By a strange coincidence if the final days of a dying year took this writer to one part of eastern India where crafting of a sub-national administrative unit, a State or a Union Territory, is a lively on-going discourse ( Darjeeling AHDC ), the first few days of the New Year 2015 allowed this writer spent a few memorable hours with a dynamic Chief Executive of a sub-national entity, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council ( LAHDC). The occasion was the Buddhist New Year ( Lo-sur, or New Year ) festival being celebrated by the All Ladakh Students Union of Dehradun and the Chief Guest of the function, Rigzin Spalbar, the Chief Executive Councillor ( CEC ) of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council ( LAHDC ). What is proposed to be shared, and arguably common, is ‘mountain governance’ between the two sub-national-sub-state administrative entities, namely the Ladakh AHDC and Darjeeling AHDC and Uttarakhand, now a 14 year old full-fledged State. It is well –known that one administrative alternative that is possible for both Autonomous Hill Development Councils is a Union Territory status, in view of their relative smaller geographical size. Equally well –known is the fact while the ultimate destination of Union Territory may be common, however, the routes to be followed are quite different, one that of the Ladakh, is far more contentious. Indeed, perhaps it is a collective realization of this far more tortuous route to realization of this political objective that in 2002 leaders of all political parties dissolved their local units in Ladakh to pitch for a Union Territory status ! Does this unique political event of 2002 in Ladakh, as also the recent Assembly election results of 2014, portend a shape of things to come, in particular re-structuring of political alliances in the ‘mountainous regions’ of this sub-continent in near future ?
In the last piece on Darjeeling-Kalimpong ( Kolkata to Kalimpong ) we examined a similarity which focused some attention of the course followed by the erstwhile Non-Regulation tracts, covered after 1874 via the Scheduled Districts Act, culminating in the Scheduled Areas and Schedule Six sub-state administrative entities, in the Constitution of India. It was also averred that till India gained its independence, it has been an unending story of territorial aggregation, reaching its peak ( except Goa, 1961 and Sikkim, 1975 ) in 1965, after which its been a narrative of politico-economic decentralisation, another name for creation of new States and other sub-national entities e.g. Autonomous Councils, UTs etc. The aspirations of Darjeeling and even Ladakh, Nobra, Kargil AHDCs etc has to be read in that context. Ladakh may be verily a mother of all ‘mountainous region’, a trans-Himalayan region, similar to the high Tibetan plateau. The ‘white-spot’ of scientific researches in the mountainous regions, mentioned in the Assessment Report 4 of IPCCC, turns ‘chalk-white’, when applied to these trans-Himalayan regions.
The Kashmir valley, which recently experienced an unprecedented flooding, finds mention as a huge water-body in as many as two ancient works, the Rajtarangini and Neelmat- puran. The tradition of sage Kashyap draining the valley and converting it into a picturesque valley is explained by the geologists as tectonic movements, namely sinking of Khadianayar and Baramula mountains, draining out completely the lake water and creating this heavenly valley. Leaving aside its ancient history involving introduction of Buddhism, Hinduism and later Islam during subsequent centuries. Zain-ul-Abidins’ ( 1420-70) tolerant rule and its control by Afghanistan and existence of 22 Hill kingdoms in Jammu region and its subsequent domination by the Dogra rulers is recent history. Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh’s amalgamation in the Punjab and later handing over Jammu to Dogra ruler Gulab Singh occurred when the East India Company expanded its western front to these parts. It was a Dogra ruler Raja Hari Singh who signed the accession instrument on 26th October in 1947. The ensuing aggression by Pakistan resulted in a cease-fire after a UN intervention. Ladakh, the biggest sub-state entity remains under the Indian part of the state and constitutes an entirely mountainous region. Its current political status is covered by a specific Constitutional provision, Article 370.
