By Dawa Dolma, Stawa 10-19
Leh has recently received some unexpected attention after Government of India's recent move to convert Ladakh into a Union Territory. This article is not so much about the politics surrounding that move but rather about an important yet under-explored challenge Leh faces: Vehicular pollution. Leh is no longer the Leh I grew up in. But that's natural to any area under the current model of neo-liberal development. I still decided to write about these negative changes in the Leh I knew with the hope that the hype created by the centre's move will help garner much needed attention to the bad air quality in the region.
To give some statistics, according to the 2011 census, Leh district had a population of 133,487 and the total number of registered vehicles in the area in the period between 2008 and 2018 was 17,232 according to the Assistant Regional Transport Office, Leh. To put this in a comparative sense that is equivalent to one vehicle for eight persons. For someone who knew Leh twenty years ago, this is a cause for alarm! The increase in the number of vehicles is unprecedented. If one is to look at the reasons for this, there is a host of reasons starting with the increasing number of tourists to a lack of proper waste management system and enhanced purchasing power of locals.
According to the data from the Assistant Regional Transport Officer, Leh, between 1998 and 2008, the number of registered light motor vehicles was 792, which leaped to a massive 7,841 between 2008 and 2018. This is worsened by the fact that there is no monitoring system to check the quality of air as mechanisms that were put in place have become defunct.
Air pollution is a relatively new concept in Ladakh as it used to be a virginally clean place. However, the emergence of massive infrastructural development and rapid changes in lifestyle has led to environmental deterioration. At the same time, Ladakh's ecosystem is extremely fragile and it takes years for ecosystems to recover from any sort of disruption. Therefore, understanding air pollution and envisaging ways to mitigate it are critical to deal with the environmental crisis facing Ladakh.
Climate change and global warming are vague and protracted challenges that people commonly overlook even if they have become a reality. Ladakh is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Air pollution is partially responsible for these changes. Presently, the people of Leh are not aware of air pollution and its impact on climate change and global warming especially since air pollution is not visible.
When asked about this, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at Eliezer Joldan Memorial College, Leh, Dr. Sonam Wangmo said, "In Leh, more than 60% of households own more than two vehicles for their convenience. In addition to commercial and non-commercial vehicles, heavy vehicles like trucks, buses and heavy army vehicles are worsening this issue. The exhausts of these vehicles are the primary source of air pollution."
Retired Civil Engineer, Tsewang Norphel, who is popularly called the Glacier Man, emphasises that since Ladakh is a high altitude area and cold desert, vehicles emit more carbon dioxide than the plains, which has adverse impacts on the environment and people.
This is further compounded by the dismal state of public transport in Leh. According to the Assistant Regional Transport Office, Leh, the number of public buses has reduced from 111 to 60 in the last 20 years. In 2018, the district administration belatedly tried to remedy the situation by promoting public transport amongst locals. As a user of public transport, I find it extremely tiring as there are no fixed timetables, lack of definitive bus stops and too few buses. Overcrowded buses in hilly regions like Leh move rather slowly, thereby delaying the journey as a whole. This causes great inconvenience to people who cannot be blamed for preferring private vehicles.
There is also the issue of toxic emissions of vehicular pollution, especially diesel-run automobiles that contain PM 2.5 and PM 10, which damage genetic material and are linked to major lung diseases such as lung inflammation, asthma, and lung cancer. Air pollution is also linked to non-lung ailments such as heart attacks, strokes, heart disease and cognitive disorders. More importantly, it leads to increased mortality among infants, miscarriages, and foetal growth problems.
Imposing taxes on people with more than one vehicle will be a good starting point to mitigate the issue. Government also needs to strengthen the public transportation system. Maybe they can start by ensuring that buses run on time! All parts of the urban sprawl of Leh must be covered by the transportation network. In the absence of such meaningful changes, I don't see any point in having awareness programmes about public transportation.
In addition to the government, the people of Leh are also responsible for making Leh a more live-able place. This responsibility should not be limited to anyone but include every individual who has the right to clean environment, clear water bodies, and most of all, breathable air. For instance. carpooling among staff, peers, and co-workers can lead to a significant reduction in carbon emissions. It is also quite economical when the fare is split. Once the number of vehicles on the road reduces through these measures, more parking space will become available to people. Finally, however dreadful it is right now, we can opt to use public transportation with the hope that the government will do something soon to improve their condition.
Air pollution is not merely a technological problem. It is also a political problem, and the government should not ignore it. It must nominate an Executive Councillor for the environment. Implementing ecological restoration programmes such as planting trees and adopting green life-styles will also help. At the same time, it also needs to pursue the use of renewable energy and environmentally-sound growth policies.
By Tashi Lundup, Murtaza Fazily and Sunetro Ghosal, Stawa 10-19
On 5 August, Government of India read down Article 370 and decided to bifurcate J&K state into J&K UT and Ladakh UT. These decisions will come into effect on 31 October, 2019. In the interim period there have been celebrations, protests and a sense of anxiety fuelled by lack of clarity on what to expect and how things will change. This anxiety has resulted in a demand to recognise Ladakh UT under Schedule VI of the Indian constitution to provide protection of land ownership and identity, which the government has agreed in principle.
Government of India has made a sustained push to follow up its decision to bifurcate the state. While Kashmir valley remains under severe restrictions, parts of Ladakh remain unaffected though some restrictions remain in Kargil. A favoured strategy to facilitate development in Ladakh is to increase tourism to drive development. In this regard, Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (Independent Charge), Prahlad Singh Patel visited Ladakh in September to explore ways to boost tourism in Ladakh. Here, it is important to ask if more unregulated tourism will actually result in sustainable and equitable development in Ladakh?
