Ladakh: From a District to UT

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Ladakh, comprising Leh and Kargil, with a population of less than 2 lakhs, was a district with its headquarters at Leh till 1976. The people of Kargil always felt neglected as against Leh. There was a persistent demand for a separate district which materialised in 1976 when the State government headed by S M Abdullah created more districts in the valley and Jammu. With this the single line administration was introduced and District Development Boards created. The deputy commissioners were designated as district development commissioners. A superintending engineer was posted to each district who had the control over all the wings of the works sector. All the MLAs /MLCs were declared as members of the board. Now onwards the boards were vested with the powers to prioritize the district plan within the allocated budget.

Leh district continued to have an edge over Kargil, partly due to their education and tourist friendly attitude of the people and introduction of air connectivity from Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu in 1979. Whereas there was a good flow of tourists especially the foreigners in Leh, very few foreign tourists visited Garkone area of Kargil district where the people are believed to be of Aryan origin. Whereas there was a college in Leh in early 1980s, Kargil got it in 1994 during the governor rule. On the persistent demand of the people, and supported by the then governor, ministry of civil aviation approved the project in 1993 for the airport at Kargil which was completed in 1995. The trial run with the 25 seated Donniar aircraft was done twice in 1995 but the commercial operation was never started.

The people of Leh not satisfied with the district development board put in a demand for the UT status and got the autonomous hill development council in 1995 during the governor rule. The Kargil district declined the similar offer as the two organisations namely Islamia School and Khumani Memorial Trust, having a total say in the area, did not approve the proposal; they feared that it will alienate them from the Kashmir valley. They believed that the hill council will be in no way more effective than the district development board and a large part of the budget will go for the administrative support of the council at the cost of the development. The hill council was formed in Kargil in 2002 when Mufti Sayeed took over as the CM of the state.

With the abrogation of Art. 370 from the Indian Constitution on August 5, 2019, Ladakh with a population of about 3 lakhs has become a union territory without the legislature. The hill councils have become irrelevant. The administrative set up is top heavy which will need larger part of the budget leaving little for the development of the area in the long run. There is an apprehension amongst the people in both the districts in the matters of land, and  for safe guarding the same a demand has been made to GoI to include the area in the tribal belt. Only time will tell if the decision to carve out a union territory from two districts without the legislature was prudent. The administration will have a field day as there is no representative of the people to question.

Er. S R S Madni is former Secretary to J&K Govt.