President’s rule is implemented I fear that Divisional Status issue will go to the centre and get delayed further. Whatever happens, we must maintain political unity in Ladakh.”
By Reuben Gergan and Sunetro Ghosal, Stawa 05-18
Electricity supply in Leh is notoriously unreliable though it seems to be relatively stable in Kargil this year. A resident of Leh explained, “Sometimes we do not have electricity for hours… How are we supposed to work when most appliances need electricity? Sometimes there are power surges that burn these appliances. I have spent thousands of rupees to replace and repair these appliances. The person at the repair shop claims that this is commonplace.”
In response to such complaints, we spoke to various stakeholders involved in Leh’s power sector. This helped us understand the complex issues related to electricity supply and measures needed, and being taken, to resolve them.
Supply and demand
As expected, the Nimoo-Basgo Hydroelectric Project does not generate sufficient electricity to meet the demand during periods of peak consumption such as the winter. We were not able to speak with anyone at National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC-Leh) but sources in Power Development Department, Leh (PDD) confirmed that power generation is sufficient to meet the average summer demand. However, energy demand continues to increase and Leh will continue require more power along with more efficient management of transmission and distribution.
Supply issues of hydroelectric power
Most power generated and consumed in Leh is derived from non-polluting and renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric power. However, over-reliance on hydropower has several challenges, especially the seasonal variation of water discharge. Thus, lower temperatures in winter simultaneously increase demand for electricity to meet heating demands, even as it reduces water discharge rates. Officials from PDD, Leh explained that the current demand for Leh during winter is about 25MW over 24 hours, whil NHPC project generates eight to 10MW over 24 hours in that period. This effectively means that electricity can be supplied for approximately eight hours in that period with power cuts accounting for the mismatch in supply and demand. There is a consensus for the need to augment supply by tapping alternative sources such as solar and geo-thermal energy, and connecting with the Northern Grid.
Is Alchi project below par?
Many people argue that the Nimoo-Basgo Power Project is underperforming as it was supposed to generate 45MW but rarely does so. Various officials explained that 45MW signifies the optimum capacity of the plant, while the actual power generated depends on several factors such as water discharge. Thus, the Nimoo-Basgo power project is designed to make optimal use of peak discharge levels, while still being functional when discharge levels are low. Since a higher capacity turbine generates more power when water discharge levels are high, it reduces the overall unit cost of electricity generation and benefits the consumer. However, such a design is more efficient when it is connected to a larger grid network. Furthermore, building a higher capacity power plant makes financial sense as the cost of constructing civil structures remains constant.
Transmission and distribution networks require constant upgradation to cater to increasing demands and keep pace with technological advancements to minimise transmission and distribution losses and faults. According to a senior engineer at PDD, Leh, the distribution infrastructure in Leh needs to be upgraded. Many distribution transformers are underrated as demand has increased in Leh, while distribution poles, distribution lines, and allied equipment also need to be upgraded. Thus, systemic failures in distribution due to overload of distribution transformers also cause power cuts. This upgradation has lagged due to delayed sanctions and funding. A senior engineer confirmed that funds to upgrade the distribution infrastructure in Leh have been sanctioned under three Centrally Sponsored Schemes and the tendering process is underway to start the work in 2018.
Faults, maintenance, and surges
Sources in PDD said that faults in the transmission and distribution networks also cause power cuts. One official explained, “The recent outages are due to maintenance works but faults in the distribution network do cause unscheduled power cuts. These faults result from high velocity winds that cause wires to touch and short circuit , or trees touching the cables to cause an earth or ground fault that forces current to flow in the ground. Such power cuts are resolved once the location of the fault is detected and the maintenance workers reach the spot to repair it. The breakdown time depends on the time required to locate and resolve the fault. Power cuts that last for several hours are usually due to a major fault or maintenance work that is carried out by the PDD or by NHPC in the power plant.” He added that many maintenance issues are not anticipated by consumers, which leaves them frustrated. He confirmed that PDD announces scheduled maintenance works on the radio but did not explain why they were not using cell phone networks for their registered consumers.