The outlook in Leh
According to the Tourism Department, Leh more than 150 No Objection Certificates have been issued for new hotels and guest houses in Leh in the last 12 months. Leh town already has more than 300 hotels and 800 guest houses. The spurt in tourism has encouraged more people to build hotels and guest houses on farmlands.
Assistant Director of Tourism, Leh, Tsering Angmo expressed some reservations. She said, "We managed to achieve full room occupancy due to sustained increase in tourist numbers. If the number of hotels and guest houses continues to grow, it will soon be difficult to fill all rooms."
Furthermore, tourism remains rather unpredictable. In 2018, 327,366 tourists visited Leh - 50,011 more than 2017. Most people expected this trend to continue but were disappointed in 2019 as the number of tourists visiting Leh till the end of August was 243,983 - 20,777 less than the figure in August 2018. The travel industry has already started feeling its impact. Stanzin Sonam, who runs a hotel in Sheynam, said, "This year room occupancy in my hotel dropped by 30%. Lots of new hotels have come up leading to intense competition. I heard that some hotels are offering rooms at 50% discounts to increase occupancy. The competition is only going to get worse."
The outlook in Kargil
Kargil has been hit hard by the events of 5 August. Tourism in Kargil has been growing steadily over the last few years. In 2018, 109,284 tourists visited Kargil and reached 75,771 by the end of August 2019. It was expected to better the record of 2018. Tourism Officer, Kargil, Rasool Lal reported that the trend in Kargil in 2019 was similar to 2018 till 4 August. "The numbers dropped after 5 August," he added. Kargil witnessed protests against the reading down of Article 370 and the administration responded by imposing restrictions. Tourism, thus, came to a grinding halt in Kargil district.
Hotelier and former-EC in LAHDC, Kargil, Nasir Munshi said that tourism sector in Kargil has been hit rather hard by these events. "Government of India had issued an advisory before 5 August asking tourists to leave the state, which resulted in a heavy decline. There was a film crew in Kargil that occupied some hotels but this was negligible. All our bookings were cancelled after August. Leh did not suffer much as it has air connectivity. Kargil is dependent on the road from Kashmir."
Taxi owners too have suffered from this downturn. President of Kargil Taxi Union, Shamim Ahmad said that taxis in Kargil have been idle causing problems to hundreds of families. "Work has come to a standstill. We get some bookings on the Leh route but this cannot sustain the 1,000 taxis registered in Kargil. Every stakeholder in the tourism sector has been suffering since 5 August. However, we have to stay united to protect our identity and future."
Unpredictability and volatility
Tourism alone cannot be the cornerstone of an economy as it is impacted by several factors ranging from economic and political changes to policy/regulations and technological shifts. Tourism remains notoriously unpredictable and volatile which increases the vulnerability of people who are dependent on it for their livelihood.
President of All Ladakh Tour Operators Association (ALTOA), Tsetan Angchuk said, "In Ladakh we face challenges related to politics as we share a border with Pakistan and China. It is a very sensitive area. If there is war, the tourism sector shuts down for four-five years. We must explore alternative economic avenues too. Right now, everyone wants to visit Ladakh but we will soon reach a saturation point. For instance, in 2019 the number of tourists probably fell due to the general elections, the Pulwama attack, and the shutdown of Jet Airways."
This was echoed by former MLA, Kargil, Asgar Ali Karbalie who explained that globalisation means that everyone gets affected by any disturbance and economic slowdown. "West Asia is a good example of how pockets of disturbance impact the larger region. Our economy always takes a hit when there is disturbance in Kashmir. Also, our country is going through an economic slowdown. No one knows what will happen after 31 October. I am not hopeful about tourism till we have normalcy in J&K. The three regions are inter-connected. Where will the tourists come from?"
Despite growth in tourism, infrastructure in Ladakh remains inadequate. AD, Tourism, Leh, Tsering Angmo agreed. She explained, "Infrastructure in private and government sectors have improved but a lot still needs to be done and we need to find funds for it."
Tsetan Angchuk agreed with her. "Air connectivity to Leh has improved from five-six flights a day to 15-16 flights. The new terminal will further boost passenger capacity. Similarly, Leh-Srinagar highway has been upgraded and the Leh-Manali highway is also improving. Similarly we now have Airtel and Jio in addition to BSNL for internet services," he enumerated.
During his visit to Ladakh, Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel identified key areas to boost tourism including upgrading manpower, awareness about bread-and-breakfast scheme, boost and training for home-stays and promotion of adventure sports.
Mitigation of impact?
There are still questions about how the impact of tourism will be mitigated. Already, the growth in tourism has increased emission of various greenhouse gases. A travel agent in Leh said, "Leh district receives three times more tourists than Kargil. Thus, the negative impact of tourism on Leh is much more severe than Kargil. We must focus on promoting eco-tourism."
According to official records, 3,487 commercial taxis were registered in Leh district and 1,218 were registered in Kargil district as of March 2018. Emissions from vehicles are now recognised as a major contributor to human-induced climate change that is causing glaciers to melt.
Tsetan Angchuk provided a qualification here. "We cannot blame the tourism sector alone for emissions. Hundreds of military trucks ply on these roads every day. These vehicles are old and burn fuel inefficiently, which harms our health and the environment. Our vehicles are regularly tested for their emission level."
While his point is relevant, there is a clear correlation between increase in tourism and pollution in Ladakh. During the tourist season, 16-18 tonnes of waste are collected from Leh city per day, while the annual waste production is 374 tonnes, including 2,500,000 plastic water bottles. In Kargil, around six tonnes of waste is generated each day.
