Leh, Sept 2: Chewang Dolma, who retired as a matron from a government hospital here, had joined a crowd of jubilant people in the streets of Leh on the day the Centre announced a Union territory status for Ladakh.
“People were dancing in the streets, and rejoicing in markets. Ladakhis had been struggling for over 70 years to see this day,” Dolma said. “We were emotionally overwhelmed. I am very happy that now we will finally be a UT.”
Dolma, 68, a fourth-generation Ladakhi, earlier worked at the Sonam Nurboo Memorial (SNM) Hospital and now runs Lyon Hotel at Changspa in downtown Leh, a hub of tourists.
Emotions expressed by people like Dolma is ostensibly a dominant feeling in Leh district of Ladakh, evidenced in streets and market places.
In Leh”s main market, a beautiful pedestrianised space, huge cloth banners have been displayed, bearing messages like: “Thank you Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making Ladakh a UT” and “Ladakh celebrates its 1st Independence Day”.
A prominent roundabout in streets carries a banner put up by activists that reads: “Ladakh freed from Kashmir”.
A separate Union territory has been a long-standing demand of locals, many of who have alleged that the Ladakh region had been neglected by leaders of Jammu and Kashmir.
Many local residents feel the region will see growth and prosperity now as Ladakh will take charge of its destiny in its own hands.
The Centre had on August 5 scrapped Jammu and Kashmir”s special status by abrogating provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated it into Union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — that will officially come into effect on October 31.
A resident of Chemday village, who did not wish to be identified, said she studied at a university in Jammu, but had had to go to Srinagar for various paperwork.
“And, being Ladakhis, we had to face a lot of problem as, not only the long distance for travel, but we were expected to grease palms of many government staff to get our work done,” she said. “I am very happy, we are separate entity now.”
However, not everyone is swept by the wave of the initial euphoria and many Ladakhi people — young and old, living in Leh town or villages in the district — are feeling apprehensive about the future that lies ahead.
Stanzin Jordan, 28, a Leh-based entrepreneur said he was not very excited by all the buzz about the UT status.
“Actually, I feel very confused, as to what will happen to Ladakh after the UT status,” Jordan, who graduated in August from the year-long Naropa Fellowship, said.
“Ladakh”s ecology is very fragile and infrastructure and other projects are now expected to be brought in her,” he said. “I can”t tell how much jobs will be created for locals, and a bit concerned about the impact of new set-up on the existing ecology and our own local culture.”
Ladakh indeed has a very distinctive culture, and in Leh town, almost all buildings, hotels and houses, display the unique Ladakhi design in wood in their facade.
The demand for a UT status has been a long-drawn struggle, and one of the first Ladakhis to raise the issue was Buddhist scholar and politician Bakula Rinpoche, after whom the Leh airport is named.
Asked about the future of Ladakh post the UT status, Buddhist leader His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche said: “People are excited, but, we don”t know what will happen after the UT status comes.”
“Our worry is about our culture, and our culture should not be destroyed because of the ramifications of this UT status,” Rinpoche told .
Hinting at urban issues arising due to increase in population, he said: “Our Ladakh should not become more dirty or polluted after the UT status now. We must preserve our Himalayan region as we grow ahead.”
In other areas of Buddhist-dominated Leh district, too, people are largely happy about the UT status, with some confused or muted in their response, but in Muslim-dominated Kargil district of Ladakh, a section of citizens have been protesting the decision.
Sonam Chuskit, 23, who is pursuing a master”s degree in political science through a long-distance programme from Jammu, is sceptical about the decision to make Ladakh a Union territory.
A resident of Liktsay village, about 90-minute ride from Leh town and situated at an altitude of above 11,000 ft, Chuskit points to the pristine mountains and river streams near her house, which villagers use for household work.
“UT status would mean more infrastructure projects, more pressure on ecology, over-population in this fragile region. I am worried,” she said.
The woman also pointed out that overtourism in pristine areas like the Pangong Lake has already begun to damage the ecology as many tourists leave plastic and other trash behind.
“I hope that after UT status, my region gets good educational institutions and hospitals so that we won”t have to seek higher education and healthcare elsewhere, but care should be taken to not harm the environment,” said Chuskit, who wants to become a teacher.
In the same village, Kalzang Chosdin, 29, said: “We are poor people just trying to live our lives without compromising the nature.”
“UT or no UT, our lives will be the same,” Chosdin said as she carried a sack of grass on her shoulders and walked towards the horizon.
