The recent protests by the people of Kargil against the Governor’s administration decision for creating Ladakh as a separate revenue & administrative unit from Kashmir with divisional status headquartered at Leh is neither a dog-in-the-manger policy nor an overnight reaction. It’s a tale of negligence heaped gradually – a decades old trickling that started flooding. The district is so far known to be least inclined to agitation despite occasional provocations from the only thickly populated strip of Paddam in Zanskar.
The district situated at an altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level has been carved out in 7/1979 by separating it from Leh situated at a height of 11,000 feet from the mean sea level in what is called Ladakh.
Ladakh one of the three regions of J & K comprises of an area of 86,909 km2 extending from Siachin Glacier in the Karakoram in the north-east to the main Great Himalayas in the south inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent.
At geographical & developmental indices the tale of Kargil is distinct right from its creation vis-à-vis Leh. Although as per census 1971/1981 the population of Leh was 51,891/68,380 and that of Kargil 53,400/65,992 respectively yet Kargil was given allotted an area of 14,086 km2 whereas Leh was allowed to possess 45,110 km2, i,e three times more than that of Kargil marginalized physically. The remaining area of 27,713 km2 is construed to be under China’s occupation.
Leh the land of white-washed Stupas, Gompas-Tibetan-Buddhist Monasteries has a triangular connectivity with the country. The two roads are Leh-Manlai and via Kargil-Srinagar during summer season besides all weather air connectivity through Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh- the 22nd highest commercial airport in the world filling the voids in winter.
This connectivity has facilitated trade, travel, tourism and other activities developmental results of which are as plain as a pikestaff. Kargil has no such way out except through Zojila, at a height of 11,500 feet from mean sea level, which remains closed from December (even before) to April and dented in spring/ summer demonizing the concerned.
In fact Kargil sacrificed one precious life when a person fell down from a matador during nineties land of Agas (Shia clerics & priests) went to Bagh Khomeni to welcome Sachin Pilot the then Congress minister concerned to announce a civil air port.
Since then nothing happened. For mitigating their difficulties the Kargiliates aspire for re-opening of all weather 160-170 kms long Kargil-Skardu road, to have access to Skardu which is the shortest distance from Kargil to any other major city. It is said presently there are 8,000 families standing divided on the fence of LoC closed since 1949.
The divided souls who share same and similar ethnicity and culture flutter to meet each other. People need to travel from Kargil to Skardu via Srinagar, New Delhi, Attari, Lahore and Islamabad that counts for about 2,700 kms and takes 6 days of arduous travel otherwise possible within 6 hours enjoyably and at less costs & fatigue. The civilian areas are so close that from the adjacent hill of last village of Hundarma (Indian side) one may see the people/villages of other parted relations.
Moreover, when Jammu region has Poonch-Rawalakote road, Kashmir Uri-Muzaffarabad road for trade & travel, it is only Ladakh region destitute of it so far deserving vehemently to have one of Kargil- Skardu which has previously been a stretch of famious Silk Road also. With 15 years back announced digging of Zojila- Kargil tunnel not maturing till date the feel of discrimination by Kargiliates should not annoy but awake the helmsmen to the much needed action.
On educational front there has been a Central Institute of Buddhist Studies formerly known as School of Buddhist Philosophy established in 1959 in Leh by Ladakh Gompa Association with affiliation to Sumpuranand Sanskrit University of Varanasi. On 19-3-2016 this CIBS was given deemed university status. Just after a gap of some 33 months on 15-12-2018 Governor’s administration approved proposal for establishing a full-fledged university headquartered at Leh covering five colleges- two of Leh and three of Kargil districts. Here too Kargil is at bay with common presumption that race & religion have come in the way.
Façade of the pilloried Kargil bears testimony to the repercussion of these shortcomings. Chain of bounties continued with the sanctioning of divisional headquarter at Leh instead of Kargil to balance the justice. Kargil with three colleges, logistically equidistant with 160-170 kms from Skardu, 205 kms from Srinagar, 229 from Leh and 235 kms from Zanskar the university should have been stationed at Kargil. Grapevine has it that Gubernatorial administration has taken decisions having far reaching effects which generally are taken by the elected representatives of the people after a due debate & discussion in the august house of legislature.
Speculations are also rife that creating a separate division was more a deliberation than the demand as no such homework was there in contrast to the persistent requests by the people of Chenab Valley and the Pirpanchal range which have been met only with denials. The people of these areas too suffer due to lack of road, rail and air connectivity owing to the nonchalant timely state/centre governments.
These exclusively hilly areas too deserve divisional status separately more than that of Ladakh having two separate Autonomous Hill Development Councils one each at Leh (1995) and Kargil (2003), more powerful than the state, that has never strived for divisional status. Succeeding in sharing divisional status on rotational basis with Leh , Kargil is half-way lacking a full fledged university/civil airport and opening of Kargil-Skurdu road. When population of 2,87,492 (as per census 2011) of the two districts of Leh and Kargil qualify for grant of separate division, three districts each of the Chenab valley and the Pirpanchal area having population of 9,23,926 and 14,10,800 respectively justify sufficiently creation of two more separate divisions.
It is time to rise to the occasion as demanded by the civil society and the political parties. May this dispensation work to be remembered as an accommodative, impartial & judicious administration and remove scepticism of those who question the time and intent of such decisions?
(The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer working as Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.)