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Tourism is unpredictable, need to explore other sectors in Ladakh: RK Mathur

Last Updated on August 6, 2020 at 1:14 am

On the first anniversary of UT status to Ladakh on August 5, R K Mathur in an interview tells how the arid desert has progressed during the year and what developmental projects have been brought to Ladakh.

Q.1. What have been the major challenges you have faced as the first Lt. Governor of UT Ladakh right from the date of the announcement of UT status till the present? And how did the UT administration address them?

A.        The first daunting task has been the creation and functionality of a new administrative structure, of UT.

The onset of the usual harsh winter soon after the formation of UT Ladakh was a major challenge. In this period, the region remains isolated from the rest of the country for five to six months.  During winters, the administration addressed the following issues

  1. Steady power supply was maintained. From February, 2020, 24×7 power supply is available. DG set (58) availability in remote unconnected areas was increased by about 6 to 8 hrs per day.
  2. Large no of additional water tankers were arranged to give the best ever drinking water supply of about 3.5 lac litres per day during winters.
  3. With the help of Indian Air Force, 415 MT of fresh vegetables and essential commodities were airlifted.
  4. 2125 no of passengers and patients were moved in and out of Ladakh, primarily from Kargil, by the IAF during the Corona lockdown period as well as winters.
  5. 18 satellite phones were placed in different areas which get cut off during winters to ensure communication for evacuation of patients and availability of essential supplies.
  6. Leh-Srinagar Highway (Zojila-pass), was opened on 11thApril, 20 by BRO, almost one month before the normal time, giving great relief to the people. Similarly, Manali-Leh Highway was opened on 18th May 2020, by BRO one month ahead of normal time.
  7. Early opening of internal roads viz..Khaltsi-Lingshed, Kargil-Padum(Zanskar) etc. was ensured.

Unfortunately, just as our working season was about to start in March, the global pandemic of COVID-19 spread across the world and Ladakh too was impacted by it. This forced the administration to devote substantial energy to tackle the matter. We set up two dedicated hospitals. Two RT-PCR machines were also installed to increase testing, which today stands at about 70000 tests per million population. This is among the highest in the country. Administration and the two Hill Councils have ensured that the repatriation process of the people of Ladakh after unlocking was seamless and quick. We are now working to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region, while also taking up developmental activities.

Also Read: After Chinese aggression, Govt grants Rs 24.63 crore for border development

Q.2. Since becoming the first LG of Ladakh, you have toured the whole region including in the peak of the winters. You have also met and interacted with people from different parts of Ladakh. How was this experience for you? And, what is your opinion of Ladakh and the aspirations of Ladakhis? 

 A. The winters in Ladakh are unique. My journeys helped me understand the terrain, the harsh climatic conditions and the challenges people face here. Undoubtedly, Ladakh offers aesthetic beauty and serenity where people live in harmony with nature. However, the region remains deprived of basic facilities to provide a good living standard to its people. The people aspire for infrastructure like better health care services, education, road connectivity, uninterrupted electric supply, safe drinking water, irrigation facilities, internet connectivity and tele-communication services etc. They are looking for economic development, protection of jobs, environment, culture and land. The administration is working to deliver on all of these issues and to allay the apprehensions of people.

Q.3. What are the significant achievements of UT Ladakh in the last year?

A. The UT received highest-ever budgetary allocation of Rs. 5154 crores during 2019-20, followed by an allocation of Rs. 5,958 crore in 2020-21. In addition, the highest-ever non-lapsable budgetary allocation of Rs. 232.41 crore each has been made to the Hill Councils of Leh and Kargil.

The Union Govt. has proactively assisted Ladakh. On the one hand additional budget have been given, on the other Hon’ble Prime Minister has given an important direction for development, namely vision of Ladakh as a Carbon Neutral UT. The UT administration has worked with Govt of India for the following initiatives.