The scale of the problem shocks many Ladakhis. For instance, Stanzin Namgyal who runs a hotel in Skara said. "I was astonished to know that tourists are consuming so many plastic bottles. I have now stopped providing plastic water bottles to my guests and have installed a water dispenser at the reception to refill their bottles."
There is also a need to decentralise tourism in Ladakh. Currently, infrastructure is concentrated in Leh town, and to a limited extent, in Kargil town. Executive Director of LEDeG, Eshey Tondup felt that this has resulted in water scarcity, groundwater pollution, waste management, traffic and pollution in urban areas. "If we promote rural tourism, it will reduce the resource burden on urban areas and help distribute the benefits of tourism," he added.
Tsetan Angchuk illustrated this with the example of Stok Kangri. "The residents of Stok had complained about the environmental impact of trekking on Stok Kangri. We have now decided to stop all tourist-related activities from 2020 on Stok Kangri for the next three years to safeguard our environment," he explained.
The most glaring omission of Ladakh's tourism sector is the lack of a coherent tourism policy to regulate and guide the sector. There have been efforts by LAHDC, Leh to adopt a tourism policy but it has remained on paper. So far, Kargil has not developed a tourism policy. Tsering Angmo said, "We will soon have a tourism policy once we formally become a UT. Everything can be systematic if we have a policy in place."
Tsetan Angchuk mentioned that they are currently drafting a tourism policy for Leh. He said, "A tourism policy has been included in the Ladakh 2025 Vision Document but it was never implemented. Now, with UT everyone has woken up to the need for a policy. We are currently drafting a policy by considering the requirements of stakeholders and the Ladakh Vision Document 2025." The composition and mandate of this committee remains unclear.
By Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgyal and Dr Kunzang Lamo, Stawa 10-19
Ladakh has two missions to accomplish. While one is the national-level mission; the other one is Ladakh specific. The national-level mission is to double farmers' income by 2022 and the region specific one is Ladakh's Mission Organic Development Initiative to make the region totally organic by 2025. Ladakh will soon become a Union Territory and must achieve the national mission in three years and its own mission in six years.
Ladakh occupies a geo-strategically important position connecting Central Asia, South Asia, China, Pakistan and West Asia. Historically Ladakh served as an important link to the Silk Route trade and served as a doorway between India, Tibet and Central Asia. Ladakh is a high altitude cold desert located at elevations between 3,100m to 6,000m above mean sea level. The temperatures range from 35 degrees Celsius in the summer to minus 35 degrees Celsius in winter.
The farming season is confined from April-May to September-October as nothing grows in the freezing cold winter. Most farmers practice mono-cropping focusing on wheat and barley. Vegetable production and animal husbandry are major sources of livelihood for people in this region. Due to the topography of the region, the area available for cultivation is very limited. Chemical methods are largely based on mass killing of organisms, which is against local cultural beliefs. As a result, many people prefer organic cultivation practices using bio-fertilisers and organic products like farmyard manure, compost, vermicompost and night-soil.
Ladakh is spread across two districts; Leh and Kargil. Of this, Leh is located over an area of 45,110 sq km and remains one of the largest districts in the country. Recently, LAHDC, Leh released a proposal called Mission Organic Development Initiative, which is popularly called Ladakh's MODI.
Ladakh has recently been declared as a Union Territory, which will come into effect on 31 October, 2019. Since the growing season only lasts for about six months, Ladakh faces the daunting task of accomplishing the mission of doubling farmer income by 2022 and making the region organic by 2025.
LAHDC, Leh has allotted a budget of Rs 200 crores for Mission Organic Development Initiative. The mission will be carried out in three phases across 113 villages. Work has already started in 38 villages in the first phase. The second phase will start in 2022 when it will be extended to 40 more villages and the remaining villages will be covered in the final phase.
There is an urgent need to prepare suitable strategies for both objectives. Government of India has already started many farm and farmer-welfare programmes to increase farmer income. These include revision of Minimum Support Price to 1.5 times the cost of cultivation; facilitated marketing of produce electronically through the e-NAM network (National Agricultural Market). This enables a person to buy or sell produce even when one is not physically present at the place. The e-NAM scheme has given farmers more choices with regard to buying and selling produce. The insurance programme has become more inclusive by reducing the premium to the lowest. Soil Health Card scheme has given farmers opportunities to get their soil tested and understand its nutrient status along with recommendations if required. The government is also promoting indigenous programmes like Parampragat Krishi Vikas Yojana that focuses on use of organic fertilisers like compost, vermicompost, farm yard manure, bio-fertilisers. Through this, the government aims to reduce the cost of cultivation and thereby increase their income.
There is an urgent need to develop new high-yielding and hybrid varieties of wheat, barley, mustard and other crops. Many farmers are still using 15 to 20-year-old wheat (Sonam, Singchen) and barley (Nurboo) varieties that give relatively low yields, which reduces their income. These varieties are also more prone to insect pests and diseases. Therefore, research institutes need to prioritise the development of hybrid and high-yielding location specific varieties for Ladakh.
Vegetable cultivation in recent years has emerged as the backbone of agriculture in Ladakh. People have started shifting from wheat and barley cultivation to growing vegetables. Temperature remains the main limiting factor for vegetable production in Ladakh. Thus, this cultivation is primarily done in green houses. In green houses, the temperature is maintained between four and five degrees Celsius. Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Leh, Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), Leh and the state agricultural departments have promoted the use of protected technologies like green houses, shade nets, trench cultivation, and black plastic mulching to overcome weather constraints. According to DIHAR officials, the production of melons in Leh region is twice the output in the Indian plains. In fact, farmers in Ladakh are earning between Rs 1,000,000 to 1,200,000 per hectare from melon cultivation. Similarly, KVK scientists are reporting a significantly higher production of vegetables like tomato and broccoli in trenches. Due to the improved varieties provided by KVK-Leh, there has been an increase of 97% and 94% production of melons and tomatoes respectively as compared to local varieties that farmers were cultivating earlier.
