Central university, smart cities to transform India’s Ladakh

Ever since the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state was reorganized as two Union Territories, one that of Jammu and Kashmir and another of Ladakh, on Aug. 5 2019, the respective local authorities have pursued a series of new schemes. — Courtesy photo
Ever since the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state was reorganized as two Union Territories, one that of Jammu and Kashmir and another of Ladakh, on Aug. 5 2019, the respective local authorities have pursued a series of new schemes. — Courtesy photo

NEW DELHI — The Union Territory of Ladakh is all set to transform for the better with the innovative and diligent implementation of the programs adopted by the new Union Territory. The successful implementation would bring about a sea change in the lives of old and young, men and women across Ladakh.

Ever since the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state was reorganized as two Union Territories, one that of Jammu and Kashmir and another of Ladakh, on Aug. 5 2019, the respective local authorities have pursued a series of new schemes.

The Indian government has cleared the decks for the first Central University in Ladakh, which will also host a Center on Buddhist Studies, the Hindustan Times paper reported, while efforts are also on for Leh and Kargil to be developed as smart cities in the UT.

India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs would go beyond the list of 100 smart cities in different states to include two more in Ladakh, Economic Times newspaper reported,

While a formal decision is yet to be taken, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to be in favor of a separate Ladakh university, for about 10,000 students from Ladakh have been forced to enroll in educational institutions outside the UT.

Barring engineering and medical education, the proposed university will offer degrees in all courses including liberal arts and basic sciences, Hindustan Times said.

According to the HRD ministry’s proposal, the Ladakh Central University will also cater to students from Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh once the Rohtang La tunnel opens this year and ensures round the year access to Leh via the Jispa-Sarchu-Upshi route.

The university will have a Center for Buddhist Studies to cater to the largely Gelug (to which the 14th Dalai Lama belongs) and Kagyu sect of the Tibetan Buddhist population of Ladakh.

The government of India is also considering other initiatives to enhance education by investing in various other infrastructures and also in upskilling the locals to develop Ladakh and its population.

To boost traditional medical knowledge of Ladakh and for producing qualified doctors (Amchis), the National Research Institute for Sowa Rigpa has been sanctioned with a budget of Rs.30.80 crore as capital and Rs.16.45 crore as a recurring budget.

In addition, the GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment has set up a campus in Ladakh. This is expected to substantially help in scientific decision making by the UT administration. Catering to professional skills, a medical college has been sanctioned for Ladakh, and an Engineering college is to be set up at Kargil.

The National Skill Training Institute (NSTI) extension center has been established in Leh by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, while the Food Craft Institute, Leh, shall be upgraded to the Institute of Hotel Management Ladakh.

Amid this planned educational drive, it is no wonder that Ladakh is being eyed by New Delhi to be in the list of smart cities. The Indian government is planning to include two more in Ladakh, Economic Times reported.

Working on a proposal of the Ministry of Home Affairs to improve infrastructure and employment opportunities in Ladakh, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has formed a five-member central team under Smart Cities director Rahul Kapoor to handhold the Union Territory in formulating detailed projects reports for both the cities.

The ministry started work on this after a letter from home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla proposing that Leh and Kargil be developed as smart cities.

A team of urban development officers has been formed to identify key areas of intervention in both Leh and Kargil that could be developed under the Smart City Mission, Economic Times wrote.

After the setting up of the Lieutenant Governor’s office and a new secretariat, the Public Financial Management System (PFMS) was adopted on April 1, 2020, replacing the existing treasury system. A Planning Board with the relevant stakeholders and experts was also set up, as the UT administration swung into action.

With that, steps were initiated to prepare a vision document for Ladakh titled 'Ladakh 2050'. To realize this vision, the Indian government has allocated the highest ever budget of Rs.5,154 crores and during 2020-21 a budget of Rs.5,958 crores.

While the focus is on improving infrastructure, the drive to connect people with authorities through e-initiatives is also going on unimpeded. The "Ladakh connect" and "Ladakh COVID-19" Information and resource web applications were launched for registering the residents of Ladakh staying outside Ladakh to ensure constant addressing of their grievances and offering a timely response during the COVID lockdown.

Funds amounting to Rs2.5 crore to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Leh and Rs.3.5 crore to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Kargil were placed at their disposal for the evacuation of stranded people during the coronavirus lockdown period.

The UT administration also successfully launched VAHAN and SARATHI online applications for vehicle registration and driving license under e-transport projects. A system of e-stamp (nonjudicial stamp duty) and e-court fees (judicial stamp duty) have been launched replacing the age-old paper stamp system. Besides, registration powers have been vested with revenue authorities.

The e-commerce portal Government eMarketplace (GeM) too has provided a platform for local sellers. Following the successful conduct of the "GeM Samvaad" and overwhelming response from stakeholders, the UT administration signed an MoU with GeM to facilitate UT Ladakh to onboard GeM, integration of GeM system with UT of Ladakh payment system in order to facilitate online, time-bound payment to suppliers/ service provider and imparting training to the officials of the UT on the use of GeM.

The Ladakh administration has maintained a steady power supply with power being increased to up to 8 hours per day in remote unconnected areas. A large number of additional water tankers were arranged to give the best ever drinking water supply during winters, and with the help of the Indian Air Force, fresh vegetables and essential commodities were brought.

Among the major administrative decisions was the imposition of a ban on single-use plastic, and full Internet services were restored in Kargil district. In addition, the feasibility study of Kargil airport for making it functional for the landing of wide-bodied civilian aircraft was initiated, and the consultancy was awarded to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with funds amounting to Rs.3.54 crore released to ICAO.

Among other developmental initiatives, the two standouts are: The first edition of Ladakh Winter Conclave that was organized for preparing a road map for developing Ladakh's winter tourism and the second saw a tender floated under Khelo India Scheme for laying of Synthetic Track and AstroTurf for football grounds and construction of gymnasium hall at NDS Sports Complex Leh.

The Indian government hopes to get closer to the people with such beneficial programs and projects that would impart education, livelihood and dignity to the people.

During the COVID pandemic, local authorities have been quick to procure masks, sanitizers and hand wash items for children with special grants. A special committee has also been set up to monitor the health of these children and ensure easy access to medical care and healthy nutrition.

Many high-profile projects, delayed first by violence and then by the coronavirus epidemic, are now underway with great speed and determination. These projects will link far-flung villages with the mainstream, connect millions of people to better opportunities and prosperity and transform Ladakh into a sought after destination for tourists as well as entrepreneurs. — Agencies