In a major decision with far-reaching political consequences, the governor’s administration Friday created a separate division for Ladakh region spreading over two districts. Until now, Ladakh was a part of Kashmir division.
Separating the twin districts of Leh and Kargil from Kashmir, the government ordered
the creation of a separate administrative and revenue division for Ladakh, with its headquarters at Leh. The headquarter location, however, came in for severe criticism in Kargil.
Within minutes of the decision, political parties renewed their long-pending demand for grant of divisional status to remote regions of Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley in Jammu province.
The decision to grant separate administrative identity to Ladakh, with a population of over three lakh persons, is seen as Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of India’s move to placate the voices seeking union territory status for the region. It comes at a time when J&K is under president’s rule, and barely a few months away from Lok Sabha elections.
Ladakh will now shortly get its own divisional commissioner and inspector general of police, an official spokesman said in a statement, adding that a panel has been constituted under principal secretary, planning and development department, to identify posts of divisional-level heads of various departments for the new division.
Describing Ladakh as geographically isolated with a sparse population and inhospitable terrain that remains landlocked for six months, the governor’s administration said the issue was discussed at various levels in view of persistent demand for creation of division for Ladakh from many organisations including the Ladakh autonomous hill development councils, Leh and Kargil.
“The region is riddled with insurmountable problems…Ladakh deserves a special treatment particularly due to distance from the capital. Taking all these into consideration, the government has decided to create a separate administrative/revenue division for Ladakh,” said the statement.
Leh and Kargil were already made autonomous vis-à-vis local governance in mid-90s with the enactment of a law during the president’s rule in J&K. Subsequently, LAHDC Leh was created in 1995 while the LAHDC Kargil was set up in 2003.
In September last year, when Jammu and Kashmir was under governor’s rule, the state administrative council (SAC) granted more administrative and financial powers to the Leh and Kargil councils to address “aspirations and concerns” of the people of Ladakh.
In 2014, the BJP had supported demand for granting a union territory (UT) status to Ladakh.
While the Buddhist-dominated Leh vociferously supports the UT status demand, the Muslim-dominated Kargil has been opposing it.
The decision to separate the region from Kashmir also comes at a time when the BJP has been pushed to back-foot on Ladakh’s political turf, following back-to-back defeats suffered by the party in the panchayat and municipals polls last year.
The party also badly lost elections to Kargil hill council last year, and is in disarray in Leh after BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang resigned from the parliament as well as party last November.
With this bifurcation, the state now comprises of three divisions: Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.
Though the decision to create separate division for Ladakh has been welcomed by political parties, it has renewed the demand for separate divisions for hilly Chenab Valley which is spread over three districts and Pir Panjal that consists of two districts.
Welcoming creation of Ladakh as the third administrative division of the state, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti however said ignoring similar aspirations of Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal raises doubts on New Delhi’s intention.
“…Seems like Guv sb is peddling BJP’s agenda by ignoring other equally deserving regions,” Mehbooba said. “I don’t understand the intent behind the move. If their intentions were honest then they should have also announced separate divisions for Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley. Such decisions are not taking frequently (sic)”.
Accusing the governor of “running BJP’s agenda”, Mehbooba said the right-wing party has been “against granting status of division to Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley”.
“They (BJP) opposed the move during our (PDP-BJP) government,” said Mehbooba, the PDP president.
On the other hand, former chief minister Omar Abdullah promised divisional status for Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal regions if his party was voted to power in upcoming elections.
In a series of tweets, Omar said granting divisional status to these regions was already laid in his party’s regional autonomy promise.
“After the elections of 2019 should the people of J&K repose faith in @JKNC our government will grant division status to Chenab valley and Pir Panchal regions as already laid out in our regional autonomy promise,” Omar tweeted. “We will take care of regional and sub-regional aspirations. We won’t adopt the pick and choose approach of the Governor but will instead take a holistic view and address the wider problems. Our regional autonomy document will be our template.”
While welcoming grant of divisional status to Ladakh, Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone too echoed the demand for similar administrative identity for Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley.
“Welcome creation of separate division for Ladakh. Puts an end to their miseries. Equally important is the demand for separate divisions for Pir Panchal and Chenab. Smaller divisions will improve governance. And it will b a great relief for inhabitants,” Lone tweeted.
The political leadership of Kargil district has opposed the decision to set-up headquarters at Leh and instead demanded that it should be established on a rotation basis for six months each at Kargil and Leh districts, on lines of Dubar Move between Srinagar and Jammu.
Chief executive councilor, Kargil hill council Feroz Ahmad Khan said the decision of setting up headquarters at Leh has come as a shock to them.
“We won’t accept the decision,” he said, adding he has called a meeting of all political parties in Jammu on Saturday to “discuss future course of action”.
Chairman Legislative Council Haji Inayat Ali also echoed similar views.
“We welcome creation of separate division for Ladakh but establishing its headquarters at Leh is unacceptable to us,” he said.