Ph.D. Scholar, JNU
One more death on the ‘Chaddder,’ (The Frozen Highway) this time it was a student who was trying to reach Leh from Zanskar to join her studies at Jammu and how many more state government need to convince itself of the importance of the earliest completion of Nimmo-Padum-Darcha Road. This unfortunate incident took place on 8th Feb. 2018, when she started her journey from Padum to Leh via the Chadder.
The only road to reach Zanskar is Kargil – Padum Road via the Penzila, which is around 250km from Kargil. During winter, this pass gets closed due to heavy snowfall, isolating Zanskar from the rest of Jammu and Kashmir for next 7 months. This geographical imprisonment for 7 months proves life threatening for the people of Zankar, as many a times people dies due to the lack of proper medical care. And during this time the Zanskar River freezes, creating a frozen highway, called ‘CHADDER’, the only means of travel from Zanksar to Leh during the harsh winter months. During winter the only approach to Zanskar is to travel along the frozen river where the ices freezes so thick that is becomes a highway known as “the Chadder Road”. But this travelling on Chadder road is very dangerous as some time frozen part caves in and many a time led to loss of life, as it happened in the case of our nomoly, who died while trying to cross Chadder to reach Leh.
The absence of an all weather roads and transportation facilities has forced the citizens of Zanskar to walk for more than three days to reach the nearest airport at Leh. So called subsidized Helicopter Service which was lunched with so much of media publicity is not frequent and people have to wait for long time to get their names in the list of passenger to be airlifted. This has forced the people to walk over life threatening ‘Chadder’ to reach Leh, from where they can fly to Delhi or Jammu. Which has resulted in the death of many travellers.
A road is under construction to maintain all weather connectivity between Leh and Zanskar but unfortunately this eagerly awaited road seems nowhere near its completion. This road linking Nimmo-Padum-Darcha has been approved by the central Government way back in 2000 but this road is nowhere near completion and now deadline for its completion has been extended to 2021 and this is not for the first time that this deadline has been extended. Nimmo-Padum-Darcha road has been basic demand of the people of Zanskar and it is not only for the people of Zanskar that it is important in fact it is also important to the whole of India as it will connect Ladakh (which is border to both China and Pakistan) to Himachal Pradesh and we will have shorter and round the year route to the rest of India.
The locals have been demanding the speedy completion of this much-awaited road for a long time, which will make their life lot easier. And most importantly students from Zanskar do not have to risk their life’s to reach their respected places of studies at Delhi or Jammu. It is also important to answer medical emergencies during winter. If you speak in terms of the cartographic anxiety, this road is very strategic, as it will become the shortest surface connectivity to the borders. This Nimmo-Padum-Darcha Road is strategically very important to the security of its very fragile border with China in the east and Pakistan in the west because this road will easily and quickly transport men and material to the border in times of crisis.
It is for the safety of whole Jammu and Kashmir that it is important. I think here we need to understand the importance of Zanskar with reference to the letter written by H.N. Kaul to Nehru during partition and threats of invasion from Skardu. In this letter Kaul wrote, “The safety of Zanskar is also vital to the safety of Leh, Lahoul, and East Punjab... For as long as we hold Leh and Zanskar, we hold the entire district and guard Kashmir, Changthang and Lahoul against possible invasion” In this letter Kaul highlight the strategic importance of Zanskar for the security of whole Jammu and Kashmir from possible invasion. I think Kaul’s letter was largely overlooked, as its message is as relevant today as it was then.
This road is also very important to the local population of Zanskar in particular and Ladakh in general but in the dominant discourse of Kashmir this genuine demand of people has been totally neglected. Kashmir is always in limelight while as Jammu and Ladakh has been neglected. Together Leh and Kargil constitute more than 50 percent of the geographic area but in terms of population it have been less than 9% which is only 274289. But inside Ladakh it is the region of Zanskar (which is a sub division of Kargil) that has been marginalized in terms of all developmental needs. The region of Zanskar comprises over half of Kargil district in terms of area, which is 7000km but out of the total population of 140802 Zanskar has only around 13846. Internally it is disconnected to the other area of Ladakh like Leh and Kargil, which is administrative centers of the region, and externally it is disconnected to the region outside Ladakh. 21st century discourse should not be only about the high-speed data and space mission; it should also be about a marginalized population of Zanskar struggling to get basic road connectivity.
It was the unfortunate decade of 1979, when Ladakh was partitioned into two districts and Zanskar was adjusted to Kargil district and from that very moment it has been struggling to get equal share of resources from the administration. While Zanskar makes up half of the area of Kargil district, it is barely represented at the upper echelons of the Government bureaucracy in Kargil. Zanskar is one of the oldest tehsils in the Jammu and Kashmir but even then its demand for district status has been neglected. Zanskar is one of the most remote regions of Jammu and Kashmir with only one road, which too remains open only for 4 month in a year and the condition of this road is worst in the planet.
This article is an attempt to enlighten the reader about the strategic importance of Nimmo-Padum-Darcha Road and the need for its earliest completion. The timely completion of Nimmo-Padum-Darcha road could have saved many lives including the life of our dearest Nomoly.