Due to the harsh climate, farmers in this region usually plant just one crop in the Kharif season. Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Leh revived buckwheat as a second crop in Saspol village. Buckwheat seed was provided to the farming community. A total of 73 demonstrations covering an area of 3.5 ha were laid on farmers' fields. The corresponding yield in these demonstration plots was 12.30 quintals per hectare. Buckwheat is a very remunerative crop and is sold in the market at more than Rs 100 per kilogram. It also does not require any chemical fertilisers as it uses the residual nutrients of the preceding crop. KVK, Leh after reviving this remunerative crop is planning to expand the area under buckwheat cultivation in other villages and explore value addition.
Vermicomposting is one of the cheapest methods of recycling biodegradable waste into useful produce. It is organic, more nutritious, has higher amounts of microorganisms, enzymes and growth hormones that improve the soil and plant health, and reduces the use of harmful plant protection chemicals. Farmers in Ladakh are now adopting vermicomposting as a technology to produce chemical-free fertiliser. Under the Tribal Sub Plan around 130 vermicompost units with good quality earthworms were provided to farmers in different villages. The women farmers have adopted this technology rather seriously. They are producing their own compost and using it as a substitute to costly chemical fertilisers. Vermicomposting can also be a viable cottage industry. There can be at least one community vermicomposting unit operated as a cooperative to support economically weaker, marginal and small farmers.
Mushroom production is another enterprise that has the potential to double farmers' income, ensure nutritional security, and contribute to the shift towards organic farming. This is because the substrate for growing mushroom is made from organic materials. Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Leh has also popularised mushroom production technology in different villages by distributing free spawn to farmers along with necessary training. The first spawn production laboratory has been established at KVK, Leh. This lab also caters to the spawn requirement of line departments. In addition to consuming the mushroom themselves, farmers are also selling their produce in the market. This has improved their nutritional security and increased their income.
Ladakh is a rich repository of medicinal and aromatic plants. It is estimated that the region has around 1,100 species of vascular plants and ferns. As many as 23 species of flowering plants are endemic to Ladakh. The region also has many plants with therapeutic properties that remain unexplored and untapped. Many plants like Pushkarmool, Datura, Seabuckthorn, Cokhwine and Pudina can be cultivated commercially to increase the income of farmers.
Organic products have worth only when they are organically cer¬tified. Organic certification is a daunting task. Concerned agen¬cies need to work out a suitable strategy and plan well in advance to achieve this objective. LAH¬DC, Leh has already done some work in this direction and signed a memorandum with Sikkim, which is India's first organic state. Officials in Ladakh are already on the job. They went on a tour to Sikkim to gain knowledge and insight about different aspects of organic cultivation.
Marketing of farm produce is also important. Farmers will ultimately give up the practice of organic farming if their produce is not marketed. As organic products are relatively costlier, strategies need to be devised to market the produce at local, national, and international level. For instance, there can be a push to supply organic produce to hotels and restaurants in Ladakh.
Since Ladakh remains disconnected from the rest of country for five to six months each year, produce will have to be transported to distant places. It is thus necessary to develop suitable facilities to process the produce to elongate their nutrient value.
In our opinion, the path to achieving mission 2025 goes through mission 2022. Mission 2022 aims to double farmers' income and includes many components that can help make the region organic. This will require more awareness about various programmes being launched by the government. On their part, the implementing agencies must ensure that programmes are being implemented in their letter and spirit.
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 Morika Hensley, Stawa 02-19
For an elusive animal, it is difficult to travel or live in Ladakh without being influenced by the near-mythical snow leopard. They appear in photos plastered to shop windows, on the hood of army vehicles, on remote Ladakhi mountain passes, and inside livestock corrals. They are everywhere and yet nowhere. For many foreigners like me, the opportunity to see a snow leopard in the wild, or to even know that they live here, is an unbelievably special feeling. Conversely, for many villagers such sightings can be ordinary and even annoying. Snow leopards attract important tourism revenue but also cause destruction and economic loss when they kill livestock. As the human population in Ladakh continues to grow and change, a "middle ground" is needed to conserve snow leopards.
Fortunately, Ladakh is blessed not only with an abundance of snow leopards but also with innovative and passionate conservation organisations that are helping craft innovative solutions. I had an opportunity to learn about some of these solutions when I collaborated with Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust (SLC-IT) in 2015.
Snow leopards are found in 12 Asian countries, primarily China, Mongolia, and India. The entire area is undergoing rapid cultural, ecological and developmental changes that are causing environmental disruption. Though the snow leopard was recently downgraded from 'Endangered' to 'Vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List, its ongoing survival remains tenuous. Population estimates range from 4,000 to 10,000 wild snow leopards. Although snow leopards are difficult to spot, they shape ecosystems as apex predators—influencing behaviour of other species in ways that have a ripple effect. They are also a `flagship species' and charismatic animals that can excite local and international communities to protect landscapes for biodiversity conservation. Unfortunately, snow leopards are not always at the receiving end of human conservation efforts and are famous for 'extreme killing sprees' in which it can kill up to 200 heads of livestock in a single night. In order to prevent such horrifying losses, many herders resort to retaliatory killing of snow leopards. In addition to livestock depredation, snow leopard bones and pelts fetch a high price in the black market. People thus have an incentive to kill snow leopards, which increases the challenge of conserving them.
