By Dr. Mir Nazima Rasool Moludi and Dr. Aijaz Hassan Ganie
The cold desert of Ladakh in the Trans-Himalayan region between 320 15’ N and 750 15’- 800 15’ E is spread on an area of about 68,321 sq km. Ladakh is the northern most part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and covers the major part of the total area of the State. Ladakh region comprises two districts – Leh and Kargil. Kargil is now our home.
During our trip to the other district Leh, we noticed a sharp difference in the level of development between the two districts of the region. Though, in terms of green cover, landscape and environmental conditions (oxygen level and extent of UV radiations) Kargil is much better than Leh and can be a hot-spot for tourism. But unfortunately, this place has not been promoted asa tourist destination o due to lack of effort in this direction on part of the State administration in general, and the local administration, in particular.
Leh is much ahead of Kargil as far as the graph of development is concerned. Its hospitals, shopping malls, educational institutions and infrastructure, in general, have nothing to compare with in Kargil. The main hospital of Kargil is very small and is located in a noisy congested alley. The way to the hospital is not only narrow but steep as well which causes inconvenience to patients and attendants alike.
Kargil has no functional airport; something, sort of an airport, is “under construction” near the main town, when it would be ready for public use, no one knows. Schools especially for small children have barren lands for lawns. Dust storms rise high from the barren grounds of these schools when children play. Such scenes are horrific; one is chilled to think of the effect the dust will have on the health of small children. Reasons whatever, it seems that in the march towards development Kargil has been chained to stay at the same place for years together whereas Leh has moved much forward. Local politicians would know the “whys” and “how’s” of this better.
The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) is working in Leh and it is working in Kargil as well. Why is there this huge disparity in the level of development between the two districts, only God knows! One wonders how LAHDC people from Kargil feel when they visit their sister district. Does it force them to introspect? Or, are they too busy to notice the “less important” things related to development? Maybe!
People grappling with mundane needs of bread and butter are too much occupied to ask for answers from their “elected representatives” and the story goes on like that. The stark disparity between the two regions which are similar in so many respects is incomprehensible. Leh has cashed much on tourism; what prevents Kargil from doing so remains a mystery.
Vast expanses of land at prime locations where hospitals, airports, universities, public utility offices, community parks, educational institutions etc. could be constructed are under the occupation of Indian armed forces. Politicians long back should have relocated Indian Army to some other areas and cleared way for use of this land for development of civilian institutions and infrastructure. Huge expanses of land are available in the district where military institutions can be established, however, political activism required for development seems to be lacking in the local politicians. Moreover, the development of border areas should be one of the strategies of security agencies as well but, alas! Nothing of that sort is visible on ground.
Some patch work and cosmetic touch here and there would not do. The local government should mount pressure on both the State as well as the Central Government to start developmental work in the area immediately. Work on the Zoji La Tunnel which has been halted on flimsy grounds should be started on a war footing. Local people are desperately waiting for the day this tunnel will become a reality. This tunnel will boost the local economy. The rates of food items and other essential commodities, which at present, are double or triple as compared with the other cities of the State, mainly due to transportation charges, will go down; the opening of this tunnel will improve economic status of Leh as well. Furthermore, the road to Zanskar goes through the heart of Kargil and obviously the tunnel in contention will be beneficial for Zanskar region also. Something which is as vital for the development of a region as this tunnel should not be put in the cold storage. Construction of an airport will link this region with the external world and will help in bringing Kargil and Zanskar regions on the tourist map of the State. It is high time for the local politicians to work in this direction without further delay.
The authors are Assistant Professors at the University of Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com respectively