The engineer also acknowledged the issue of electricity surge in Leh. “When a distribution transformer gets overloaded, its neutral line may break and lead to high voltage in one phase, very low voltage in a second phase, and no voltage in the third phase. This will be resolved once we upgrade all the equipment in the network,” he explained. He added that the department needed more line operators to monitor the load on transformers.
Shortage of staff
The shortage of staff is another issue that emerged as a major issue that affects the power sector. It directly contributes to extended periods of breakdown and recovery time whenever a fault arises. Senior officials in PDD, Leh have taken up this issue with the state government but have not received any response yet. “We definitely need more engineers and line operators in Leh,” he added. In addition, there is need for constant skill building and training activities to operate advanced technology used in the power sector.
When asked about this issue, J&K Minister for Cooperatives and Ladakh Affairs, Tsering Dorje Lakrook said that this is a problem across the state. “This is a longstanding problem across J&K. The department has been employing people on a daily wage basis and since there is no budget for it, funds are diverted from other sources, which leave no formal records. Now as the work has increased manifold, with plans to extend the current network to Nubra and Nyoma, along with new project, these people are demanding regularisation. There is an estimated 100,000 such people across the state. The state government has provided assurances that they will be regularised though the time frame remains unclear. In my opinion, we need to make manpower requirements an integral part of every new project.”
Policy framework and gaps
Power generation and distribution is further complicated by the current policy framework. Government of India usually caps capital investment cost per unit according to a national benchmark. However, in Ladakh other mountainous regions, the cost to build infrastructure and labour costs are relatively higher than the plains, thereby increasing the project cost that requires a special consideration in the current policy framework. There has been a sustained demand from India’s mountain states for specific policies that accounts for the geographical realities of these regions.
Planning, management and data gap
The power sector across India suffers from a lack of coordination in planning the development of infrastructure, which delays the development process. In addition, distribution losses occur due to power theft, which requires administrative control. Planning also requires reliable data that is often missing for remote locations such as Leh. For instance, we do not have long term data of water discharge in rivers in Ladakh. In contrast, there is historical data on water discharge for rivers in other parts of India and the world that go back 100 years and more. This allows for reliable calculation of long-term averages. As the demand for such data increases, feasibility studies are carried out for short periods and extrapolated for longer timeframes. Urgent steps are needed to make data collection a norm to prevent compromises in design and development of projects.
Connecting to national grid
There is a major push to connect Ladakh to the national electricity grid. The national grid has multiple sources of generation, in the event of a fault or an overload, it is able to augment the required supply. Currently, Leh is dependent on a localised and decentralised network with limited sources of power. Thus, any fault or maintenance issue leads to power cuts. A distribution engineer explained, “If we are part of the larger grid network, we can evacuate excess power into the grid and draw power when there is a shortfall.” However, being connected to the norther grid also means becoming a part of J&K’s power crisis as it has a deficit in power generation and purchases electricity from outside. According to reports, peak deficits in J&K are around 500MW in the winter. Mr Tsering Dorje Lakrook explained that these fears are unfounded as there will be a quota for Ladakh once it is connected to the grid.
Consumer level issues
Consumers too contribute to the electricity issue by using underrated equipment and wiring, while the lack of proper earthing and safety/protection devices make electrical appliances vulnerable to surges in the system. Furthermore, unregulated use of electricity and poor management at the household level multiplies across the number of consumers and has a significant impact on power supply and distribution.
By Tashi Lundup, Stawa 11-17
Leh has been experiencing a boom in tourist arrivals each year. The roar of Enfield motorbikes and SUVs has brought this region out of its slumber. Tourism now accounts for a significant part of Leh’s economy and provides employment for thousands of people. However, this form of tourism has a downside as it fuels a growth in commercial vehicles, hotels, and restaurants with a negative impact on the environment and culture of Ladakh.
Assistant Director for Tourism, Leh, Tsering Angmo acknowledged these challenges. She said, “Tourism has spurred economic development in Leh and is a boon for travel professional. However, we cannot ignore its negative impacts, including environmental degradations, water scarcity, cultural decadence, and rise in crime.”
