It was a dream come true for the Ladakh people when the Jammu Kashmir Reorganisation Act was passed in August 2019. On October 31, it became a reality with the formal notification. Since then, Ladakh has been a special focus for the Union Government with special budgetary allocation. On the sidelines of a national conference organised Geo-Politics of the Himalayan Region organised by India Foundation, Hon Lt Governor of Ladakh Shri Radha Krishna Mathur, who was appointed as the first Lt Governor of Ladakh shared his vision about the hilly and strategically important region.
The former Defence Secretary and retired Chief Election Commissioner elaborated on his ideas of taking participatory mega-development initiatives to keeping it carbon neutral on the occasion of two years of the foundation day of the Union Territory in his personal and email conversation with Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser.
On October 31, 2019, a new Union Territory of Ladakh was carved out. How do you see this two-year journey?
Granting Union Territory status to Ladakh was a bold and historic decision of the Government of India, thus fulfilling the demand since 1949. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only granted Ladakh with UT status but has also envisioned a unique Development Mantra, that of a Carbon Neutral Ladakh.
The basic infrastructure such as heating, power and water supply didn’t exist. Ladakh’s severe winters were setting in. Nonetheless, we addressed those challenges and ensured that the UT Government is established and starts serving the people.
"The promotion of Winter tourism is one of our focus areas. This will spread the tourist inflow to a full year. Efforts are also being made to encourage privileged tourism to keep the footfalls under control. To facilitate such guests, we are revamping facilities such as heli-connectivity within and outside Ladakh and curating experiences such as wildlife safaris, dark sky sanctuary, bird watching, etc"
The announcement of the Uprofessionalsnion Territory has been generally received with enthusiasm. However, a view has also been expressed that there must be protection for Ladakh and its people for its fragile environment, culture, land, and jobs. I must stress that these concerns are being continuously addressed.
Over the past two years, we have worked with the Hon’ble Member of Parliament, both the elected Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils at Leh and Kargil, as well as with Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). In pursuance of the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision to develop Ladakh as a Carbon Neutral state, we have developed a Vision Document 2050 and Action Plan for all departments to achieve the goal of sustainable development in Ladakh. These plans are being implemented with success.
This is just the beginning, and we see a great future for Ladakh.
Border areas of Leh-Ladakh are susceptible from the strategic point of view. How far has the border infrastructure improved in the last two years?
The development of our border villages has been our priority ever since the formation of the Union Territory. Changthang region remained short of development mainly due to negligence of the system and lack of funds.
However, we are putting our best efforts to ensure that the people of Changthang experience modern amenities, good education and have the opportunity to flourish in their chosen means of livelihood. In this regard, a special Changthang Development Package of Rs 245 crore has been announced.
"We aim to provide world-class education locally to the youth to help them become competent professionals who can contribute to the development of Ladakh"
The package includes projects such as the provision of winter-proof tents, the development of nomadic camping sites with provision toilets, solar lighting, milk churners, setting up residential schools, sports facilities, road and telecom infrastructure, and development of a Dark Sky Sanctuary to boost tourism etc.
Further, to pin the region on the tourism map of Ladakh and to promote its nomadic traditions, a Nomadic festival was held for the first time this year.
Tourism has been the most important sector of Ladakh. At the same time, the environmental sensitivity of the region is also critical. How is the administration trying to balance both?
Tourism is a major contributor to Ladakh’s economy, with approximately three lakh tourists visiting each year, and the numbers have been increasing by the year. For further promotion of Tourism, various new festivals, such as the Apricot Blossom festival, Buckwheat festival, Mamani Food festival, Nomadic festival, Zanskar Festival, etc., have been successfully introduced. New products such as Astro Tourism, Wildlife Safaris, and new trekking routes are being added.
Ladakh has also been participating in South Asia Travel & Tourism Exchange (SATTE) since 2020 to strengthen and build new partnerships in the sector.
To address the concern of environmental sensitivity, the promotion of Winter tourism is one of our focus areas. This will spread the tourist inflow to a full year. Efforts are also being made to encourage privileged tourism to keep the footfalls under control. To facilitate such guests, we are revamping facilities such as heli-connectivity within and outside Ladakh and curating experiences such as wildlife safaris, dark sky sanctuary, bird watching, etc.
Further, to decentralise the influx of tourists, especially in Leh city and the other popular areas, we are developing and promoting Homestays across the expanse of Ladakh, which will also become a contributor to the rural economy.
Smaller initiatives such as Water ATMs are also aimed at discouraging the use of plastic water bottles.
How far are the traditional concerns of energy and livelihood security addressed?
Traditionally, Ladakh was fueled by DG sets and solar projects. Although solar energy for lighting was introduced to the region decades ago, many projects remained dysfunctional or were not optimally used due to technical or maintenance issues and provided a limited backup that did not meet the requirements.
With UT formation, we are now connected with the national grid. We are importing around 40 MWs during the winter months to ensure 24-hour power supply to the 60 per cent of Ladakh’s population, which is connected to the transmission line.
"We are striving to achieve carbon neutrality in Ladakh as per Prime Minister’s vision. Development of our primary sectors viz agriculture, horticulture, fisheries etc., to promote livelihood avenues thus is crucial for Ladakh’s development"
Solar systems have now been reactivated through maintenance and the provision of new batteries. This has ensured improved power availability even in the non-connected areas.
Ladakh has almost 30 GB of renewable energy potential, and various efforts are underway to exploit this potential. The Hon’ble Prime Minister has announced the setting up of a 7500 MW project. Additionally, the UT administration is working towards exploiting 140 MW of renewable energy. This includes the 1st Geo-Thermal power project in the country and the first solar power generation project linked with the generation of hydrogen and hydrogen mobility services in the country.
