Creation of Ladakh Division A symbolic gesture or means to an end?

Gautam Sen
The Governor`s regime of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has notified on 8th February this year, Ladakh as a new administrative-cum-revenue division in the state. The territorially large districts of Leh (45110 sq km) and Kargil (14086 sq km) would be the components of this new division which hithertofore, were part of Srinagar Division. The avowed purpose as per the State Government, is to ensure better administrative management of these two districts, rendering of public services faster, easier accessibility of the people concerned to the Government establishment, its officials, etc. This administrative re-organisation, has been under consideration for quite some time, and interestingly implemented on the eve of the forthcoming general and state assembly elections. The creation of the new division has however, led to competing demands from many of the state`s political parties, for carving out of Pirpanjal and Chenab Valley Divisions from the present truncated Srinagar Division (after creation of Ladakh Division) and Jammu Division, respectively. Public demonstrations have been organized in Kargil for the new Ladakh Division`s headquarter to be made functional from Leh and Kargil town on a rotational basis during the year, on the pattern of the state government headquarter ie. the durbar, operating rotationally from Srinagar and Jammu during the summer and winter months, respectively.
For the Ladakh region of J&K comprising of Ladakh and Kargil districts and straddling a very sensitive part of India`s international boundary, the essential requirements are infrastructure, connectivity, sustainable livelihood facilities and income generating opportunities for the local people. Under normal circumstances, adequate statutory and executive powers bestowed on the Deputy Commissioner, District Administration with concomitant resources, should have helped in the realization of these objectives. However, the historical legacy of backwardness of the region and its geopolitical attributes necessitated a special focus on this area and need for innovative politico-administrative measures. The two autonomous district councils at Leh and Kargil were statutorily constituted in 1995 and 2003 respectively, as a political necessity, and covering a range of functional areas concerned with the developmental needs of the local inhabitants, providing them basic minimum services, and protecting their socio-cultural attributes, environmental and ethnic interests. These autonomous councils have been further empowered with the State Government`s decision in September 2018 to amend the relevant Autonomous Council Acts towards placing all funds pertaining to the functional domain of the councils and allocated to their districts, under the control of the councils, and devolving powers to levy and collect local taxes and fees, more control over functions of various departments in the districts and panchayats, administrative control on Government staff, and entrusting rights over property constructed from Government funds, to the councils. The administrative capacity and finances of the councils will be further augmented by the institution of providing for additionalities in the budget of the next year, commensurate with funds unspent in the current year. The chief executive councilors are to head all tourism development authorities in the district. Notwithstanding creation of the Ladakh Division, the J&K Government should ensure that, these Autonomous District Councils remain vibrant and suited to the needs of the region and its people.
However, an effective divisional headquarter at Leh would be of essence if it functions as an efficacious administrative tier pertaining to the functional areas beyond the delegated domain of the autonomous district councils. Viewed from this angle, the creation of the new Ladakh Division, may be considered justified and part of a continuum. In the fitness of things, the extent of delegation to the Ladakh Divisional Commissioner in matters administrative and financial, and also as a quasi-judicial authority under different statutes and rules, should be relatively more as compared to those of his or her counterparts at Srinagar and Jammu. This may be judicious, politically astute, apropos the security imperatives of state of J&K and strategic needs of the country. The clamour for rotational headquarters for the new division between Leh and Kargil towns, may be viewed as basically a political demand with unnecessary expenditure implications, and kept in abeyance by the State Government and the Union Home Ministry – which deals with policy matters concerning the state, on the premise that, a properly considered view on this issue may be taken by a popularly elected State Government only.
There has been a long standing demand for union territory status for Ladakh region of J&K. The disparity in development and geophysical condition among the three among the regions of the state viz. Srinagar, Jammu and Ladakh, is undeniable. In this backdrop, instead of acceding to the demand for union territory status for Ladakh region – which is unlikely to find resonance in Kargil district of the region and may exacerbate the inter-regional political contention, it may be appropriate to make a success of some sort of a diarchical system which provides for a higher level of delegation to the Ladakh Divisional Commissioner under the new administrative-cum-revenue division at Leh, with robust Autonomous District Councils at Leh and Kargil. In due course, some amount of direct transfer of block grants (lumpsum grants untied to specific projects or schemes but left to the allottee to spend as per its priorities), may have to be contemplated. This may be administratively expedient and politically desirable. Some degree of supervisory authority may however, retained with the State Government and the political integrity of J&K not compromised. This will be in the interest of this sensitive state, national interest and internationally prudent.
(The author is a retired IDAS officer, who has served in senior appointments with Government of India, State Governments and in J&K. The views are personal.)