The annual tourist arrivals remained below 80,000 till 2010. It jumped to 179,492 in 2011 and rose further to 235,698 in 2016. This number for 2017 will be even higher as the number of tourists was already 258,720 by the end of September. The district administration did not anticipate this spike and has been unprepared to deal with the influx.
Traffic congestion and parking issues are common in and around Leh town. The district has more than 60,000 registered vehicles in addition to thousands of unregistered vehicles registered outside. When the passes open in summer, tourists start streaming in with their private vehicles, which further worsens traffic movement in Leh town. Administrator for Municipal Committee, Leh, Rigzin Spalgon said, “Most tourist facilities are concentrated around the main market. There is limited space in this area and most people park their vehicles on the roadside, which affects traffic flow. Also, the number of vehicles is growing each year and the traffic situation continues to worsen.”
The narrow roads and ongoing construction work further restrict traffic movement and the administration has instructed hotel owners to develop their own parking space. The issue of vehicles has caused conflicts in the past such as the one on 22 July, 2015, when Leh’s taxi union called for a one-day strike to protest companies based outside Ladakh supplying self-driven vehicles to tourists. In addition, the simmering conflict between Leh and Kargil taxi unions has become a sore point in the relations between the two districts.
Angchuk Shalu, President of Ladakh Taxi Operators Cooperative Limited said, “We have around 8,000 commercial taxis and rental cars from outside, which affects our business. We have asked the administration and Indian Army to ensure that locals benefit from tourism.”
The growing number of vehicles is also affecting the environment. During the tourist season thousands of vehicles crisscross the district, which have caused glaciers to recede and let to acute water shortage. This is worsened in Leh town by the use of flush toilets and the drilling of private bore wells, which affects the groundwater table. These practices are also causing a health hazard. A recent study found E.coli in some of Leh’s drinking water supply. Virulent strains of E.coli are known to cause a wide range of diseases.
Some guest houses have now started encouraging tourists to use Ladakhi compost toilets. Guest house owner in Tukcha, Yangchan Dolma explained, “Compost toilets are environment-friendly and tourists love the idea. If we are to conserve water, we should stick to traditional compost toilets.” In addition, pollution of streams is a major issue for residents. Tsering Ladol, who lives in upper Changspa said, “We used water from the stream for washing and bathing till five years back. Now the water is so dirty that we do not even touch it. We clean the stream every year but the amount of garbage is too high.”
A tourism continues to boom, fertile agricultural lands are being converted in guest houses and hotels. It is also causing conflicts such as the one between All Ladakh Tour Operators Association (ALTOA) and Bangalore-based India Hikes over waste disposal and economic competition for Chadar Trek in 2013-14. Tourism is also fuelling migration of labour which leads to a threefold increase in the population of Leh town in summer and exerts additional stress on the environment.
Tourism is also affecting culture and social relations. Even as Ladakhis are embracing modernity, tourists have started questioning the authenticity of contemporary Ladakhi culture. For instance, French national, Didier Cretenot, who first visited Leh decades back, said, “Leh is unrecognisable! All you see is construction work along with crowded markets and monasteries. The natural beauty and rich cultural heritage have disappeared.”
Regulation and infrastructure
AD, Tourism for Leh, Tsering Angmo said, “We don’t have tourism policy to regulate tourism and conserve our environment and culture.” In fact, the district administration charges tourists ₹400 as environment fee and ₹20 as wildlife fee. However, the tourist-related infrastructure remains dismal.
Vivek Banerjee, a tourist, said, “There are no public conveniences on the road to Nubra and Pangong. I am ready to pay more for the basic necessity of a public toilet. The situation is worse in the main market area where there the toilets are filthy. How is the local administration using the environmental fee?”
In February 2017, LAHDC, Leh has adopted a policy for eco-tourism to reduce the impact of tourism in the district. A decision was taken to use the revenue generated by the collection of the fee – estimated to be approximately ₹53,000,000 at the time – for eco-tourism initiatives. This includes public convenience facilities, promotion of Ladakhi culture, promotion of home-stays, disposal of garbage, protection of water resources etc. We tried to reach LAHDC, Leh for their inputs on how this is being implemented but failed to get a response.
