Amidst the lockdown due to the COVID-19, few old people recalled me their memories of 1957 famine. An untimely snowfall, a decade after the independence of the country had caused harsh scarcity of food for livelihood in the region. In the backdrop of both these tragic situations, 1957 famine and 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, Ladakh have to take few serious lessons. The significant one that I want to discuss here is the fact that Ladakh’s economy should be based on production instead of tourism.
Before the partition of the country, Ladakh had different routes for bringing food and other commodities. Most prominent of them were from Kargil-Skardu route, from Zoji Pass, from Chelong Nala etc. However, with the partition Ladakh found its main route completely closed to Baltistan. As a result, Ladakh faced extreme poverty and scarcity of food commodities. In 1957 Kargil received untimely snowfall in the month of June. As a result, the population that was completely dependent on agriculture got all their crops destroyed. It resulted into famine in the region.
Old people recounted that many people who had horse and donkey went to Kashmir to bring food, rice and grain for survival. Many people who had less attachment with the land, some temporarily and some permanently, migrated to other places. But there were many who had no resource to do either of the two above mentioned options. They survived themselves after eating roots of trees and plants. Some even say that they survived after eating sole of their shoes.
Today in 2020, we are not in such a situation like 1957. But today in the COVID-19 lockdown people have shortage of basic commodities and ingredients like sugar, onion, oil, cereals, flour etc. Today we face such circumstances in a situation where the whole country is fighting to combat against the Coronavirus that has posed threat across the globe. The lockdown is a precautionary measure taken by the government to prevent the transfer of the virus from one person to another; but we have no alternate choice to the lockdown.
These two extreme situations gave us a lesson that tourism-based economy is not sustainable and appropriate for geographical location like Ladakh. Today people in Ladakh have enough money to spend for their livelihood but products and commodities are not at the right place due to the prevailing situation. In addition, the tourism-based economy has two major shortcomings. First, it increases the population; that in turn increases the pollution level in the region. In a region where water is scarce, the growth of pollution has adverse effect. Environmentalists have already warned that Ladakh cannot bear further growth in population.
Secondly, tourism bring monetary benefit with less efforts. The luxury of financial resource snatches skills and development in human being. In state of luxury people give few focuses on production, agriculture, handicraft, horticulture, and other skill required sectors.
However, the production-based economy is supportive for both the environmental concerns and development of skills in the people. Increase in cultivating and agricultural land would help in minimising the air pollution. It would also give selective invitation to tourists because of less facilities available to them in the region. Most importantly, the inhabitants of Ladakh have not to rely on other cities and States for their livelihood and other requirements.