  1. To boost traditional medical knowledge of Ladakh and for producing qualified doctors (Amchis), National Research Institute for Sowa Rigpa has been sanctioned with a budget of  Rs 30.80 Cr( Capital) & 16.45 Cr (Recurring).
  2. GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment has set up a campus in Ladakh. This is expected to substantially help in scientific decision making by the UT administration.
  3. A Medical college has been sanctioned for UT Ladakh.
  4. National Skill Training Institute (NSTI) extension centre has been established in Leh by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
  5. 7500 MW Solar Power Project to be executed by SECI. Bid submission for the project is underway. Site visits for the prospective bidders were conducted.
  6. The Food Craft Institute, Leh shall be upgraded to Institute of Hotel Management Ladakh. DPR for the proposed IHM amounting to Rs. 33.00 Crore is under submission to Ministry of Tourism.
  7. About 1000 pilgrims who had gone to Iran/Iraq and were stranded there due to lockdown were brought back with the help of Govt. of India.
  8. Disbursed Rs. 1000 per beneficiary as ex-gratia under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) to 6625 existing and newly sanctioned beneficiaries under NSAP.
  9. Under Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna (PMGKAY) a total of 2158.41 MT Rice and 87.65 MT Pulses were distributed.
  10. 950 quintal of rice has been distributed as dry ration under mid-day meal scheme to students during lockdown period.
  11. Implementation of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ package has started. 786 MSME units have been sanctioned Rs. 25.4 crores of subsidised bank loans.
  12. Approval of Kargil-Zanskar highway at an app. Cost of Rs 1921 crores.
  13. A Central University approved. Amongst other subjects, it would also teach Buddhist studies.
  14. Leh and Kargil to be developed as smart cities.
  15. DRDOs lab viz DIHAR has set up a RT-PCR machine to supplement efforts for Corona virus testing.

Q.4. Government of India has announced a Special Development Package for the newly created UT of Ladakh. How will these funds be utilised? 

A. In a unique step, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 has a provision for granting a Special Development Package for Ladakh. Hon’ble Home Minister has announced that this shall be a non lapsable package of about Rs. 50000 crores. UT of Ladakh has submitted its proposals for inclusion under Special Development Package. They focus primarily on development of infrastructure i.e. Health care facilities, roads, tunnels, transmission lines etc, higher education institutions and economic activities etc. Effective implementation of this package is expected to give a major boost to the prosperity of UT

Also Read: Covid-19 and Chinese aggression, a double whammy for Ladakh

Q.5. How does the UT administration intend to carry out developmental activities in rural areas of Ladakh? And, has the administration identified any priority sectors?

A. The immediate big challenge for the administration is a new administrative structure in Ladakh. This include UT Administration, a new Revenue Division, two LAHDC’s with substantially increased power (through an amendment originally done by J&K govt and subsequently approved by the Parliament), and Panchayati Raj institutions at block and village levels. All these institutions have to work harmoniously, even though the interplay of these institutions is clearly defined by law and leaves no ambiguity .

The UT Administration has taken several steps to make the administrative structure effective as given below.

Empowering LAHDCs:

  1. LAHDC Act and its 2018 amendments was ratified by Parliament and continued. The Councils have executive powers over subjects such as science & technology, promotion and development of traditional Amchi System of Medicine, food, civil supplies and public distribution, rural development and power development etc. The post of Deputy Chairman was also created to be elected by it’s elected members from amongst themselves.
  2. LAHDC in Leh and Kargil have been allocated highest ever budget of Rs. 232.41 Crores each.
  3. Funds amounting to Rs 2.5 Crore to LAHDC Leh and Rs 3.5 Crore to LAHDC Kargil were placed at their disposal for evacuation of stranded people during the corona lockdown period.
  4. LAHDCs have been authorised to identify beneficiaries under various schemes outside the District Plan also.
  5. Vacant posts of Block Development Officers have been filled at the Blocks, to enable the Councils to spend the allocated budgets.
  6. Assistant Commissioners Development and Block Development Officers of Rural Development Department have being empowered to call tenders.
  7. Manpower gaps, particularly technical staffs of engineering departments of LAHDCs were filled to some extent by the UT Administration through outsourcing. A total of 188 Engineers were outsourced and placed at the disposal of executing agencies of LAHDCs.
  8. A two weeks exposure tour of the members of LAHDC Leh and Kargil was organised to enable them to study functioning of Zila Parishad and 6th Schedule Councils.
  9. As per LAHDC Act the budgets allocated to them are non- lapsable. The modalities to ensure this in the new Administrative set up is being worked out.