In the current model, tourism provides livelihood and access to modernity, even as it commercialises and commodifies culture, religion and identity. The lack of an inclusive policy that supports indigenous skills and participation from different strata of society has resulted in increased social strain and loss of traditional skills. Currently, the elite and upper class have benefited most from the current form of tourism, while other sections are relegated to the periphery.
The lack of regulation and its impacts is perhaps best illustrated by tourism in and around Pangong-tso. On the absence of regulation, camps and concrete structures have sprouted along the banks of the lake. These camps have no sewage facility, which often reaches the lake along with other waste. The camps also exert unsustainable pressure on vital resources such as water. In addition to environmental issues, this model is also causing rifts between the villages such as Man-Merak that are outside the tourist zone and Spangmik and Lukung that are in the tourist zone, wherein the former have threatened to block access to Pangong-tso if their grievances are not addressed.
Reason for hope?
Many travel agents and guides are sensitive to the problems of mass tourism and are making efforts to address them. One such travel agent and guide is Stanzin Namgyal, who organises cleanliness drives with his colleagues. “I am not qualified for a government job. I have worked as a guide for the last seven years to support myself and even pay for my studies. Tourism is my source of livelihood and I will do anything to promote it. If tourists stop visiting Ladakh, what will happen to people like me?”
Many travel agents have now started promoting environment-friendly activities such mountain biking and home-stays. Travel agent and director of Ju-Leh Adventure, Stanzin Gyatso said, “Home-stays are the best way to understand local culture and help re-distribute revenue. We also discourage the use of plastic bottles during treks and instruct our guides to bring back polythene bags and wrappers. Nature has given us so much and it is time we give something back.”
By Tsering Dolkar, Stawa 11-17
There has been a lot of talk about the concept of sustainable tourism in Ladakh. People have started to observe the negative impacts of unregulated tourism in the region. Everyone I know – friends, elders, family, and tourists – seems greatly alarmed by the changes taking place in Ladakh.
The tourism industry has been growing at a rapid pace in Ladakh, especially in Leh district. The economy of Leh district has become completely dependent on tourism. While there are many positive outcomes from tourism, we cannot overlook and ignore its negative impacts. In Leh, there is an urgent need to develop, adopt, and implement a policy to regulate tourism before it destroys our environment and society.
These impacts are very evident in touristy places like Pangong-tso. Though I have not visited Pangong-tso and other tourist sites in the recent past, I have heard, read, and seen images of negative impact tourism is having in these places. This reminds me of Chennai, where I was told about Marina beach, which is supposed to be Asia’s longest beach. I was very excited and decided to visit it one day. I cannot articulate my disappointment as the beach was littered with heaps of garbage and human waste. Though I stayed in Chennai for a year, I never visited this beach again.
What is the future of tourism in places such as Pangong-tso? We urgently need systems to maintain tourist sites and develop necessary infrastructure. If the current system continues and tourism collapses, what will happen to the thousands of people engaged in the tourism sector who will no longer have a livelihood and how will this affect our society? We are already seeing the impact of uneven distribution of benefits from tourism, which are largely concentrated around urban areas. In this regard, the concept of home-stays is a boon in rural areas. Tourists get a first-hand experience of local life, while villagers get a source of income. I once visited Hinju village during one of my treks. At the entrance, I saw a signboard listing the names of the families in the village. Each family take turns to accommodate tourists, which ensures that the benefits of tourism are evenly distributed in the village. Perhaps this model needs to be expanded across Ladakh.
Kargil district has a lot of untapped potential for tourism but suffers due to the lack of infrastructure and governmental support. It is not surprising that many youth from Kargil migrate to Leh to work in the tourism sector, which has resulted in conflicts between the two districts of Ladakh over various issues. Kargil has also suffered due to its physical proximity to Kashmir and the LoC between India and Pakistan; each time there is unrest in the Kashmir valley or in the event of war , tourism in Karil has taken a severe beating.
The two districts of Ladakh seem to be mirror opposites with regard to tourism; one needs regulation, the other needs support. Unfortunately, neither seems forthcoming.