Fortunately, poaching and retaliatory killing in Ladakh are not very common, thanks in part to the region's culture and in part to the campaigns by governmental agencies and NGOs. One such NGO is SLC-IT, which was started in 2001 by Rinchen Wangchuk. It has pioneered many innovative initiatives such as livestock insurance schemes, predator-proof livestock corrals, homestays, and environmental education in schools and monasteries. SLC-IT also works with non-local students, volunteers, and scholars. This was how I was able to conduct a small study in Ladakh about patterns of livestock depredation by snow leopards. Although Ladakhi society is changing rapidly, many residents still depend on agro-pastoralism. It is therefore extremely detrimental to people and snow leopards when livestock are lost to predators. So the important question was to find a way to reduce livestock depredation and ensure that all Ladakhis benefit from tourism.
Fundamentally, solutions require data. Snow leopard behaviour and ecology remain largely unknown even in Ladakh despite it being a hub for snow leopard research since the 1990s. The big cats remain incredibly difficult to study. Nevertheless, each new research effort provides small pieces to our overall knowledge of snow leopards. Ladakh remains an ideal location for study due to its continuity with the rest of the snow leopard's range, relatively high avalablity of wild prey, ideal habitat conditions, and low rates of poaching. While in some places snow leopards have territories as large as 600 sq kms, in Ladakh they seem to live in smaller spaces though this needs to be verified. This ensures that studies are more efficient and sightings more likely. However, a higher density of snow leopards also makes such studies more urgent due to potential conflict with people. The objective of my research project was to understand patterns of livestock depredation by snow leopards, identify potential socio-ecological correlates of depredation, and contribute to current knowledge of snow leopard distribution in Ladakh.
Over three months in summer 2016, my colleague Jigmet and I visited 12 villages in Sham and Rong valleys. We selected the villages in three "survey blocks" based on a coarse scale of terrain ruggedness, defined as the product of slope and brokenness on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Since snow leopards are known to occur in very steep, rocky areas, we designed the study to explore if livestock depredation was also related to ruggedness of terrain at two scales. In each village we walked four, one kilometre-transects in areas such as canyons and ridge lines that have the highest probability of snow leopard presence to record any sign (tracks, scat, scrapes, kills) of their presence. We also scanned the area for four hours with a spotting scope (two, one-hour sessions in the morning and two, one-hour sessions at night) for evidence of wildlife presence. Finally, we interviewed five households in each village about livestock losses and husbandry practices in the preceding two years. Before each interview, we explained the study and received verbal consent from our participants to record their data. After 48 days in the field and covering 600 kms on foot, I returned to Leh and then to my university to analyse the data.
Although time and budget constraints limited the size and scope of our study, our data yielded notable results. The 59 household interviews recorded a total live-stock ownership number of 1,170, of which 231 were lost or killed in 2014 and 2015. Of these 231, 88 heads of livestock were killed by snow leopards, which equates to an average depredation rate of 7.5% across all villages (38.1% of total loss) and an estimated 5.2% per capita income loss. Of the livestock killed by snow leopards, 66% were killed inside corrals, and 83% were sheep and goat.
While this seems like a daunting number, depredation of live-stock in corrals can be prevented easily with predator-proof corral ceilings. Already SCL-IT and other Ladakhi NGOs are working to distribute such predator-proof innovations. Interestingly, livestock depredation was neither related to signs of snow leopard presence nor to terrain ruggedness. The most significant socio-ecological factor seems to be the size of the livestock herd. This means that the risk of snow leopard depredation is directly correlated with increased herd size. The presence of a snow leopard, however, does not appear to be directly related to whether livestock are at increased risk of depredation. While the patterns are not clear enough to make definitive conclusions, it will be interesting to explore how these findings relate to rapidly shrinking herd sizes in 'Ladakh. Hopefully, an unintended benefit is fewer losses to snow leopards and an increased capacity for coexistence through land-sharing'.
Ladakh is an incredibly complex socio-ecological system, with several other predators including snow leopards. Ladakhi society is changing quickly, which is also evident in herding and conservation practices too. The main task is to find ways to effectively monitor all relevant factors and stakeholder groups in the region. The snow leopard needs immense swaths of land to survive. Even when the habitat is ideal; it ends up sharing space with other predators and people. Local villagers and herders cannot be forced to bear the burden if they are to coexist with snow leopards.
If we are to promote coexistence, we need to collect consistent and high quality data. Ladakh is a very remote land where data collection and conservation is expensive and difficult, and requires collaboration between various stakeholders including government agencies, NGOs, researchers, managers, and local people. By encouraging and increasing local involvement in data collection and management through "citizen science", more people can feel invested in the conservation process. Also, this is the most efficient way to collect datasets that are large enough to be scientifically and practically significant. Deciding how to care for our natural surroundings — including the snow leopard, the crown jewel of the mountains — is a task we must all share.
By Stanzin Lhaskyabs, Stawa 02-19
It is unusual for Ladakh to be in the national spot-light. Yet it has been attracting attention from India's national media since October 2018 after the final location survey for the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh (BML) railway track got underway. Such all-weather connectivity projects promise security and development to the people of Ladakh, but there is little discussion in the mainstream media on whether it can deliver these results.
The number of tourists visiting Ladakh has increased from a few thousand in the 1990s, to more than 270,000 in 2017, which is equal to the total population of the region. While tourism is boosting the local economy, it has also raised concerns over its effect on the fragile environment of Ladakh. The uncontrolled influx of tourists adds to the region's growing environmental insecurity. The mushrooming of hotels has led to a reduction in water level and recently a group of researchers found contaminants in Leh's ground water. This contamination can be attributed to the popularity of non-traditional water-based toilets in hotels and the absence of a functional sewerage system.