An Autonomous Hill Development Council
Creation of Autonomous Hill Development Councils ( AHDCs ) is emerging as a half-way house, just short of the status of a Union Territory ( UT ), where the parent state retains broad administrative and financial controls, while allowing the autonomous region opportunity to learn the ropes of governance while implementing various CSSs and other State Plan schemes. The State of Jammu & Kashmir today has two such bodies, namely Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council ( LAHDC,Leh ) Leh of Leh district and another for Kargil ( LAHDC, Kargil ), for Kargil district. LAHDC was constituted under Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act, 1995. The first elections were held on August 28, 1995 and the inaugural meeting f of the council was held on September 3, 1995. The constitution of the Council has in a way heralded democratic decentralisation of planning process with the involvement of people at the grass roots level. Ladakhi people have been demanding Leh District a new Union Territory because of its religious and cultural differences with the rest of the Jammu & Kashmir. It was in October 1993 that the Union Government and the Jammu & Kashmir State Government agreed to grant Ladakh the status of AHC. In 2003, as a part of its “healing touch policy” the J&K Government announced popular elections for AHDC in Kargil, which was meant to strengthen participatory form of development, in the war-ravaged district. Each Council is composed of 30 Councillors of which 26 are directly elected and 4 are nominated members.
A Ladakh Vision Document 2025 was prepared in 2005 by a Committee of 20 Members, headed by Sonam Dawa, former Chief Engineer and Advisor of Ladakh Ecological Development Group. Conceptualization of the Vision Document 2025 has been a collective effort of these members who belonged to various expertise domains and thus represents what is available as a set of ideas to take Ladakh on its forward march. On May 3, 2013 for promoting sustainable development in Ladakh LAHDC collaborated with the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development ( NABARD ) organized a workshop cum discussion for effective implementation of this Ladakh Vision Document. Rigzin Spalbar, the present Chief Executive Councillor ( 2010-15 ), who has been a Councillor from the very beginning of the constitution of this decentralization mechanism, and also an Executive Councillor ( Education ) followed by one year term as the Chairman cum CEC, during the third LAHDC( 2005-10 ), was recently on a visit to Dehradun. It was during this visit that this writer had occasion to share some of his thoughts on development of Ladakh, one of the few unique mountain regions, which today shouts for urgent attention.
Ladakhi Students & Tata Trusts’ Involvement
LAHDC, Leh as mentioned has had four terms so far, commencing from 1995. Rigzin Spalbar, as mentioned has the rare distinction to have served on each Council, with his second term as the Chairman cum the CEC. Born in November 1958, he graduated from Delhi University in 1980 and has since been involved in educational and social development of Ladakhi people. As a political activist he has served as the general Secretary of Ladakh Buddhist Association ( 1995-2000 ), President of District Congress Committee, Leh ( 2000-2010 ) and represented Lower Leh in the first AHD Council in 1995. Executive Councillor ( Education ) in the second Council he functioned as the CEC for a year. Third Council ( 2005-10 ) found him representing Skyu-Markha constituency and in 2010 he led his party in elections to the Fourth Council ( 2010-15 ), winning the elections and assuming Chairmanship and CEC mantle. Rigzin is also the National general Secretary of Bhartiya Federation of Smaller States. This writer came into his contact as a Councillor of the Integrated Mountain Initiative, in which both of us are involved in crafting a Development Forum for all the eleven Indian Mountain States, under the aegis of IMI. Needless to point out Rigzin Spalbar represents in IMI what is best by way of young political leadership which is not only deeply rooted at grass-roots level but is also fully conscious of the fact that the mountain regions of India have long been denied their due, and what is today being demanded by Ladakh, Kargil and even Darjeeling District, has long been due to there peoples. While Ladakh and Kargil, occupy a strategic physical space surrounded by China and Pakistan their own internal position inside the State of Jammu& Kashmir, also calls for urgent attention. Many Ladakhis do naturally wonder whether their rightful claims on development –pie is getting downsized due to their past political history. The very same sentiments were shared during this writers’ visit to Kalimpong, as the over-arching impact was political. Rigzin’s two –day long stay in Rishikesh and Dehradun covered Ladakhi students, fellow-Buddhists from Ladakh and friends from mountain-regions, like this writer and institutions like Himmothan, a Tata Trusts charity working in the western Himalayan states.
