Over the past few days, there has been much discussion about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to remove Articles 370 and 35 (A). For many Indians, this was a decision long overdue. The last two years have seen peace and progress in Jammu and Kashmir. However, as the Member of Parliament from Ladakh, I would like to throw light on how this period has been for the people of Ladakh, who are equally important stakeholders in the debates around 370 and 35 (A).
Ladakh is a land of enchanting beauty and diversity. People of different faiths and communities co-exist here. Ladakh is also of great strategic importance to our nation. For decades, the people of Ladakh had aspirations which were not met in full. The most fundamental demand we had was to become a Union Territory — with the slogan “Free Ladakh from Kashmir” — so that our development needs are addressed faster. It was PM Modi who heeded this foundational demand of the people of Ladakh.
Since Ladakh was made a UT, it feels like the government has moved closer to the people. Earlier, going to Srinagar or Jammu was tedious. Moreover, the complexities of the Valley and Jammu were such that Ladakh often featured as an afterthought.
In the last two years we are already seeing glimpses of what is sure to be a glorious future for Ladakh. A budget allocation of almost Rs 6,000 crore, the highest ever, has been given to Ladakh during 2021-22. This will be used across different sectors to fulfil long-pending demands, particularly in healthcare, infrastructure connectivity and more. The allocation for the welfare of the ST community has also seen a sharp rise.
An integrated multi-purpose corporation is being proposed to take up various projects as per the specific needs of the Ladakh region. Such emphasis on localised governance to support the UT administration and the central government is laudable. It will give a shot in the arm to grassroots and participative governance.
Whenever I have interacted with PM Modi, he has spoken about boosting the education levels in Ladakh. It is a matter of great happiness that the Sindhu Central University is being set up in Ladakh. This project is going to go a long way in augmenting educational infrastructure. The youngsters of Ladakh are talented, but are in need of the right nurturing, which this University will provide.
Solar energy is a sector of the future. In that context, the MoU with the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) for setting up a 50 MW solar energy plant is a major positive development. Similarly, a tripartite MoU, between ONGC, the UT administration and Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, for the first-ever Geothermal Field Development Project has been inked. I see these projects as beneficial for India’s energy requirements and our commitment to a sustainable future.
Work has been progressing at a rapid pace in some areas in the last two years. Tunnel construction is happening faster and covering even the remotest areas like Drass and Lungnak. For a connectivity-deprived land, this is great news. Recently, Rs 1,300 crore was approved for laying an Inter-State Transmission line to connect Zanskar and the Nubra valley to the National Grid. Work is underway to ensure high speed internet access across Ladakh. Youngsters are particularly excited about this development as it brings the world to their phones. We are on track to realise the dream of a digital Ladakh through hundreds of 4G mobile towers under the Universal Service Obligation Fund. Ladakh is also home to the highest motorable roads in the world.
The development of border infrastructure, such as the ongoing construction of the Zoji La Tunnel, the approval for the Shinkun La Tunnel, the Lachung La and Taglang La Tunnel, the road to Daulat Beg Oldi, Umling La road, Col. Rinchen Bridge at the river Shyok are strategically vital for us. Rs 250 crore has been allotted under the Changthang Development Package to build requirements for the people living in the eastern border villages of Ladakh. Such care towards remote areas is a welcome sign.
The people of Ladakh can never forget February 3, 2019. That was the day PM Modi inaugurated many development works and laid the foundation stone for several more projects. He described Ladakh as a land of heroes and recalled Ladakh’s role in upholding the unity of India. Two projects that stand out are the Dah Hydroelectric project and the Srinagar-Alusteng-Drass- Kargil-Leh Transmission system which will cater to the power and water needs of Ladakh. The people of Ladakh often faced the brunt of delayed projects and rising project costs. In the last seven years, thanks to the vision of the Modi government, we are seeing a change in the old culture of keeping projects in suspended animation so that the pockets of a few could be lined.
The PM also laid the foundation stone for a new terminal at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport. This will bring more tourists to Ladakh and take our people to different parts of our country and the world.
For long, it was ingrained in us that Ladakh is an “also-ran” alongside more powerful participants. It was unthinkable that it would emerge from the shadow of others and that we would get the opportunity to shape our own destiny. What PM Modi did in 2019 has set the stage for a long-standing transformation of Ladakh, placing it in the fifth gear of development. He has successfully developed a sense of integration, security, and acceptance. He has respected and honoured us, moving us away from the erstwhile sense of isolation and insecurity.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 11, 2021 under the title ‘Ladak’s small moment’. The writer is Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from Ladakh