High altitude, high pressure
The most remarkable aspect of the developmental challenges in Leh district is the small margin for error. Resources are highly limited. Ladakh's ecology is fragile. Unbridled tourism will imperil the pastures of Changthang that support the pashmina goats and the Changpa nomads.
The good news from Leh is that the leadership is reasonably sensitive to these challenges. The reforms in the education system are examples of what a committed leadership can do. There have been several efforts across the country to improve the lot of government schools. But their success has been very limited, to say the least. What is unique about Ladakh is that the LAHDC has kept in touch with several of these initiatives, and actually learnt from these failures. This ensured that it could implement the educational reforms in the face of implicit opposition from the state government.
There are also problem areas. For example, LAHDC is yet to declare a policy on ecotourism despite long-standing discussions. Ecotourism is a new concept and there is a lot of confusion about what it would entail for Ladakh. People who have studied the impact of trekking groups coming from Manali in Himachal Pradesh say it is time to charge the trekking operators for the pack animals they bring in. These animals feed at the cost of the livestock of the Changpa.
Agriculture, another area of concern, is not something that the hill council can sort out at its level. There is also a clear need to to tap the potential of seabuckthorn without doing long-term damage. Though the present levels of extraction are not much, they are only going to grow. For civic amenities and energy production, the council has plans. Creating a sound sanitation system for Leh town would be a great challenge.
About 95 per cent of Leh's people belong to the Scheduled Tribes. So, its political leadership has to take a close look at the protection available under the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution. This would require a review of its present agenda of demanding Union Territory status. This is a great time to be a political leader in Ladakh. To make it count.