Empowering Blocks & Panchayats:

  1. In a major step towards empowering local self government, the Administration of the UT ordered enhancement of monthly honorarium of   Sarpanch(s) and fixation of monthly honorarium and allowances for the newly elected Chairpersons of Block Development Councils.
  2. Trainings to the Sarpanches, BDOs and MIS operators of Leh district regarding online payment system of 14th FC grants on PRIASOFT portal were conducted.
  3. Training programme for newly elected chairpersons of BDC was organised at National Institute of Rural Development at Hyderabad.

The major administrative decisions and developmental initiatives are listed below.

  1. Various required authorities, societies and boards were constituted and notified, which include:
  2. Licensing authority under Motor Vehicle Act.
  3. Compounding authorities under Motor Vehicle Act, 1988.
  4. Regulatory Authority under Real Estate (RERA).
  5. Census officer for Census 2020-21.
  6. Ladakh Board for Wildlife.
  7. Pollution Control Committee.
  8. UT Planning Board.
  9. A ban on single use plastic has been imposed
  10. Full internet services were restored in Kargil district.
  11. 154 State Laws and 44 Central laws were examined in detail and proposals for their adaptation sent to MHA.
  12. Proposal for constitution of Ladakh Administrative Service, Ladakh Police (Gazetted) Service, Ladakh Forest (Gazetted) Service finalized.
  13. Proposal to upgrade the Zila Sainik Welfare Office, Leh to Rajya Sainik Board UT Ladakh prepared.
  14. Amendments were notified to Reservation Rules for adapting them to the requirement of Ladakh and formally notified.
  15. The UT administration notified the Ladakh Legal Services Authority Rules.
  16. A Pawan Hans helicopter has been permanently placed at Leh for evacuation of patients and movement of public and officials to snow bound areas.
  17. The UT Administration enhanced the diet charges in residential schools (Hostels) from the existing Rs 50 to Rs. 100 per day per student.
  18. Ladakh Police has been separated from the erstwhile J&K police and started functioning independently.
  19. Ladakh winter games 2020 were organised at block, district and UT levels in which 807 males and 153 female players participated.
  20. Ladakh Food Security Scheme was launched to give additional subsidy to 6101 AAY families.
  21. The feasibility study of Kargil airport for making it functional for landing of wide bodied civilian aircrafts initiated. Consultancy has been awarded to International Civil Aviation Organization. Funds amounting to Rs. 3.54 Cr released to ICAO.

Developmental Initiatives:

  1. After almost 20 years of decline, number of Pashmina goats in border areas of Changthang has increased by 6%.
  2. Zanskar, Nyoma & Tangtse are being covered under Tele Medicine.
  3. Mission Organic Development Initiative (MODI) sanctioned under the Special Development Package (SDP), 2020-21 with the aim of converting Ladakh into an organic region by 2025.
  4. A scheme to set up polycarbonate green house has been launched to make winter vegetables available.
  5. The University of Ladakh has been set up and has started functioning.
  6. 110 apricot drier cum space heating system for hygienic and quick drying of apricot have been installed.
  7. Online mobile app launched for education of students of 1st -12th classes. In addition, All India Radio and Doordarshan is being extensively used.
  8. First edition of Ladakh Winter Conclave was organised for preparing a roadmap for developing Ladakh’s winter tourism was organized.
  9. Tender floated under Khelo India Scheme for laying of Synthetic Track and Astro Turf for football grounds and construction if Gymnasium hall at NDS Sporst Complex Leh.
  10. UT Ladakh participated in South Asian Travel and Trade Expo (SATTE-2020) at New Delhi to promote Ladakh tourism.
  11. Ladakh Handloom and Handicraft fair was organised at Delhi Haat to promote local artisans.
  12. The Rural Development Department Leh received National award from the Ministry of RD & Panchayati Raj, GoI for overall performance under Shyama Prasad Mukherji RURBAN Mission.
  13. An Engineering college is proposed at kargil.

