The Jammu and Kashmir administration under Governor Satya Pal Malik on Friday approved creation of a separate division of Ladakh, comprising Kargil and Leh districts, by carving it out of Kashmir division. The state thus far had two divisions – Kashmir and Jammu, Ladakh being part of the former.
Saugat Biswas, a 2006-batch IAS officer of J&K cadre, has been appointed the Divisional Commissioner for Ladakh.
The move is likely to give rise to similar demands in some districts of Jammu region, where people are demanding separate hill councils for Pir Panjal (comprising Rajouri and Poonch districts) and Chenab Valley region (Doda, Ramban and Kishtwar districts).
Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, former CMs and leaders of the state’s two main regional parties, PDP and NC, respectively, welcomed the decision and sought the same status for Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley. Many people and local body leaders in these areas also demanded a similar status.
In order, autonomy demand ‘rationale’
The demand for division status for Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley will find justification in the government order itself — explaining the move, the administration said that Ladakh is one of the most sparsely populated regions of J&K that remains land-locked for nearly six months each year. “Consequently, the region is riddled with insurmountable problems with respect to delivery of developmental schemes, redress of public grievances, conduct of administrative affairs and governance as such,’’ the order states.
The move is significant in the run-up to the General Election, as the region has long demanded separation from Kashmir division. While Buddhist-majority Leh sought a Union Territory status, Shia Muslim-majority Kargil had strong voices for more administrative autonomy within the state.
The administration’s order stated that the decision to create a separate administrative and revenue division “goes a long way in fulfilling governance and development aspirations of people of Ladakh region. The issue has been discussed at various fora and there has been a persistent demand for the creation of Ladakh division…”
The decision is also seen as a move by the BJP at the Centre in a bid to assuage the electorate, especially since sitting MP from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang, had resigned as an MP and quit the BJP, accusing the party of ignoring him regarding party affairs concerning Ladakh.
In December 2018, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) of Leh and Kargil had passed resolutions for creation of a separate division. Jamyang Tsering Namgial, chief executive councillor of LAHDC-Leh, had then said that while “political aspiration” of being a UT still holds, “Ladakh has been neglected by successive state governments and we want to be free from their administrative hold”.
On Friday, Namgial said, “People are celebrating this decision. This will empower the region and give fillip to development.”
But Feroz Ahmad Khan, CEC of LAHDC-Kargil, said while their demand has been met, “the decision to permanently keep the headquarters at Ladakh is against everything we were promised by the authorities…. The Governor and the Chief Secretary had promised us that it will be a rotational headquarter (between Leh and Kargil)”. Calling it a “welcome step”, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti said, “There is a great need to carve out a similar division for Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley, given the economic and development needs of the two regions.”
NC vice-president Omar Abdullah tweeted, “After the elections of 2019 should the people of J&K repose faith in @JKNC_ our government will grant division status to Chenab valley & Pir Panjal regions as already laid out in our regional autonomy promise.”
People’s Conference chief Sajad Lone tweeted, “…Equally important is the demand for separate divisions for Peer Panchal and Chenab. Smaller divisions will improve governance…”
Shafiq Mir, chairman of J&K Panchayat Conference, also said the administration’s decision has paved the way for grant of divisional status to Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley, which have so far only sought hill council status. He said the issue will be exploited by non-BJP parties, making demand for division status to these two regions a key election issue.
Pointing at the geographical similarity to back demand for autonomy, Imtiaz ul Rehman Bhat, social activist and leader of Bhaderwah Development Action Committee, in Doda, said, “Ours is also a land-locked region – the Bhaderwah-Chamba road remains closed for nine months a year.”
Indicating concentration of focus on Jammu and Kashmir regions, Dr Shahid Mughal, president of Bhaderwah Municipal Committee, said there are no doctors in the local hospital and patients with even minor problems are referred to either Jammu or Srinagar. “The government is setting up two AIIMS – in Jammu and Srinagar.”