What was apparent while this writer accompanied Rigzin Spalbar to the Ladakh Student’s Losur ceremony at a Shahastradhara Road Tibetan Home Hall venue and heard him addressing the students in his Ladakhi language was his passion to take Ladakh forward, as fast as he could, notwithstanding the seemingly insuperable hurdles of all kind – political, sectarian, regional, and above all commandeered by a most inhospitable Nature. Being a trans-Himalayan landscape, with very small population ( 1,47,104 persons in a area of 82,665 sq km, density 1.8 per sq km ) and population speaking as many as three languages, English, Ladakhi and Urdu there is not really much to fall back on. Ladakh, as we all know, remains landlocked during the winters and the Nature challenges you with its utmost severity. However, students of Ladakhi history know of the indomitable spirit that the Ladakhi people possess. Their world-renowned pashmina drew the attention of the East India Company and it is this animal fibre and encouraged that intrepid Superintendent of the Company Studs, William Moorcroft, throw his life at grave risk, when he crossed Niti Pass in 1812, while Garhwal was still under the Gorkha rule. Ladakh attracted attention of all religions, Buddhism went over-land from Kashmir, Moravian Missionaries made it their home for propagation of a new faith while Islamic eastward movement attracted many an ethnic groups. Ladakh represents what is best in terms of religious co-existence. Moravian Friar A. Francke’s historical researches brought out greatness of Ladkhi Kingdoms during the middle ages and their incessant wars with neighbouring Kingdoms.
Educational, Religious and Mountain Development Hub
Rigzin’s visit highlighted the fact that today Uttarakhand in general and Dehradun in particular has emerged as a major Educational Hub. This writer was told that earlier only secondary level students preferred Dehradun but now with the emergence of several Universities, mainly private and professional, it has caught the attention of Graduate and Post Graduate Courses as well. If a small region like Ladakh today sends nearly 300 students to Dehradun alone one can expect a much higher turn-out of students not only from Ladakh but many neighbouring States. As a dynamic leader of his people Rigzin addressed the students in an eloquent and very evocative Ladakhi and it was apparent that it went down very well, all students living in Dehradun feeling encouraged with his personal touch and care. It was only natural for this writer to assure all Ladakhi students to consider Dehradun as their second home and concentrate on what they have been sent here by their parents and families. The USP of Dehradun has always been its mutil-cultural background coupled with its academic and institutional excellence, with so many National and International Centres of Excellence being housed here, and Dehradun and Uttarakhand still counting ! Recent racial incidents in Delhi and Benguluru have dented their images very severely and this provides Uttarakhand an outstanding opportunity to emerge as a Centre of Educational Excellence where students belonging to all religious and racial denominations have always been welcome. However, as Delhi and Benguluru are fast learning it is not merely a question of law & order but also going more than half way t emerge as a desired educational destination.
This writer distinctly remembers that Uttarakhand had offered reserved seats to students from Jammu & Kashmir, when Kashmir was passing through difficult years and ethnic groups migrated en masse. GB Pant Nagar University reserved certain number of seats for Kashmiri migrants. Following the same logic and initiative it may not be a bad idea to consider creation of more seats in say various Institutions of Excellence, both public and private, with seats reserved for the students of other ten mountain states of India, who have per force to send their students to big metros like Delhi and Benguluru, where these students feel totally out of place, coming as they do from remote regions of mountain states. This writer remembers that for many years IAS Probationers from the NE States used to be sent to the Uttarakhand districts as they found the conditions similar here. Extending the same logic there has come a time to look at the possibility of Educational Exchange mechanisms which facilitate educational advancement of students from remote mountain states in some of the best educational institutions located in Dehradun and Uttarakhand.
Rigzins comprehensive discussions with Dr Malvika Chauhan, at Tata Trusts Himmotthan office at Vasant Vihar, where discussions covered a wide range of joint initiative between the Tata Trusts charities and Uttarakhand were shared, took the discussion to the same direction, where Tata Trusts initiatives in the eleven mountain states could be replicated, up-scaled via the kinds of MoU that Uttarakhand has had with Sir Ratan Tata Trust, to the mutual benefit of both. The Integrated Mountain Initiative ( IMI ), a new pan India mountain initiative, to which Rigzin and this writer belong, has a clear role cut out for it, where it can play a most effective role, in bringing the mountain states together in effective collaboration with the various institutions, like say the Tata Trusts, ICIMOD and the GBP Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development.