Suffering from years of neglect, citizens that the nation tends to forget in the Himalayan highlands, residents of Lahaul & Spiti are willing to seek help from China to improve their lives unless India decides to do something about it.
If our government has washed its hands of with the problems that we face, then we will not be reluctant in seeking help from China,” says Lobsang Tandup, pradhan (president) of Sagnam panchayat in Pin valley of Spiti in the high altitude zone of Himachal Pradesh bordering China (Tibet).
Peeved by government’s apathy over not improving infrastructure in remote Pin valley, the residents have sparked off a row by going public with the controversial statement that they would seek help from neighbouring China if state and central government cannot develop the area.
With not enough means for a sustainable livelihood, the younger generations migrating to cities for better opportunities, the residents in the border areas are angry over the neglect that they have been suffering from for decades.
Pin valley is part of the Spiti River catchment, close to the border with Tibet, China and shares cultural affinity with villages across the border. Some even have relatives living across the border as marriages across the porous international borderline do take place.
A flood in Kiri rivulet in June 2012 had damaged its bridge. The vital bridge was used to connect 13 villages of Pin valley with rest of the state. Two years have passed and Kiri rivulet is in spate again but government has made no provision to build a bridge or provide an alternative route to connect the marooned villages.
Villagers are risking their lives, while crossing the rivulet over the damaged bridge.
Agitated villagers of Kungari and Sagnam panchayats in protest say, “road, water supply, power supply, bridges, everything is in dilapidated condition and both state and central governments are not interested in resolving our problems.”
With China having invested heavily in road and railway infrastructure in Tibet to build connectivity as well as military reach, residents living close to the border in high altitude zones of Himachal and Ladakh have been craving for basic facilities.
“We are tired of begging before the government. Our people are risking their lives every day,” Tandup said.
Green pea is the only cash crop of Pin valley which is unable to be transported to markets across the country because of bridge over Kiri rivulet having collapsed three years ago.
The valley has a very short crop growing season, for long winters lasting over 6 months do not permit sowing of more than one crop on the scarce farmlands in the region.
Villagers have not able to take even their vegetables to market on time. Chhewang Topge, president of Kungari panchayat says that villagers are dependent on farming for their livelihoods. “Government should at least build a permanent bridge here”, he said
Ravi Thakur, vice president, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes today told reporters at Manali, “migration of villagers from villages close to borders is largely due to lack of infrastructure and this migration is a serious matter of concern.”
“It could be dangerous for national security,” he said.
We need to strengthen the infrastructure in bordering areas. A temporary ropeway has been set up across the Kiri rivulet so that villagers can transport their agriculture produce. Development is the only way to stop migration from mountainous regions to plains,” said Thakur.
Sunil Sharma, ADC at Kaza (Lahual-Spiti) says that impact of global warming was melting glaciers in the region.
“The melting of Ulatop glacier was generating heavy muck flows, which had damaged the Kiri Bridge a few years ago. The administration after spending Rs 8 lakhs had laid out a foot bridge which got damaged on 19 August, 2014,” said Sharma.
A team lead by ADC Kaza, with SDM Kaza, SDO and JE of block in tow visited the spot and set up a temporary ropeway across the Kiri rivulet for the villages to transport their produce.
Sharma disclosed that Rs 1.63 crore had been sanctioned to construct an alternate route to the landlocked villages of Pin Valley. “Tenders for the construction job would be floated on 25th August, 2014”, he said.