Ladakh affairs ministry not for Ladakhis?

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While the induction of Chering Dorjay into the state cabinet may be a positive step but not allotting Ladakh Affairs Department to him speaks volumes about the attitude of valley centric politicians towards Ladakh’s development.

Ahead of Lok Sabha elections in May 2014, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nitin Gadkari had announced granting Union Territory (UT) status to for Ladakh within six month but  it seems that the state government being run by BJP in J&K is not comfortable in even having a Ladakhi to look after the Ladakh Affairs.

Not only current coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti but all successive governments of the last two decades have been reluctant to hand over this ministry to a Ladakhi who are more acquainted with issues facing the region. It needs to be mentioned here that decades ago, the state government would hand over the charge of the Ladakh affairs to a Ladakhi minister.

The creation of Ladakh Affairs Department in the Civil Secretariat was a milestone in the history of Ladakh. This department was apparently created after Kushok Baluka Rinpoche’s historical speech in 1952’s budget session in the state assembly in which he highlighted discrimination allegedly meted out by the state government with regard to Ladakh’s development and allocation of funds for developmental activities.

He was MLA of the united Ladakh, of both Leh and Kargil, as the region then was not bifurcated into two districts. Department was created in order to speed up development in Ladakh region. After the formation of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) of Leh (in 1995) and Kargil (in 2003), Ladakh Affairs Department seems to have either lost its importance and relevance or it has been grossly neglected.

Many senior leaders and officials in Ladakh feel that the department sometimes becomes a stumbling block for the LAHDCs in their way of getting developmental formalities processed and expedited in the civil secretariat of Jammu or Srinagar as many a time LAHDCs would have to wait for an approval from the Ladakh Affairs Department.

The department is mostly attached with the Planning Department and is headed by a senior IAS officer. All plans and projects formulated by LAHDCs of Leh and Kargil are supposed to be routed through the department of Ladakh Affairs for the approval of the government. Ladakh Affairs Department is also to look after any other important issue, which may crop up during day-today administration in Ladakh Region.

Government claims that “the underlying objective for creation of Ladakh Affairs Department is not only to function as an Administrative Department of both the districts of Leh and Kargil but also for sorting out issues/problems with other departments of the state government/ government of India concerning Ladakh region as a whole. The department is also monitoring dispatch of key materials and other essential items to Ladakh region.”

Its functions now seem have been reduced to dispatching and handling correspondences between the Government and the LAHDCs of Leh and Kargil. Decades ago Ladakh Affairs itself used to be a Ministry and was supervised by a minister from Ladakh region. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche and Sonam Norbu held Ladakh Affairs portfolios during their tenure as Ministers. Bakula Rinpoche was first Minister of State for Ladakh Affairs.

As a Deputy Minister, Kushok Tokdan Rinpochey also held the ministry. However, the Ladakh Affairs Ministry has been headed by non-Ladakhi ministers for almost a decade and a half now in spite of the fact that state’s council of ministers and the Cabinet have been having representatives from the region.

Ministers Nawang Rigzin Jora and Haji Nissar of Congress or Qumar Ali Akhoon and Feroz Khan of NC in the previous coalition governments, or Minister Chering Dorjay Lakrook of BJP in the present government have not been given charge of the Ladakh Affairs Department. In 2015 when Chering Dorjay Lakrook was inducted as a Minister of State, one of the portfolios he got was the Ladakh Affairs but not as independent charge.

When Dorjay was elevated as a Cabinet Minister, Ladakh Affairs Department was stripped off from him as well. There are strong opinions that with the presence of LAHDCs, it is time to windup the seemingly defunct Ladakh Affairs Department as it seems to have lost its relevance in today’s context.

Strengthening of Ladakh Affairs Department to ensure smooth coordination between LAHDCs and the State Government is yet another view point. The half-hearted attitude of the department towards Ladakh’s development is evident from the fact that its website has not been updated since 2010.

Most Head of the Department (HoDs) of Leh and Kargil, listed on the Ladakh Affairs website, have either been transferred to some other district or retired from service. The website doesn’t have correct names of the incumbent Chairman LAHDCs and Deputy Commissioners of Leh and Kargil also.

Tsering Angchuk and M Raju are still shown as serving DCs of Leh and Kargil respectively. But the fact is both Leh and Kargil have seen the transfers and postings of many more DCs after them. Like this it is still carrying the names of previous MP, MLCs, MLAs, and Councilors as incumbents. Is this the state of affairs with all departments and ministries at the J and K Civil Secretariat or it is only with the department that is supposed to look after the administration of the Ladakh region?

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