Q.6. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Indo-China border tension has had a negative impact on Ladakh’s booming tourism industry. What steps has UT Administration taken to support and revive the tourism business in Ladakh?

A. Tourism in Ladakh has flourished over the past few decades and has made a significant contribution to Ladakh’s economy with a turnover of nearly Rs. 600 crore that benefits about 70% of Ladakh’s population. The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered tourism across the world and Ladakh too is suffering from these impacts. The Ladakh Tourism Department has been allocated a budget of Rs. 247 crore for the financial year 2020-21 under the Special Development Package of UT Ladakh and once things start to normalise, we will execute plans to bolster and revive the tourism sector. In addition, we are also implementing an incentive policy to revitalize the tourism sector and make it more sustainable and environment-friendly. Under Atma Nirbhar Bharat Package announced by Government of India, the administration is encouraging all hotels and other services industries to register as MSMEs. This has already assisted many of the worst affected to get moratorium and subsidized additional loans.

Also Read: Kargil hills that witnessed war likely to be opened for trekking

Q.7. Is UT administration exploring alternative livelihoods besides tourism?

A. Tourism will always be unpredictable, especially in the context of global issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdowns. In addition, Ladakh is a frontier region and any border tension with our neighbors has a direct impact on tourism. We are working on strengthening alternative livelihoods especially in agriculture and allied sectors that can make Ladakh self-sustainable. Ladakh has a treasure trove of traditional wisdom and practices related to agriculture that needs to be revitalized. We need to tap the latent potential of sectors such horticulture, as well as medicinal and aromatic plants and bolster them with technological interventions. We have already initiated steps in this direction which include Mission Organic Development Initiative under Special Development Package; polycarbonate greenhouses; solar dryers; capacity building workshops; technological training & conferences; workshops, etc. to the people of Ladakh. In addition we have decided to focus on animal resources, particularly pashmina goats. The intention is to develop the full and value chain viz from the harvesting of pashmina wool from the animal to the sale of pashmina products.

Q.8. Road and communication connectivity has always been a challenge in Ladakh in the context of its terrain and climatic conditions. How is the UT Administration addressing this issue?

A. Ladakh has one of the toughest terrains in the world. This year, we were able to re-open the national highways (Leh-Manali, Leh-Srinagar) a month earlier with support from Border Road Organisation (BRO). Similarly, we were also able to open internal roads such as Khaltsi-Lingshed, Kargil-Padum (Zanskar) etc.We have also stationed Pawan Hans helicopter in Ladakh to ensure timely evacuation of patients and movement of public and officials across the region. We have also initiated a feasibility study for Kargil airport to make it functional for wide-bodied civilian aircrafts. In addition to this, we are also developing bigger projects under Ladakh SDP to provide reliable road and communication connectivity for every corner of Ladakh.

Q.9. How do you see the future of Ladakh as India’s newest Union Territory?

A. The aspiring youth of Ladakh remain the main drivers of its development as they are well-educated, informed, innovative, connected with the outside world, highly-skilled, ambitious, enthusiastic, committed and diligent. That is why I feel the future of Ladakh is very promising. The UT administration is working with all stakeholders, especially young entrepreneurs and agripreneurs, to make Ladakh self-reliant.

Also Read: Zojila Tunnel in Ladakh to counter Pakistan and China

            The administration has already prepared a draft vision document titled ‘Ladakh 2050’. This document is presently going through an intensive review by all the stakeholders before finalization. Ladakh can aspire to become the renewable energy capital of India. Similarly, through the developments strategy which has been outlined above, we can aspire not only for a Carbon neutral Ladakh that is prosperous.  It is because of these thoughts that the predominant feeling in UT Ladakh today is hope for the fulfillment of their expectations and aspirations.