Rail service resumes
Srinagar, Nov 12: Rail services in Kashmir resumed on Tuesday – over three months after being suspended due to security reasons in view of the Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370, officials said.
Few mini-buses also plied on the Batwara-Batamaloo route through the city centre, while inter-district cabs and auto-rickshaws plied in the city and elsewhere in the valley.
Private transport was plying unhindered.
A railway official told PTI that a train chugged between Baramulla and Srinagar this morning.
He said the train made only two trips on the Baramulla-Srinagar stretch as authorities have directed Railways to ply trains between 10 am and 3 pm only due to security reasons.
The Railways conducted the trial run of the service on the stretch on Monday for the first time in over three months since the unannounced shutdown in the valley.
The official said the Srinagar-Banihal stretch of the railway line would resume in a few days after checking track safety and conducting trial runs.
The train service in the valley was suspended due to security reasons on the morning of 5 August – hours before the Centre announced its decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and to bifurcate the erstwhile state into two Union territories.
The Centre’s decision led to an unannounced shutdown in the valley – which completed 100 days on Tuesday — even as authorities imposed severe restrictions which were later gradually eased out.
Markets have been following a new pattern of functioning, opening early morning till around the noon and then downing their shutters to join the protest against abrogation of the special status of the state, officials said.
They said miscreants are using fear mongering to put down any resistance to unannounced shutdown by threatening shopkeepers and businessmen.
The officials said two grenade attacks in the city’s busy Goni Khan market and Kaka Sarai areas were an indication that there were concerted efforts to keep the shutdown going.
Pre-paid mobile phones and all internet services continued to remain suspended since 5 August.
Most of the top level and second rung separatist politicians have been taken into preventive custody while mainstream leaders including two former chief ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — have been either detained or placed under house arrest.
The government has detained former chief minister and sitting Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar Farooq Abdullah under the controversial Public Safety Act.
Militant killed in Ganderbal gunfight
Srinagar, Nov 12: A militant was killed and an Army soldier injured in an encounter between militants and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ganderbal district on Tuesday, police said.
Security forces launched a cordon-and-search operation in Kulan area of the central Kashmir district in the morning following inputs about the presence of militants.
During the search, the hiding militants fired upon the security forces, who retaliated, according to an officer.
A militant was killed during the gunfight. An army soldier was also injured and rushed to a medical facility for treatment, the officer said.
The identity and group affiliation of the slain militant is yet to be ascertained. The operation is on and further details are awaited, the officer added.
The incident comes after the encounter where two militants were killed in an encounter with security forces in Bandipora district of north Kashmir on Monday morning, police said.
While one militant was killed on Sunday during a gunfight between security forces in Lawdara village, about 55 km from Srinagar, another was killed on Monday, police further said. The security forces started a search operation on getting information about the presence of some militants in the area which led to the encounter between the security forces and the militants.
The streak of encounters continues as the state of Kashmir remains under an unprecedented lockdown after the abrogation of article 370.
Unscheduled power cuts affect research in KU
Srinagar, Nov 05: Unscheduled power cuts have severely hit the research work in the University of Kashmir.
“I am doing research on plant ecology and most of my work depends on high definition equipments which work on electricity. I collected plant samples twice from Gulmarg and kept it in freezer for further examination. For four days there was no electricity and with the result my samples became unusable,” said a research scholar.
Another research scholar in Kashmir University said due to frequent power cuts their research work is getting affected. “My equipment developed errors due to power cuts. With the result, it started displaying false readings”, he said.
An official in the Kashmir University said over Rs 25 crore have been sanctioned for 50 different projects in the department of biotechnology, clinical bio-chemistry, botany, zoology, nanotechnology, pharmacy, environmental science, physics, electronics and chemistry.
“The high definition equipment, which works in -80, -20, -120 temperature, are imported from abroad. Regular power cuts are affecting these equipments,” the official said.
Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Chief Engineer PDD, Qazi Hashmat said Kashmir University being a premier institute should install a backup power system to meet exigencies.
“PDD has proposed to provide dedicated power supply from 33 KV line. Once the university credits the amount, we will start work on installation of the line,” Qazi said.
Spokesperson of Kashmir University, Professor Shahid Rasool said the issue has not been brought into hid notice. “I will check with the department heads and resolve it as soon as possible,” he said.
Sources said Kashmir University had signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the PDD to provide 24*7 power supply. Sources said two kanals of land was also earmarked for establishing receiving station for uninterrupted power supply. Sources said Kashmir University is paying Rs 4.2 lakh as monthly electricity tariff to the PDD.