We believe that this change in the power scenario will ensure better power, heating, and water facilities to live comfortably during the winters. This would promote economic activities throughout the year and contribute to livelihood security.
Ladakh week organised at Dubai Expo. How do you see the prospects of foreign investments in the UT of Ladakh?
For the first time, Ladakh has had the opportunity to represent itself on an international platform. We first began with national-level representation at Dilli Haat yearly since 2019. The positive response and the hard work of the artisans and faith in Ladakh’s unique artistic culture gave us the confidence to showcase internationally, and hence the Dubai Expo happened. Prior to this, for the first time, Apricots from Ladakh were exported to Dubai.
There is huge potential in the international market, especially in luxury products such as Pashmina, Yak Wool, Camel Wool, Apricot, Sea Buckthorn, etc. Over the past years, the administration has been working closely with the young entrepreneurs of Ladakh to provide them with the required handholding in development and promotion of these high-end products, nationally as well as internationally.
There have been allegations of bureaucratisation of the administration. Political representation and empowerment of hill councils have been key demands of the locals? How does the administration ensure participatory governance?
Ladakh’s previous governing structure had limited authority to steer Ladakh on the road of development as per Ladakh’s aims and aspirations.
However, with the present set-up, we have established a Planning Board, which includes the two Chief Executive Councillors of the Hill Councils and the Member of Parliament. Three Ladakh Development Conclaves have been organised with the Hill Councils and MP’s participation to chalk out a long-term developmental plan for Ladakh in consultation with the stakeholders.
As a result, Ladakh Vision Document 2050 has been drafted, along with an action plan for each department. Therefore, it is right to state that the people of Ladakh have taken control of the course of Development for Ladakh. This endeavour has been further assisted by a remarkable budget rise – 4 times for the two Hill Councils and overall Rs 6,000 Cr for the Union Territory.
"For the first time, Ladakh has had the opportunity to represent itself on an international platform. There is huge potential in the international market, especially in luxury products such as Pashmina, Yak Wool, Camel Wool, Apricot, Sea Buckthorn, etc. Over the past years, the administration has been working closely with the young entrepreneurs of Ladakh to provide them with the required handholding in development and promotion of these high-end products, nationally as well as internationally"
The 193 Panchayats and 31 BDCs comprising 1700 elected representatives have been newly set up. They are being fully empowered through training, better infrastructure for their offices, Panchayat Ghars and allotment of a fund of Rs 1 cr to each BDC in the form of Block Development Fund. Our aim is progressively to strengthen PRIs with funds, infrastructure, staff, training, etc., to empower them to meet people’s aspirations.
For instance, Mission Organic Development Initiative (MODI) and Greenhouse schemes have been conceived and are being implemented by the Hill Councils and PRIs across Ladakh. These aim at making Ladakh an organic state by 2025. Similar initiatives are being undertaken in all other sectors.
Higher Education and institutions have been the focus. What is the progress on this front? How is the administration planning to attract the talent?
We aim to provide world-class education locally to the youth to help them become competent professionals who can contribute to the development of Ladakh.
The University of Ladakh, which became functional under the Union Territory, has introduced various new courses and is upgrading its infrastructure in terms of smart classrooms, a well-equipped library, and vocational courses. A Medical college, Institute of Hotel Management, Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering and a National Institute of Sowa Rigpa is being set up.
IGNOU is shortly opening a sub-regional Centre in Ladakh on our request to help those who prefer distance learning.
We have recently signed a landmark MoU with IITs of Delhi, Bombay and Kanpur to promote innovation and entrepreneurship through fellowship programs for the students of Ladakh in various IITs. The IITs shall also collaborate with UT of Ladakh for the setting up of an engineering college.
Further, the announcement of the Sindhu Central University by the Prime Minister at the cost of Rs 750 crores will further strengthen the higher education system in Ladakh and make it a preferred destination for people across the country for higher studies.
"Ladakh is home to people who are hardworking and dedicated to their culture and traditions. The prime agenda is to empower the youth to take up entrepreneurial initiatives in Ladakh itself in the primary sector by equipping them with skills, helping them with credit, and facilitating market linkages"
Additionally, the Rewa scheme has been launched to provide financial support to deserving students to take up coaching for national level examination, be it NEET, JEE, UG CLAT, NDA or Civil Services, Engineering Services or Forest Services Exam. Also, efforts have been made to facilitate students of Ladakh to avail Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) for taking up higher studies in Colleges outside Ladakh, if they so desire.
What are your priority areas for the coming days? What are your expectations from the people of Ladakh?
We are striving to achieve carbon neutrality in Ladakh as per Prime Minister’s vision. Development of our primary sectors viz agriculture, horticulture, fisheries etc., to promote livelihood avenues thus is crucial for Ladakh’s development.
Various high-value products such as the Pashmina, Sea Buckthorn, Apricots etc., are being promoted. They will yield good economic benefits to the people. Efforts are being made to encourage and support entrepreneurship, particularly among the youth.
Equally, Health, education and infrastructure development will continue to remain our priority areas.
Ladakh is home to people who are hardworking and dedicated to their culture and traditions. The prime agenda is to empower the youth to take up entrepreneurial initiatives in Ladakh itself in the primary sector by equipping them with skills, helping them with credit, and facilitating market linkages.
Over the past two years, I have seen that the youth are talented and eager to contribute to the development of Ladakh. They are our assets, and they shall be the main contributors to meet the aspirations of the people of Ladakh.