Ladakh, a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, has now been granted a separate divisional status by the Jammu and Kashmir government under Governor Satya Pal Malik. Notably, Ladakh is now separated from Kashmir is now the third administrative and revenue division of Kashmir. This division will comprise Leh and Kargil Districts with its headquarters located at Leh, said an official handout on Friday.

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Why does Ladakh want a separate division?

Ladakh

  • As per a PTI report, Ladakh, which will comprise of Leh and Kargil districts, will now have a separate divisional commissioner. It will also have an inspector general of police (IG) with a full administrative and revenue division at par with Kashmir and Jammu divisions, the administration’s order said.
  • Notably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Ladakh. And, within a week of his visit, the division was announced.
  • Saugat Biswas, a 2006-batch IAS officer of J&K cadre, has been appointed the Divisional Commissioner for Ladakh.
  • Ladakh ranks among the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir. It has a population density of only 3 inhabitants per square kilometre. This is really sparse in comparison to Srinagar, which has a population density of 703.
  • Ladakh is also the highest plateau in the state. Notably, most of Ladakh is over 9,800 feet above the sea level. The region is also geographically isolated with an inhospitable terrain.
  • One core issue with Ladakh is that it remains isolated from the rest of the country for nearly half the year, i.e. 6 months. Also, air travel via Leh is the sole mode of transport available. This makes it impossible for people to visit the remaining parts of the country. This remoteness is the reason for its being eligible for the establishment of a separate division.
  • P Stobdan, former Ambassador and the founding President of the Ladakh International Centre in Leh, said the move will help address problems of local governance to some extent. He said: “Till now, the district was overlooked by a junior officer but now, it will be overseen by a separate divisional commissioner and IG of Police, which will streamline the process.”
  • Commending the move, Stobdan also added that besides featuring in the strategic political calculations of the Centre, the decision also holds weight due to its importance for national security. “Ladakh shares its borders with both China and Pakistan, and cannot be allowed to drift against the current context of destabilising forces in the state,” he said.
  • The division also holds significance as the Ladakhi people have felt ‘ignored’ for long, due to problems pertaining to administrative, governance, slow action and delivery of development schemes and in redressal of  public grievances.
  • Ladakhis also complain that the region’s unique culture and politics are not duly recognized and given importance as different from that of Kashmir’s culture. “The issue has been discussed at various fora and there has been a persistent demand for the creation of division for Ladakh from many organisations, including the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) Leh and Kargil,” the order said, as per PTI.
  • Ladakhis have strongle expressed their desire for autonomy owing to fundamental differences between them and Kashmir, in terms of ethinicity, language and culture.
  • A resolution passed by the All Religious Joint Action Committee (ARJAC) of Ladakh in 2016, which had demanded a Union Territory status for Ladakh, had said: “Ladakh is fundamentally different from Kashmir in all respects — culturally, ethnically and linguistically. Over the years the successive governments of the state have adopted a policy of discrimination and subversion towards the region with the sole objective of stifling its people and marginalising its historical, religious and cultural identity.”
  • Ladakh people have been for a long time demanding effective local institutional arrangements for accelerating the pace of development and equitable all-round growth and development.
  • Notably, Ladakh is India’s largest district, with ‘disputed’ borders and two belligerent neighbours. It was, however, being administrated only by a very junior officer till now, as per a Quint report.
  • Also, the Ladakh division holds political significance due to its timing because the national elections are just round the corner, Stobdan pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite not having a local government in Ladakh, aims to appease voters in the region through this move. It was also BJP’s election promise to the Ladakhis in the year 2014 that it would provide them with a separate legislative status in the form of UT status, which the Ladakhis have been seeking since 1951. This was unattainable due to constitutional restrictions till now.
  • The Ladakh division, now, is reportedly the biggest division in the state with 86,909 sq. km of area, followed by Jammu division of 26,293 sq km at second and Kashmir Division of 15,948 sq km at third.

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After Ladakh Division, Pir Panjal-Chenab Valley demand similar status

  • Shutdowns in Kargil witnessed in the wake of the Ladakh Division. People in Kargil are protesting the move. All the government offices in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kargil remained shut on February 11, 2019.
  • All political, social and religious groups of Kargil supported the bandh. They also refused to be part of the newly created division unless there is a six-month rotation of the offices between Leh and Kargil. Notably, the new headquarters of Ladakh will now be based out of Leh.
  • Jammu region also recorded intense footfall by protestors, who threatened to intensify the protests in case their demands are not met.
  • It was a decision in haste and we are protesting the way Kargil has been discriminated against. It’s unacceptable to have the divisional headquarters in Leh. If it’s not reviewed, we will prefer to remain a part of Srinagar division,” said Sajad Hussain, social activist from Kargil.
  • Also, leaders of the Muslim-dominated Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley are threatening protests if a similar tag is not granted to their regions.
  • While some are looking at Ladakh division as a larger plan for it to become a ‘union territory,’ others are looking at it through communal glasses.
  • Former J&K Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Friday said his government will grant Chenab valley and Pir Panchal regions the status of division if his party is elected to power in the Assembly elections that are expected later this year.

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Verdict

While the people of Ladakh have welcomed the move, the people of Kargil are continuously opposing it and protesting for autnomy for Pir-Panjal and Chenab Valley even in the bone-chilling cold. The clamour for power is rapidly gaining momentum. While the Buddhist-majority Leh is seeking a Union Territory status, Shia Muslim-majority Kargil has strong voices for more administrative autonomy within the state.

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