LEH (Jammu and Kashmir): Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Saturday lambasted the Congress for allegedly neglecting Ladakh over the past six decades and said various initiatives like railway line and biggest solar park are in the pipeline for the region for its overall development.
She assured all the pending defence issues, including rent for the land which is under the army's use, would be resolved as she listed out various steps taken by the Prime Minister Narendra Mod-led government for the region.
The Ladakh region usually remains cut-off from the rest of the country for nearly six months annually due to closure of the 434-km long Srinagar-Leh national highway during winter.
"I am not making any promises because it is a violation of the model code of conduct in view of the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. I am speaking about the initiatives taken by the Modi government for the welfare of the people of the Ladakh region," she said addressing an election rally in support of party candidate Jamyang Tsering Namgyal here.
Namgyal is locked in a four-cornered contest from the Ladakh seat, where the campaigning ended this evening and the focus shifted to May 6 polling which will also decide the fate of Congress candidate Rigzin Spalbar and two independents - Congress rebel and former MLA Asgar Ali Karbalai and journalist-turned-politician Sajjad Hussain.
"The work on the detailed project report for an all-weather railway line between Himachal Pradesh to Leh has started.
The railway line once completed will provide all-weather connectivity to the region which is presently dependent on a road through Kargil which only opens in summer," the defence minister said.
She said the planning for the biggest solar power park in Leh has already been started by renewable energy which will not only provide electricity to the region but also make Jammu and Kashmir energy a surplus state.
Sitharaman said she took charge of the defence ministry in September 2017 and visited Ladakh at least four times to witness the fast changing development scenario.
Drawing a parallel between Northeast and Ladakh, she said both the regions faced neglect during six decades of the Congress rule and only came up for a focused development during the last five years.
"The prime minister makes it necessary that at least one minister should visit Northeast because in the Congress' rule, the region was sidelined and no work was done there.
Likewise, Congress dominated the political discourse in Ladakh, but never paid attention to the region for its development," the defence minister claimed.
During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government in the past, she said a separate department of Northeast affairs was set up which got a boost during the past five years after the formation of the Modi government.
"The land of seven sisters is actually eight sisters, including Sikkim, and this is for the first time that these Himalayan states are witnessing development in the shape of the construction of new railway lines, better roads and airports.
"The funds were directly given to Ladakh councils instead through Srinagar headquarters to avoid delay in the development works.
Leh was given more administrative and financial powers to utilise the money which resulted in speeding up of various development works," Sitharaman said.
She referred to the prime minister's speech at Red Fort in Delhi last year promising recruitment of women in the armed forces and said the decks were cleared and "local women will be recruited in Ladakh Scouts" shortly.
"After the return of the Modi government at the Centre, all your issues like pending rent cases for agricultural land under use of army and recruitment of women as porters will be addressed.
A ministerial team will visit Ladakh and you need not come to Delhi to raise your issues," she said.
Terming Ladakh as a "very sensitive border region", she said an all-weather road, which will provide access to the northern border throughout the year, linking Leh with Daulat Beg is in the final stages of completion.
Sitharaman said the Centre also granted divisional status to Ladakh, Ladakh University, Leh Medical College, Expansion of Leh Airport, Funds for Zogilla Tunel, Huge funding for Zansker road and road to Demchok via Nyoma and future road project of Turtuk Tha Hanu road and electricity to households in all areas of Leh and Kargil.
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu also addressed the rally, highlighting the policies of Modi for Himalayan states.
"During the Congress government, only mess and chaos was in India and the country was plundered badly. There was no accountability and no transparency," Khandu alleged.
He assured the people of Ladakh that he would keep supporting them and appealed to vote unitedly for the party candidate and ensure his victory.