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In Conversation With Reach Ladakh

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In Conversation with Dr Sonam Dawa, Chief Executive Councillor
By Rinchen Angmo Chumikchan, Friday, February 5, 2016

On the eve of the third anniversary of Reach Ladakh Bulletin, we question Dr Sonam Dawa, Chief Executive Councillor, on a wide range of critical topics, including short and long-term planning for Ladakh, economy, unemployment and many other issues.

Dr Dawa has held many posts - Chief Medical Officer to Chairman, Managing Committee, Lamdon School. He also served as the President of Ladakh Buddhist Association and  President of LUTF. He was also Consultant Physician to HelpAge India. He was twice appointed as the President of BJP, Leh.
Q. I should start by wishing you a happy new year and congratulations on getting a majority in the recent Hill Council polls. It is almost two months now in office. So, what works are already going on?

A.First of all, thank you for wishing us. We all know that it’s been more than two months since the Council was formed. It’s very hard to say what works are going on but right now we are trying to push up works that are already going on. Secondly, within these two months, we tried to understand how things work. In the past two months, we ask every department to give presentation to make us aware of the issues.

Q. What is the reason of taking over the Municipal Corporation, Health and Education departments? What are you going to focus on?

A.You all know that I am from a medical background. Secondly, when I was in medical field, I got the opportunity to work with the municipality, and thirdly I worked with Lamdon Education Society for many years. Considering my past experiences, I prefer these three departments to be under me so that I can contribute more. It’s very difficult to pinpoint on what work focus will be given. The three burning issues in Ladakh today are health, education and agriculture, and then we will focus on these three issues.

Q. We have seen that basic facilities like lack of toilets, parking and garbage disposal are denied to the common people. What are your plans to resolve these problems? Is there any planning to invite experts to deal with these issues?

A. Solid waste disposal is very crude, we collect the garbage from the market and dumb into bomb guard though it’s not a systematic planning.
The previous council has already worked on it. This summer we are planning to work systematically and scientifically. Ladakh will also have the same kind of disposal system that other cities have. We need to push up the work and we are doing it.

Toilet: Beyond doubt, Ladakh does not have proper toilets facilities. In the coming months, the Notified Area Committee (NAC) is planning to work systematically and provide separate toilets for ladies and gents. When the weather will get better, the work will be implemented.

Q. Is it important to use Shingtsaks (decorative wooden lintels) on toilets and constructing English toilets? We can use the same money for maintenance.

A.I have already raised this issue in the meeting that there is no need to use ‘shingtsaks’ on toilets. In future, we have decided not to use ‘shingtsaks’ on toilets. We are also planning to construct dry local toilets which are used by our ancestors. We are planning to add some chemical to dry toilet. Within one year, we get organic manure. We are planning to implement it soon.

Parking: There is a new proposal for town planning and in that we got some funds. We are trying to utilise all the funds into parking. I hope that by the end of 2016, Leh town will get a good parking and toilet facility.

Q.Recently, a BJP delegation had raised some issues at the Centre level. What was the result?

A.Overall there was a positive approach from all the ministers. Prime Minister Modi himself said that he was very happy to see so many young generations in politics from Ladakh. He said he wanted to do something for Ladakh, and asked what he could do. We put up our demands before him. We also raised the long-pending demands like UT status. All the ministers present there gave positive assurances.  They were very supportive.

Q.Every time during the election, the manifestoes of political parties contain big demands like UT status and the opening of Kailash Mansarovar road at Demjok? Is it to gain vote bank or it just remains on paper?

A.We all know that the UT status demand is a long-standing demand. Neither it is easy to get UT status nor we can forget it. In the recent meeting, we raised this issue and the BJP accepted this issue in principle. The BJP is the only party that has accepted that Ladakh should get UT status.
Secondly, about the opening of Kailash Mansarovar road at Demjok,  the PM said, “We are ready but the Chinese are not ready.” But what I think is, in future it is not impossible and we hope over the next five of our tenure we will get the opportunity to take the pilgrims from Ladakh to Mansarovar. We have also demanded the inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule which is also a long- pending demand. We will keep on working on these issues whether it will be fulfilled or not is a matter of luck.

Q.As impacted communities, we are deeply aware of the imperative of the climate crisis. Our livelihoods are threatened by floods continuously since 2010, our communities are the hardest hit and the least protected in extreme weather events. What are you planning to prevent such disasters? People are constructing buildings on the same flood-prone areas. Why there is no intervention of the Govt?

A.The floods of 2010 and 2015 were very unfortunate. Within five years, Ladakh was hit by floods twice. The climate change is a big issue today. We have a very fragile ecology. We cannot say such disasters will not hit us in future.
Yes, people are constructing buildings on the same flood-prone areas and there is no intervention of the govt. I completely agree with you. Once it is hit by flood, it is a blunder to construct buildings on the same place. I cannot say why there was no intervention in the past.
Today many streams are narrowed down by encroachment. So we are planning to channelise/regularise all the streams of Leh. We cannot stop disaster but we can manage it. In the past month, we have formed a district disaster management committee under the guidance of Deputy Commissioner. We have done a mock drill for the same.  Now we are fully prepared to deal with such disasters.
In future, there will be intervention of the Govt and we will not allow anyone to construct buildings on streams and flood-prone areas.

Q. In today’s time, communication is one of the most important things the world over. Are there plans of improving the communication system in Ladakh, especially internet connectivity?

A. Today communication has become one of the necessities of life. We had a comprehensive meeting with the telecom minister and the concerned department. In that, they have taken many decisions; In March, they have decided to send a team to see how to have uninterrupted internet service in Leh and the nearby places.