The glaciers in the region have started melting rapidly leading to severe water shortage in the summer. Sonam Wangchuk, who received the 2018 Ramon Magsaysay award, has mentioned in an interview that carbon emission from tourist vehicles is a major reason for the melting of Ladakh's glaciers. Waste has started piling up in the region due to mass tourism. Pangong-tso and other popular tourist destinations are now littered with plastic waste.
Tourism also disturbs wild animals. For instance during the Raid de Himalaya rally in summer, motor vehicles with powerful engines invade biodiversity-rich areas in their pursuit of thrills and cash prizes. Their mindless pursuit disturbs wild as well as domesticated animals in different parts of Ladakh. What is problematic about such races is that most drivers are barely aware of local cultural norms and ecological cycles. The general tendency to drive off-road to make the race more competitive and adventurous only adds to the problem. Ladakh's flora and fauna are currently flourishing only in such off-road locations and face severe threats from such activities. Wangchuk warns that if this issue is not addressed, Leh city will soon turn into a 'deserted moonscape'. This echoes Sonam Angmo's argument in The State Times where she argues that the basic survival of Ladakh depends on its people's relationship with nature rather than their economic progress.
Connectivity or accessibility?
The completion of the first phase of the BML railway survey in October 2018 was celebrated by the media as a project of strategic importance for India. All-weather connectivity to Ladakh is part of New Delhi's response to various military developments across the lines of control that India shares with China and Pakistan. Incidentally, the first vehicular road connecting Ladakh to the rest of the country was built in the wake of wars that India fought with these two nation-states. In contrast, Zangskar valley remains poorly connected with the outside world and pregnant women still have to walk on the frozen Zangskar river in the winter to access healthcare facilities. Zangskar's poor connectivity does not bother New Delhi as it does not face any external security threat. There is a popular narrative that all-weather connectivity will boost Ladakh's economy by attracting more tourists. However, this narrative is illogical as the mainstream media remains ignorant of the problems caused by such large number of tourists.
For New Delhi, all-weather connectivity will not only help in quick mobilisation and deployment of defence assets, but also facilitate the exploitation of Ladakh's rich natural resources. It is only a matter of time before the region is opened for exploitation by corporate giants. Hence, access to Ladakh's resources is one of the central reasons for developing all-weather connectivity to the region.
One cannot help but wonder at Ladakh's transformation from being an ancient Himalayan kingdom to its current status as two administrative districts (Leh and Kargil). Former ambassador and security apalyst, P. Stobdan has raised concerns about Ladakh's political instability. The sole Member of Parliament (MP) from the region, Thupstan Chhewang resigned from his post and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in November. He resigned over unfulfilled promises such as granting Union Territory status and recognition of Bhoti in the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution, which were made by the party during the 2014 Parliamentary election. In his resignation letter, Thupstan Chewang alleged that these long-standing demands fell on 'deaf ears' and remain crucial for the preservation of the region's cultural and social heritage.
However, the state and central governments are not the only parties to be blamed for this current state of affairs. The Ladakh Vision Document 2025 highlights the lack of formal structure to preserve cultural and social heritage of Ladakh within the Hill Council framework. It was only in August 2018 that the Leh Hill Council took the first step in this regard by constituting a Heritage Conservation Committee. This indicates a lack of political will and vision among Ladakh's leaders about preserving their own cultural and social heritage.
All-weather connectivity will force Ladags-pa to look southwards to Kashmir and New Delhi to meet basic needs such as healthcare and education. Merely building roads and railway tracks does not amount to development. Ladakh's security includes the preservation and promotion of its natural and cultural heritage. All-weather connectivity projects, at least presently, do not seem to address any of this. Instead of empowering the region to survive and grow on its own, the current projects are meant to provide access to the resources of this otherwise isolated region. All-weather connectivity to Ladakh, as of now, is more about New Delhi's accessibility to the region. There is an urgent need to improve internal connectivity within Ladakh to places like Zangskar, Nubra and Changthang that get isolated during winters.
By Kunzang Dolma Stakmo, Stawa 02-19
Ladakh is famous for its natural beauty, which attracts hundreds and thousands of visitors each summer. However, winter in Ladakh too has a unique charm despite the extreme cold and related challenges. I happened to return home for few days some weeks back. As the aircraft made its way to Leh, I watched the scenery change from the window. The greenery of the plains slowly gave way to the lush hills of the lower Himalayas, which in turn gave way to the snow-capped mountains that seemed to float in the blue sky. These mountains suggested that we were approaching Ladakh. Once we landed at Leh airport, I felt like we had reached heaven. I am not being dramatic or exaggerating my feelings at the airport. As I heard people say "Juley" ask "Khamzang in a ley?" (How are you?), I instantly felt energetic and 'at home'.
In summer, Leh market is full of non-local tourists. In contrast, very few non-locals are visible in the market through the winter. Many restaurants and shops remain closed at this time of the year. People finally find time to rest and take a break from the hassles they face otherwise. During the winter, people stay at home, at their farm, or travel outside Ladakh to relax for a few months. People finally make time to meet others and regain a measure of peace in their lives.
You definitely face some difficulties and challenges in the harsh winter of Ladakh with its bitter cold. Despite this, everything seems rather peaceful and nature too makes an effort to make things seem more beautiful by adding unique colours to the region. I noticed trains of clouds floating across the clear blue sky and the blinding white snow on the top of mountains. The trees are bare after discarding their leaves but some seem to assume a reddish-brown hue while others have a peculiar bluish-white aura. All the fields are brownish-yellow and the water in the ponds turn blue with thin layers of ice on the surface. Some birds like ducks linger for the winter and crisscross the frozen landscape. It is mesmerising to witness and experience all of this.
