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[LEH] It was inevitable that a conference on ‘Sustainable Resource Development’ should veer around sustainable practices in the host city of Leh, situated on the cold and dry Ladakh plateau 15,000 feet above sea level in the high Himalayas.

Organised by the Geological Society of London in collaboration with the Institute of Energy Research & Training of Jammu University last month (June 24—26), the conference saw vigorous disagreement over a sustainable development model for Ladakh, a region of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir state.

Already the Himalayas are believed to be vulnerable to the hazards of climate change on the one hand and flawed land-use on the other with Leh city itself still recovering from devastation wrought by landslides in 2010.

Little wonder then that Nowang Rigzin Jora, son-of-the-soil and urban development minister in the Jammu and Kashmir state government, took umbrage at opinion expressed by one of the participating scientists that Ladakh could exploit its granite resources to augment revenues from its tourism industry.

“I say big no to this; we will do with less money rather than have cement plants and granite extraction units,” Jora said, adding that he looked to Bhutan’s development model for inspiration.

“I am very sorry to say that we are being sucked into the larger economic order… What is Bhutan’s GNP? A big zero! But they are a happier lot. They have fewer footfalls, but more value. We wish that we had a similar model for Ladakh.” 

Ladakh is a sparsely populated high-altitude desert having a population of 170,000 spread  over 45,000 square kilometres, or fewer than four persons per square kilometre.

Jora, laid emphasis on high value tourism which did not necessarily call for creating huge infrastructure. “We only need to protect our landscape, traditions and cultural values for offering a different experience to tourists who come from places where infrastructure exists in abundance.” 

Dilip Mukhopadhyay, professor at the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee had strong ideas about high-value tourism. “We can’t restrict places to the super rich only.”

Chering Tundup, a Ladakhi community member saw improved agriculture as a source of extra income. “Why can’t we grow vegetables like peas, potatoes and onions on a large scale?”

Ladakh is surrounded by China and Pakistan, countries with which India has unsettled borders. “What if tensions escalate? It is quite simple that we can’t survive only on tourism,” says Tundup.

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