Development of Ladakh and DRDO

Dr Sudershan Kumar
Ladakh, “the land of high passes” decorates the northern most region of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State and India. It carries great historical and geo strategic significance since ancient times. The passes of Ladakh region interconnect some of the economically and politically significant zones of world like South Asia, China, Central Asia and Middle East since time immemorial. This, in the past formed the basis of a constant endeavour of Rulers/ Kings to have Ladakh region as a part of their kingdom thus leading to successive invasions at different times. Consequently, in the year 1834, the Sikh general Zorwar singh under Raja Gulab Singh invaded and conquered it. Later, the execution of treaty between British East India company and Raja Gulab Singh on 16th march 1846 laid the foundation of Dogra rule in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh became a part subsequently. The successive Dogra rulers ruled the state for nearly hundred and one years and ladakh remained a princely state till Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession on 26th October 1947. During this period, Dogra rulers extended the boundaries beyond Banihal and conquered Gilgit, Baltistan and other northern areas. Thus the state of Jammu and Kashmir became one of the largest state of undivided India and had an area of around 2,22,236 sq km. But post independence era witnessed a wavering and tumultuous course. 72913 sq km area ( Gilgit, Baltistan and northern areas especially Hunza and Nagar) was illegally occupied by Pakistan and nearly 33510 sq km area ( Aksai Chin) was annexed by China. Furthermore, 3180 sq km area(Shaksgam tract) has been acceded to China by Pakistan. The region of Ladakh owing to its geostrategic location has massive security constraints and immense critical unavoidable security purview. The possession of Ladakh region by virtue of its strategic location can not be ignored as it is a boost to the country’s defence preparedness. Ladakh provides a physical approach to the frozen battle field connecting to the rest of the country. To the west of Siachen Glacier, across the Saltoro ridge lies Pakistan occupied Gilgit and Baltistan, east of it lies China occupied Akasi Chin. The possession of Siachen Glacier by Indian forces has made it impervious to China and Pakistan from linking to Kashgar-Xigate road thus benefiting India. This further endorses the urgency to develop this important land and the recent bifurcation is the first step in this direction. Ladakh shares it’s border with Tibet to the east, Lahul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in south, Jammu and Kashmir and Baltistan to the west and south west corner, Xingjing Karakoram pass in the north. Ladakh is the coldest desert with the highest elevation at Salro Kangri 7742M) and the lowest elevation (Indus river) of 2250M, a total population of around 274289. The height of the terrain and it’s undulating areas thus characterizes harsh climatic conditions encompassing low humidity (20-40 %), low atmospheric pressure (493 mm Hg), high wind velocity, very low annual precipitation and sub zero temperatures of up to -40oC during winter months. The harshness of conditions can be adequately acknowledged by the plight of a man sitting in the sun with his feet in shade, who can have sun stroke and frost bite at the same time. These harsh conditions are further ameliorated by the sparse and scanty vegetation leading to very low moisture in the atmosphere. Rains are rare. Also snow fall may occur in the months of July and August due to high mountains all around. It also experiences heavy snow fall during winter. Thus the area remains cut off from the outside world for nearly six months.More over 90% of the population is constituted by the tribes scattered throughout the region . Therefore the biggest challenge for the authorities is how to improve the socio economic conditions of the masses living in this harsh environment. The creation of Union Territory of Ladakh by Modi 2.0 government for speedy development of this highly strategic region is a first step in this direction. Hence the cost effective sustainable technology will be the key for carrying out sustainable development in the field of agriculture, water management, connectivity, waste management, health care, education and employment generation. DRDO had developed number of technologies, which can foster the development of this newly created Union Territory of Ladakh in the above mentioned fields. Firstly, in the field of agriculture especially for growth of vegetables, and animal fodders, Agro Animal technologies developed by Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR)Laboratory of DRDO have found wide acceptance among the local farmers of Ladakh region who are able to grow 48 different types of vegetables through out the year. Annually these farmers are producing around 4500 MT vegetables and 1192 MT of animal fodders and 25% milk. This has also helped in employment generation in the region, besides upliftment of their socio-economic conditions. The farmers are earning around 70-80 million rupees every year. The model of production by farmers and supply through co-operative society is very well functional in UT Ladakh. This model can be replicated in high mountain regions in other parts of the country as well. Besides DIHAR has also established Dairy Herds for distribution of high yielding progeny, developed Packages for practice for rearing of poultry in high altitude, Survival garden for medicinal plants and Solar Poly House Dryer for high altitude areas.
Secondly, there is scarcity of water in this cold arid region. Hence judicious use of water in irrigation, drinking and daily use is an inescapable necessity. Hence, standardized low cost Drip Irrigation System( DIHAR)and Back Pack type high altitude Water Purifier(DLJ) with capacity around 12-18 l/hr have been developed to cater the needs of people in high altitude areas.
Thirdly, the connectivity to this remote area is the back bone for sustainable all round development. Although Border Road Organization and State Government departments are primarily responsible for improving the connectivity of remote areas of this highly sensitive region yet for emergency purpose High Yield Polymer Concrete Composite (developed by Defence Laboratory Jodhpur (DLJ),a DRDO laboratory has a lot of potential application.
Fourthly, the most important aspect is the establishment of ultra infrastructure in medical diagnostics in Ladakh region. Also inter connecting the various health cares units with tele medicine system for providing health care to the door step will bring revolution in health care sector . The authorities at the helm of affairs in the new UT must examine this aspect. This type of technology is available in the country and can be customized as per requirement. Besides, Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) must be extended to both serving and retired employee of Union Territory of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir by opening number of CGHS wellness centers in the Union Territories.
Fifthly, niche technologies viz Alcohol Gel for food warming , Biodigister technology for resolving the problem of un-decomposed human waste , Hybrid Generators for en cashing Solar Power and numerous other technologies are available in the country for use in high altitude areas.
Lastly we need to mention about abundant potential for tourism development in this region which needs to be explored. Various measures for its promotion should be undertaken which will further aid in the region’s all round development.
The author is of the opinion that Modi 2.0 Government’s decision of complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with Union of India and bifurcation in two Union Territories viz Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir is mainly to expedite all round development in these two union territories and also to ensure the fruits of innovative technologies are harnessed in each region by each section of society. Hover ever the implementation of program and adaptation of technologies will depend on the mind set of initiator and acceptor.Also bottom up consortium approach for initiation of new projects in the region will yield faster and meaning full results as compared to that of top down approach.
(The author is former Director General DRDO & Special Secretary MOD GoI)