During my stay in Leh, I was able to attend a `ldun/ ldagang' ceremony held to celebrate the birth of a child. The timing for this ceremony is not restricted to specific time of a child's age. Families generally decide to hold the ceremony when they are financially and emotionally ready or at a time that they deem to be suitable. At the ceremony, all relatives wear traditional attire and dance to traditional music. The whole ceremony was rather soulful and enriching.
Time was short but the whole family still managed to gather together for lunch. We sat outside in the balcony where we were able to bask in the sun. Though the temperature outside was several degrees below freezing, the dry weather meant that warm clothes helped us withstand the biting cold. The sun was shining so beautifully and its warmth was so overwhelming that all of us sat in the sun without worrying about getting a tan. I felt blessed to be able to spend some precious time with my family. As we sat there, we sang Ladakhi folk songs with a never-ending supply of gurgur tea.
Finally, the day of my departure dawned. I had to leave despite being asked to stay back. Many of us spend large amounts of money and long periods outside Ladakh. The hardest part of being away is being removed from our family and home. Outside Ladakh, we live in a different environment with many day-to-day hurdles. In contrast, there are many people who cannot afford to send their children outside to study despite their potential to excel. Often, their dreams remain unfulfilled. Knowing the importance of a good education, I support the demand of a full-fledged university in Ladakh. This should have been done many years back. Now that the university has been granted, I sincerely hope that this spark will grow into a beautiful and bright light in the near future.
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 Khanpo K. Sherab, Stawa 01-19
The issue of language in Ladakh has become a subject of intense debate over the last two decades with the publication of the bi-lingual magazine Ladags Melong and HE Bakula Rangdol Nyima Rinpoche's Ladakhi Grammar (La dwags si brad sprod). Scholars remain divided over the use of colloquial Ladakhi by a prominent monk and a magazine. While, some praised this novel approach, others opposed it by arguing that it would degrade Classical Tibetan.
The people who opposed the use of an indigenous Ladakhi writing system have not understood the nature of language. They base their arguments on canonical texts of Classical Tibetan grammar while ignoring readers in their own region. These scholars started publishing their own magazine called La dwags gsar 'gyur in 2000. La dwags gsar 'gyur used unfamiliar terms from Classical and Modern Tibetan even when familiar terms were available in Ladakhi. As a result, it failed to make an impact or counter the popularity of Ladags Melong as its classical style was not accessible to common readers.
Oxford English Dictionary defines language as "The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way." Thus, the primary purpose of language is to facilitate communication between people. This definition of language is value-neutral and no language is superior or inferior.
The scholars who argue for the superiority of Classical Tibetan over colloquial Ladakhi ignore well-established terms, phrases, pronunciations, and grammar structures that Ladakhis have been using for centuries. The influence of Modern Tibetan is increasing with greater assimilation and cultural exchange between Ladakhis and Tibetans. This process can be perilous for Ladakhis as they can easily be overwhelmed by the larger number of Tibetan speakers. There is a real risk of losing the distinctive identity and characteristics that distinguish the two. In this context, Ladakhi language is on the verge of extinction.
Thonmi Sambhota authored the Tibetan grammar treatises called Sum rtags between the 8th century and 12th century. In that period, Tibetan was spoken in the manner currently spoken in Baltistan, Kargil, and Sham regions. The distortion of Tibetan pronunciation started after traders from China and Mongolia gained access to Lhasa. Prominent Tibetan scholar, Sew Panchen (1700-1774) notes in his celebrated commentary, Sum cu pa that "During Drigung Skyopa (Lord Jigten Sumgon 1147-1217) era in Tibet, every letter in a word used to be pronounced distinctively. However, it was gradually bastardised." Modern Tibetans do not pronounce all the letters of a word, while people in Baltistan and Ladakh (Sham and Kargil) pronounce each letter.
As a result of these changes, students of Tibetan find it difficult to differentiate between words with different spellings but the same pronunciation. No clear logic governs the pronunciation of words with diverse spellings. In contrast, students of Ladakhi find it easier to learn the language as they do not need to decode the pronunciation. A professor of Tibetan history at Paris University once argued that Ladakhis studying in Tibet were taught to utter every letter during reading practice (sbyor klog) to help them learn Tibetan. She claimed that these Ladakhis carried this pronunciation back to Ladakh. However, I challenged her by arguing that only elites could afford such a journey and education in that period and it fails to explain why all Ladakhis speak similar dialects. She accepted the validity of this argument.
Many Ladakhis feel inferior to Tibetans with regard to language, culture, and spirituality. Many Ladakhi students, including monks and lay-persons, study at Tibetan institutions, where they become Tibetanised and internalise ideas of Ladakh being inferior. These ideas have become dominant after these students entered the mainstream. They undergo an intellectual paralysis about their social, linguistic, and ethnic identity, which has eroded Ladakh's heritage.
We must explore the impact of writing in Ladakhi on Classical Tibetan. Numerous books written in Modern Tibetan have been widely appreciated by readers who are not versed in Classical Tibetan. Modern Ladakhi, rather than Modern Tibetan, is closer to Classical Tibetan. Given that there is no opposition to writing in Modern Tibetan, why are we making such a fuss about Ladakhis writing in their own language?
By Kunzes Dolma, Stawa 01-19
The sport of ice hockey is the fastest team sport on the planet. It is played on ice between two teams, with six players-a-side, including a goal tender. The main purpose of the game is to use an ice hockey stick to hit a small puck into the opposing side's goal. It is very popular in France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, USA, Canada, and Switzerland. It is also being played in Japan, Russia, Thailand, New Zealand, Chinese Taipei, UAE, Malaysia, The Philippines, and India.
