Will Mufti further empower LAHDCs?
The confrontation between Lieutenant Governor and the AAP Chief Minister in Delhi is a reminiscence of the times of conflicts between Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) and J and K State Government which we have often seen in the past. There are lots of conflicting areas between the two elected bodies similar to what is being seen in Delhi these days. In spite of the fact that constitutional authority as per the LAHDC Act is the Chairman/Chief Executive Councillor (CEC) LAHDC for its jurisdiction, the knob of the oxygen flow for LAHDC always lies with State Govt. The State Govt. can weaken the authority of LAHDC at anytime by posting bureaucrats more loyal to the party in power at the State Government, and can also abruptly order transfers of officers from LAHDC’s jurisdiction who are found to be cooperative to LAHDC’s decisions and
“Some of the problems stem from the confusion in control over officers at different levels in the local administration. For example an officer is doing extremely well but he is suddenly replaced,” CEC of Congress LAHDC, Leh Rigzin Spalbar was quoted in the media during the NC-Congress regime in the State. Way back in 2006, when the present State Cabinet Minister Chering Dorjay was the CEC of the Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF) led LAHDC, he complained against the Congress led Ghulam Nabi Azad’s State Government for not conceding to the demand of LAHDC to let it have a Chief Executive Officer (who is also Deputy Commissioner) of its choice. He further accused State Government for allegedly putting up hurdles at every step in LAHDC’s functioning. Congress then was the principal opposition in LUTF-run-LAHDC in Leh.
There are lesser chances of conflicts when LAHDC and the State Government are run by a same political party, but when the two are controlled by different political parties, problems and confrontations arise often. LAHDCs have seen ministers and bureaucrats at the State Government issuing parallel instructions to government employees of Leh and Kargil without taking into account the authority of the Hill Councils in spite of the fact that as per the LAHDC Act the State Government employees of the district except the judicial employees and police personnel shall be deemed to be transferred employees of the Council (LAHDC) on terms and conditions. According to Rigzin Spalbar there are wide loopholes wherein State Government can creep into compromise LAHDC’s autonomy. Literally, without the cooperation of the State Government, the CEC doesn’t have the power to take action against his own CEO in case the officer doesn’t honour and implement decisions and policies of LAHDC.
In 2013 both CECs of Leh and Kargil sought the intervention of the Prime Minister regarding ‘severe resource constraints confronting with the twin LAHDCs of Leh and Kargil’. The CECs informed the Prime Minister that “the democratic institutions are reduced to mere showpieces without being able to generate any tangible outputs”. The LAHDCs suggested for more fundamental changes in the allocation of resources by the Center and State to enable the institutions to play any meaningful role in the inclusive and sustainable growth of the hitherto neglected and marginalised region.
It would be an appropriate time to amend LAHDC Act to do away with arising confusion, resolve conflicting areas and to further empower the democratic institutions for the development of Ladakh region. It will be interesting to see whether the present State Government led by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed intends to further empower the trans-Himalayan democratic institutions or weaken them for political gains. People may have high expectations from the present State Government, especially Mufti Sayeed, because it was the PDP led State Government under Mufti which granted some powers and autonomy to LAHDCs in 2002 that the predecessor NC Government led by Farooq Abdullah had never granted. On the other hand, Mufti’s Cabinet colleague Chering Dorjay along with MP Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang (both now BJP members), having had bitter experiences themselves with successive State Governments, had over the years advocated strongly for the empowerment LAHDC and devolution power to the grassroots. It will be, therefore, interesting to observe in the coming days whether BPJ leaders from Ladakh, as they are now at the helm of affairs, continue to honour the authority of LAHDCs and further strengthen the democratic institutions, which are at present controlled by Congress and National Conference (NC) in Leh and Kargil respectively.
It is pertinent to mention here that LAHDC was first formed during the Governor rule in 1995, but when popular government of NC led by Dr. Farooq Abdullah came in 1996, it had serious reservation to pass the LAHDC Act in the Assembly. However unwillingly, the State Government had to pass LAHDC Act 1997 owing to immense pressure it faced from Ladakh as leadership of Leh Ladakh then was known for its unity for such causes unlike today.
(Author is a freelance journalist and a Councilor, LAHDC, Leh.
The article has been written under NFI National Media Fellowship 2015).