India may now use the nomads who inhabit the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the effective border with China, in Jammu & Kashmir to assert its territorial claims in the region.
The deputy commissioner of Leh, the district through which part of the LAC runs, has proposed that the tents provided by the local authorities to the nomadic shepherds (locally known as Changpas) be replaced by dhoks or huts made of timber and mud.
“The idea is to have settled civilian populations along the LAC with China. We can assert our (territorial) claims through these shepherds,” a senior J&K government official, who is not authorized to speak to the media, told Hindustan Times.
Indian army positions along the 646 km of the LAC that runs through J&K (the LAC spans 4.057 km over J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) are just a few hundred metres apart at places and miles apart at others.
The Chinese army has, in recent months, taken advantage of this and infiltrated into Indian territory. Its troops often harass the nomads who live on the Indian side of the border and paint rocks with Chinese markings to underline Chinese claims over this territory.
On December 8, 2008, for examples, Chinese soldiers uprooted tents put up by nomads at Skakjung, 300 km east of Leh, and burnt bundles of grass they had stored for their cattle and sheep.
Such instances of cross-border territorial assertion have increased in recent weeks. There have even been reports of armed skirmishes — denied by both sides — between the armed forces of the two Asian giants.
This has prompted the need for out of the box solutions. “ Now this system of mobile tents needs to be changed,” J&K Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla told Hindustan Times.
“Revenue officials in Leh, who have surveyed the border areas over the past few days, felt this would help the nomads face the vagaries of nature and, at the same time, assert our position on the ground,” he added.
The government has also proposed to appoint more patwaris (grassroots-level revenue officers). “At present, one patwari looks after huge swathes of land covering scores of villages. This makes it difficult of him to send us detailed ground reports from the entire area,” said Bhalla.
Sub Divisional Magistrate of Changthang, (a plateau in east of Leh-it is also known as land of nomads and this area borders China, its headquarters is Neouma, 210 km east of Leh.) Tsering Narboo, was deputed by the deputy commissioner in December 2008 to visit the spot and file a detailed report on the incidents. The suggestion on nomads stems from his report.
There is also a proposal to open the area up to tourists.