In India, ice hockey was introduced in the Himalayan region by the Indian Army. In time, civilians have also adopted the game and Ladakh has now emerged as a vibrant hub for ice hockey in India. Ice hockey in Ladakh is generally played on frozen ponds and reservoirs during the winter months from November to mid-February. Due to lack of an indoor ice hockey rink, the ice hockey season in Ladakh is restricted to the winter months.
Since ice hockey is rough and fast, many people consider it to be a male sport. However, women have played ice hockey for over 100 years. Women in Ladakh initially started learning ice skating and then graduated to ice hockey in 2002 with support from friends and family. In 2003, women's teams were not allowed to participate in local tournaments. This resulted in a protest by female players, especially those representing the NGO, Student Educational Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), which has pioneered women's ice hockey in Ladakh. Since then, women's teams have been participating in local tournaments organised by Ladakh Winter Sports Club (LWSC) and national tournaments organised by Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI). In the last few years, this sport has grown in popularity and since 2016, women ice hockey players from Ladakh have started representing India in international tournaments.
In 2016, the Indian women's ice hockey team participated in the International Ice Hockey Federation's (IIHF) Ice Hockey Women Challenge Cup of Asia (IHWCCOA) Division-I in Chinese Taipei. It was the first time that the team was participating in an international tournament. Indian player, Diskit C Angmo, said, "It was difficult for us to play on an international-size artificial rink for the first time." While the team failed to win a single game, the players gained a lot in terms of skills and exposure. In fact, India's goal-tender, Noor Jahan received the award for the tournament's best goal tender and Deachen Dolker was recognised as India's best player.
In March 2017, the team participated in 2017 IIHF IHWCCOA Division-I in Bangkok, Thailand. In this tournament, the Indian team won their games against The Philippines and Malaysia. Former Indian Captain, Rinchen Dolma said, "After these wins, we realised that if the team was able to win two matches with 20 days of pre-tournament preparation, then we could win the championship with proper infrastructure and support." At this tournament, Tsewang Chuskit received the award of the Most Valuable Player in the tournament, while Diskit C Angmo was recognised as India's best player.
As a result of these achievements, the Indian women's ice hockey team received the Ministry of Women and Child Development's 'First lady Award' from the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind on 20 January, 2018.
In March 2018, the team once again participated in the 2018 IIHF IHWCCOA Division-I in Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia. This time, they did not win a single match but Kunzes Angmo was recognised as the best forward in the tournament. Rinchen Dolma felt that despite not winning a single match, the players managed to gain valuable experience and exposure. "We also realised the need to improve our skills," she added.
Her team mate, Diskit C. Angmo said, "The tournament fuelled our desire to continue improving. The matches, the failures, the motivation, the exploration and the sisterhood that we developed on that trip made it a bitter-sweet journey. We returned with tears, bruises and a sense of pride. We will not sit back. We are prepared to play more matches and earn more bruises to gain valuable experience and improve our skills."
IHAI is the national body that oversees ice hockey in India. IHAI General Secretary, Harjinder Singh said that the sport faces obstacles such as of lack of infrastructure, equipment, and financial support. "We had to resort to crowd-funding to ensure that the Indian team could participate in the IIHF IHWCCOA tournament. It is due to the generosity of well-wishers that we were able to collect the funds in a short time. Since all the players in the team are from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council released 27 lakh for the team in 2017. The women's team now has to break the myth that they are weak and show the world that women are equal to men. The women's ice hockey team must become a catalyst to transform the lives of women. They should strive to become role models for female athletes in the country. This will not only help popularise the sport, but also facilitate the induction of more girls into the sport," he added.
The players definitely need more exposure to make their mark in international ice hockey. In March 2018, IHAI arranged a week-long coaching camp by Canadian ice hockey player and winner of four Olympic gold medals, Hanley Wickenheiser. Indian player, Deachen Dolkar said they were very fortunate to receive training hockey from one of the most inspirational ice hockey players in the world. "I only wish the camp was for a longer duration" she added. As part of the growing relationship with Canadian players, in November 2018 the Indian ice hockey team participated in the WickFest: The Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival in Calgary, Canada.
Indian player, Tsetan Dolma said, "WickFest gave us an opportunity to learn more about ice hockey and our place in this new world. It was a great experience to participate in this festival. We got an opportunity to meet many international legends in the sport, which inspired us to continue pursuing our dreams."
Since ice hockey is not played in most of India, it remains neglected. Women's ice hockey used to get very little attention till 2016 when the women's team participated in the IIHF's IHWCCOA. Prior to this, the players were forced to use equipment donated by the men's team. While the number of male hockey players has increased, the number of women players has stagnated.
In 2015, women ice hockey players in Ladakh formed a society called Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation (LWIHF) to improve women's ice hockey. General Secretary of LWIHF and goal tender for India, Noor Jahan said, "Since its formation, LWIHF has been organising coaching camps for young girls. LWIHF believes that involvement in one sport from an early age ensures a longer career and positive long-term impact for the sport."
Ice hockey in India is still in its infancy. There is no indoor rink in Ladakh where players can practice their skills throughout the year. As a result, the Indian players barely get a month's practice before participating in tournaments such as IIHF's IHWCCOA.
Indian player, Kunzes Angmo emphasised the need for an indoor rink. "An indoor rink is the most basic requirement for an ice hockey player. Right now, we are able to practice for a very short period before tournaments. If they are unable to create such an infrastructure, I hope the government provides us with land to build a floor-ball or in-line skating rink to enable our players to practice in the summer." Ice hockey in India has a long way to go and requires steadfast support from the government and civil society in terms of funds and other forms of support.
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.