By Chhewang Dorje, Stawa 02-19
Road development in Zangskar, Ladakh
Government of India has been attempting to bring development to each and every corner of the state by linking cut-off villages through motorable roads under the ambitious Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). However, these efforts and schemes seem to be a glaring failure. PMGSY was launched in 2000 by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to provide road connectivity to unconnected villages. Nineteen years have passed since Government of India introduced this scheme. However, at least two villages in Zangskar sub-division of Kargil district, Rallakung and Shun Shaday are still waiting for a road to connect them with the outside world.
Rallakung is a small village about 45 kms from the Phey village, which remains the nearest village with a motorable road. Unfortunately, the road has still not reached Rallakung and its residents continue to wait for better connectivity with the outside world. Zangskar is one of the most remote areas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and most of it is located at an altitude of 3,500m above mean sea level. Zangskar sub-division is spread over an area of 7,000 sq kms. Its administrative headquarters is in Padum, which is around 250 kms from the district headquarters in Kargil town. The road that connects Zangskar and the rest of the district remains in a deplorable state even four decades after it was first constructed.
India has enjoyed political independence and self-governance for 71 years now. Yet, hundreds of people in the remote villages of Kargil district, especially in Zangskar sub-division, continue to be deprived of road connectivity even today. The lack of connectivity compounds the problems that the residents of the villages face on a daily basis. They have to walk for more than 40 kms from their home to reach a macadamised road where they can access motorised transport.
In the absence of road connectivity, the villagers often have to undertake an arduous 80 km round trip over an extremely steep and hilly path on a daily basis. During the rains in the monsoon and snow in the winter, the path becomes extremely slippery and even life-threatening. What upsets the 50 families of Rallakung even more is that all other villages in Phey Halqa Panchayat are connected by motorable roads.
The lack of connectivity impacts every aspect of life in the village. For instance, there is no Public Distribution System (PDS) outlet in Rallakung village. This forces villagers to walk 40 kms to buy ration from the nearest PDS distribution facility in Phey village. On their return journey, they have to navigate the treacherous path while carrying 40 to 50 kgs of grocery and other supplies. Many people carry these supplies on their back, while some are able to afford a horse to carry these materials. It costs several hundred rupees to hire a pony from Phey to Rallakung. The villagers are forced to pay a flat rate of 2300 to transport a gas cylinder from Padum to Phey and then to Rallakung. This additional expense is over and above the cost of a cylinder in Padum. We must remember that gas cylinders cost more in Zangskar than other parts of Ladakh. In Padum, people pay 21,300 for a gas cylinder. Thus, the villagers of Rallakung pay around 21,600 for each gas cylinder simply because their village does not have road connectivity.
In addition to these daily challenges, the lack of road connectivity also worsens medical and other emergencies. The village lacks medical facilities of any kind. As a result, when someone falls sick or is hurt, he or she has to be carried by four men to the nearest hospital at Padum. They thus have to first carry the person to Phey over a perilous path and once they reach the road, they have to find some form of transportation to get the patient to Padum. Similarly, women who are pregnant have to either deliver their baby at home or get admitted to a hospital much before their due date.
Thankfully, there is a primary school in the village. However, students who want to pursue higher education have to make a daily trek of about seven hours to reach the nearest high school in Phey or the closest higher secondary school located in Padum. These students often have to make this daily commute over long distances on foot. It is not surprising that the prospect of walking such great distances on a daily basis deters many people from enrolling their children, especially girls, in high school or higher secondary school. Thus, the lack of road connectivity not only deprives villagers of enjoying their basic right to education but also prevents them from accessing the other rights to which they are entitled.
The lack of basic facilities such as roads to such villages of Zangskar sub-division exposes the level of development in these areas. The PMGSY scheme was launched with the sole purpose of providing road connectivity to such unconnected villages. However, even 19 years after its launch, the scheme has failed to provide even a semblance of road connectivity to villages like Rallakung and Shun Shaday.
It is rather ironic that the rest of Ladakh and the state are aspiring and complaining about digital connectivity when there are places that are not even physically connected to the outside world! We often hear people complain about potholes on roads even as other places celebrate road safety week with themes such as 'Sadak Suraksha - Jeevan Raksha' (Road safety - security). However, we seem to have forgotten places like Rallakung and Shun Shaday, whose residents are still deprived of basic facilities, their constitutional rights and even the basic benefits of developmental change.
We recently celebrated Republic Day to mark the moment when India formally became a republic. Much has taken place in the seven decades since India got its independence. It is now aspiring to be a global power. However, such lofty aspirations have a hollow ring once you realise that citizens of the country are still deprived of even the most basic amenities. The state of affairs in Zangskar sub-division remains deplorable as nothing has changed in more than seven decades for some villages like Rallakung and Shun Shaday.