Secondly, we have given them the list of those areas where there is no tower. In the near future if Ladakh gets 40- 50 towers then all the villages can be connected. If there are some pockets which are left we are trying to provide DSPT to them. Our work is to connect all the hamlets so that in the case of emergency, they can contact the headquarters. We are working hard and in the coming 2 -3 years telecommunication in Leh will be good. Airtel has already planned to put up 15-20 towers in Naro Gyantuk (Kumbh Mela) and we are contacting other private companies also.  If there is competition, then it will automatically improve.

Q. What is LAHDC’S short-term planning till the end of 2016?  Which sector (education, health, economy, culture) are you going to focus on? What will be the priority?

A.First of all, we will work on the flood-hit 'Yourgo' for the farmers. Secondly, all the areas which are covered under debris will be cleared to make it cultivable.
When we talk about service departments like education and health, we will focus on improving the quality. Talking about infrastructure, there is no need to work on that as it’s already in good condition. If we need some improvement then it is in the quality of service. I think education is already a priority and then we can say we are going to focus on agriculture.

Q.What about the high airfare? Was there any outcome at the recent talks at the  Centre level? Is there any assurance given by the Civil Aviation Minister? If yes, then when will it be implemented?

A. One of our main reasons of the delegation visit was to raise the issue of soaring airfare. At that time, the airfare was ?25,000 -26,000. We have requested the Prime minister and Civil Aviation minister about that and Indian Airlines-Air India will reinstate their flights from 10th January onwards.

Jet Airways and Go Airways both will operate the same number of flights as they used to operate in the summer season from February 1. From March onwards the airfare will be charged according to hours. If we talk about Leh-Delhi, it takes one hour and the charge of one hour will be two thousand per hour. They have given the assurance and I hope that from the next season this tariff will be implemented.

Q. The opposition party has alleged that recently a BJP delegation had used the reserved quota of patients and students. Was it official or unofficial?

A. The delegation was an official one and the PM had given us the appointment. Secondly, the opposition will be against us anyway. Talking about the quota of students and patients, their preferences were not be narrowed. The opposition party will not highlight those issues when our Councillors went to Delhi and paid from their own pockets.

Q. We have seen unemployment problems in Ladakh. What are you planning to encourage entrepreneurship? How do you think the administration can find a solution to this?

A.Well, it is not possible for all the educated youth to engage in govt jobs. On the other hand, we are trying hard to encourage entrepreneurship. For future, we will be focussing on skill development programme and we have brought separate funds for that. I appeal to all the youths of Ladakh to take advantage from this and develop their skill as the BJP Govt has many such schemes. You can take a loan on a very low-interest rate. If you develop your skill on Pashmina and sea-buck thorn, for example, then there is no question of no profit in it. You can also develop your skill as an electrician, plumber and much more. People from outside earn lakhs in these areas.

Q. Talking about the sports sector, many of our local sportspersons have participated and done exceptionally well at national and international levels. Are we planning to encourage them by providing the facilities in Leh itself?

A. We have district youth and services sports but they are not given enough budget. We have talents in every sport, our students have participated and done very well. We do not get much support from the J&K sports authority. Recently, the state sports authorities have assured that they will provide coaching to the students but they demand accommodation. We agreed to that and from this summer, the students will get proper coaching and provide facilities to them and nurture their talents.
We are planning to upgrade the indoor stadium and a multipurpose stadium is on the way of completion. After that, all the athletes will be equipped well especially in archery, ice hockey and mountaineering.

Q. You always talked about a corruption-free society? What would be your first step to curb that?

A. Thirty years ago, Ladakh was an example for others but today the whole scenario has changed. It was very clean in terms of corruption and I don’t know how it got infected. Corruption is an infection. Normally people say that govt employees are corrupt. To check govt officials is very easy as they have a govt service rule. First of all, I request people not to give money as they are equally corrupt if they do so. If people cooperate, then it can be checked. But in order to do that, we have to make sure that everybody is doing his/her fair share. And if we do that, we can solve this problem.

Q. One of the major issues in Ladakh is traffic management? Any plans on it?

A. We have seen a mushroom growth in traffic in Ladakh. People opt for many cars today which is a sign of development. In the summer season, traffic becomes double as many cars from outside also enter into Ladakh. In Leh town, we have a traffic regulation with the help of Police Department, NAC and administration. Many lanes of the road are made one-way. Everyone has to play a crucial role in countering this problem.

Q. When will be the nominated Councillors announced? What are you waiting for?

A. We are not waiting; we have been trying from the first day to get the announcement of the nominated Councillors. We have already sent the panel list. We have a coalition govt of PDP and BJP. So there are discussions going on about giving two seats each to BJP and PDP. This is one of the reasons for the delay, and secondly the demise of  the CM is also a reason in the delay. We are very hopeful about the announcement within 15-20 days.

Q. In the last 5-10 years, Ladakh has witnessed a lot of crime against women. What steps are you going to take to ensure their safety?

A. When we look back, the status of women was very good in Ladakh but with time it has changed and we see a lot of crime against them. Today, many NGOs are working for it and I am very happy. And police are also doing their part. We assure we will work for them.

Q.  The Leh beautification project is an ambitious project, but the pace of work is very slow. When will be the project completed and what works are still pending?

A. Many works are still pending. We are also concerned over the delay. The first phase will be completed by June. The first phase includes the Leh Town,  the Housing Colony area,  the Balkhang area up to  the petrol pump. It will be completed by June 2016.

Q. Many people do not like the ideology of BJP. How will it impact Ladakh in the long run?

A. Basically, it is the perspective of the people. The BJP and the RSS are two different wings. The RSS is the religious and social part, and the people saying that the BJP is ruled by the RSS is not justified. There is no role of the RSS in the party. A political party cannot become sectarian so long it is secular. And there will be no negative impact on Ladakh in the long-run also. We can guarantee on that.


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