Sonam Wangchuk, along with hundreds of Ladhakis gathered at Polo Ground in Leh on January 31, which marked the end of the 5-day climate fast initiated by him. the environmentalist and Magsaysay award recipient also said that he plans to fast for more time if his demands are not met and increase its duration progressively, till the government listens. So what is going on in the newly divided union territory of Ladakh, which has been flaring with protests and demanding change?
LADAKH: PROBLEMS AHEAD
The Union Territory of Ladakh, situated in the northwestern part of the Himalayas is known for its serene beauty and unique culture, it is home to some exotic flora and fauna, with some rare species of endangered birds and animals. This region is also known as a high-altitude cold desert, characterised by severe, arid conditions. Temperatures may drop to –40 C in the long winter months and rise to 350 C in the short summer season.
However, all is not well with the Union territory as there are some grave concerns about its ecology and the future of its youth.
Ladakh with its pristine natural features attracts a lot of tourists every summer, according to data from the ministry of tourism, the number of tourists has leapfrogged from 16,449 in 1994 to over 3 lakhs in 2022. While tourism brings with it an increased economy for the government and more fame for the territory of Ladakh, the dark side of it has been neglected and the effects of the same may pose a serious threat to Ladakh’s fragile ecology.
The tourism economy which comes in is centred around Leh and very little reaches the 90% of the Ladakhis who live outside this area. The tourists also have water and energy demands which are well above what the communities living in Ladakh need, they are provided through fossil fuels being trucked through the sensitive Himalayas. This has resulted in water scarcity and a serious waste management problem in the area which was almost non-existent before the exponential influx of tourists in the region. The youth in the region is affected as well, they tend to believe that all westerners are rich and that anything ‘modern’ is better than what their culture has in it for them.
The people of Ladakh also depend heavily on glaciers for water and to irrigate their crops.
This has been however changing as the glaciers have been melting rapidly, according to a study, Glaciers in the Pangong Tso region of Union Territory Ladakh have receded 6.7 per cent between 1990 and 2019, the causes being human activity and infrastructure development in the region.
Once the glaciers melt, there will be a water crisis and it will exacerbate the existing water shortage, it will also result in a lack of moisture in the soil which concomitantly will affect the vegetation. It might also lead to more out-migration as the residents do not have an alternative to glacier water.
Key initiatives of the government like the Atal tunnel and the Umling -La pass (the World’s highest motorable road) while adding to the charm of Ladakh will only bring more tourists and challenges to its crumbling ecology.
There have also been concerns about land ownership, the locals fear that their land might be taken away from them by non-Ladhakis, the centre also exempted the union territory from the new land laws while Jammu and Kashmir were included.
The youth in Ladakh also faces serious unemployment concerns, there are many posts in the union territory lying vacant and the next generation plans to migrate to other states. Ladakh has also been demanding a domicile law similar to the one present in Jammu and Kashmir.
These are some of the reasons why Ladakh demands inclusion in the sixth schedule their people have more protection and authority over the resources shaping their livelihood and future.
WHAT IS THE SIXTH SCHEDULE
The sixth schedule was enacted in 1949 as per article 244 of our constitution. Its primary purpose was to protect the rights and interests of the indigenous and tribal people in states where these communities comprised 90% or more of its population. The sixth schedule allows the setting up of autonomous district councils in these areas with a legislature and also administrative power. These councils have the power to make laws on Land, forests and trade. It is currently in force in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
The sixth schedule was primarily brought out in these states in the northeast as the majority of the land was forest-covered and most of the population comprised tribal people.
It was therefore prudent to treat these areas in a special way, as the people here followed a culture that was different yet unique to them, one which was closely linked to nature and the people living there themselves.
The people living in these areas are also given representation in the legislature as these autonomous district councils have reservations for scheduled tribes, non-tribals and governor-appointed members.
Further. there is a regional council as well for every area designated as autonomous under the schedule.
HOW THE SIXTH SCHEDULE CAN HELP LADAKH
Ladakh as we know used to be a part of a larger state, and it had been longing for the status of a union territory. This claim became true in 2019 when the centre passed the Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation act dividing the state of Jammu and Kashmir into 2 Union territories, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. However, Ladakh soon started to feel the absence of a legislature as all the decisions were taken by bureaucrats, making the people of Ladakh feel voiceless, The reorganisation act contained a provision to put in place a legislature for the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, but there was no mention of the same for Ladakh. Inclusion in the sixth schedule can practically reverse this by enabling the locals with a voice in matters which hold significance for them.
The addition of Ladakh in the sixth schedule will also help in constructing new schools for the region, as it gives power to the district councils to establish primary schools with the assent of the governor. Further, it may also prescribe the language and the manner in which primary education will be taught in these schools.
Inclusion in the sixth schedule would also enable the councils to control property, taxation and mining activities. this would particularly help in tackling the concerns over the reckless exploitation of local resources for mining and hydropower. According to a study in 2007, Ladakh was discovered with a high concentration of Uranium, This can turn out to be a red flag if it is exploited for commercial purposes.
Ladakh will be able to manage the effects of tourism in a much more absorbed and harmless as they will have a lot of control over their resources and also the laws regarding the same.
Overall. Ladakh can ensure its socio-economic development with recognition in the sixth schedule, something that the administration needs in a nutshell.
Ladakh had been promised inclusion in the sixth list several times by the centre, and the same demands are being raised by its people now, for the many reasons mentioned in this article. So why is it that the residents of Ladakh are getting arrested and its youth are being threatened to speak about it when all they want is the protection of their land, livelihood and environment?
It is also a burning issue to note that not just in Ladakh but the entire downstream region depends on water from its Himalayan glacier, we need some urgent measures to curtail the retreat of glaciers so that water as an essential resource is not compromised.
The Union Territory of Ladakh is predominantly tribal in nature, with its total tribal population being more than 97%, in such a scenario, it becomes imperative to protect the views and rights of the people living there by including them in the decision-making process since leaving it to the bureaucrats who are not aware of the needs of the common people will result in ineffective solutions. This is what is hampering Ladakh at the moment which can snowball into a variety of other problems, like in a chain reaction.
Author(s) Name: Anirudha Rath (HPNLU Shimla)