The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently announced a High-Powered Committee after two years of sustained protests in Ladakh seeking special rights and safeguards for the Union Territory (UT). However, in the absence of a clear mandate for the committee constituted by the government, protests have erupted in the region pressing key demands like statehood, safeguards for tribal population, etc. The leaderships of major bodies in the region like Apex Body of Leh (ABL) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) have also declined to participate in the committee meetings.

 

Background

  • In August 2019, the special status of former State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370 was revoked by the Parliament. The State was thus bifurcated into two UTs of J&K (with legislature) and Ladakh (without legislature).
  • Ladakh comprises two districts namely Leh and Kargil and after the creation of UT, concerns were raised in both the districts over the protection of land, employment and political representation.
  • To protect the interests of its people in the region, new political fronts were formed in 2019 in regions of Muslim-dominated Kargil and Buddhist-dominated Leh as follows —
      • The religious leadership and civil society representatives formed the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA).
      • The Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), the region’s strongest religious forum that is part of the Apex Body of Leh (ABL), took the lead to press the region’s demands.

 

Key demands related to UT of Ladakh

  • The KDA and LBA has jointly put forward a four-point agenda to drive the agitations in the UT of Ladakh as follows —
      • Statehood for Ladakh
      • Safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution
      • Formation of Public Service Commission and job reservation for Ladakh youth
      • Creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil
  • This alliance between Leh and Kargil is historic, given that the two communities have been divided politically and religiously for over six decades.

 

Understanding the new demands in Ladakh

  • From UT to statehood – a sharp U-turn — The LBA’s demand for statehood marks a sharp departure from the long-held position of Ladakhi Buddhists to be governed directly by the central government. This is because after Ladakh was declared a UT, people claimed to have lost constitutional protection on land, employment and democratic decision-making. The LBA and KDA leaders complained that the new UT administration, governed by bureaucrats appointed by Centre has hijacked the space for political consultation and consent.
  • Inclusion in 6th schedule — According to Article 244 of the Indian Constitution, the Sixth Schedule consists of provisions for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
      • The political groups in Ladakh have been demanding that its land, employment, and the cultural identity should be protected under the 6th Schedule.
      • This is due to the fact that the Ladakh Autonomous Hill District Council (LAHDC) in both Leh and Kargil districts lacks the authority to legislate on issues such as land and employment, whereas in the previous state of J&K these councils would pass by-laws.
      • Also, allocation of funds to LAHDC for region’s development is being reduced to penury and in the absence of political supervision bureaucrats dominate these autonomous development councils.
      • Thus, inclusion under the 6th schedule, is being sought, as tribals (Balt, Bedi, Boto, Drokpa, Shin, Changpa, Mon, etc) form 79.61% of the total population in Ladakh according to the 2011 census.
  • Demand for employment — The alliance is also seeking immediate recruitment of the 10,000 to 12,000 vacant posts in various departments of the Ladakh administration.
  • Demand for parliamentary constituency — The KDA and LBA emphasised that lack of representation of Ladakh in the parliament has led to the “disconnection” of the region from political discourses in the country. Hence direct representation of Leh and Kargil districts in the Parliament will highlight their issues with ease.

 

High Powered Committee on Ladakh

  • The 17-member committee is headed by Minister of State for Home (Nityanand Rai). Its mandate is to address the question of “ensuring the protection of land and employment for the people of Ladakh”. It also aims to discuss measures to protect the region’s unique culture and language taking into consideration its geographical location and its strategic importance.
  • The political bodies like ABL and KDA contend that the committee has arbitrarily excluded and included members without consulting them. Also, it does not have any representation from the Sunni Muslim community (a minority in the Shia-dominated UT).
  • ABL and KDA have requested that the government should include all the names as proposed by them in the year 2021 as per Home Ministry’s instruction.

 

Earlier efforts

  • To ensure overall socio-economic development of the tribal population, the Ladakh administration recently increased the reservation for STs in direct recruitment from 10% to 45%.
  • The Union government in 2021 also issued a notification empowering the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh to make rules for recruitment to the Public Services, Group-A and Group-B gazetted posts.
  • In 2021, MHA constituted a committee under Kishan Reddy to have a dialogue with the representatives from Ladakh to find an appropriate solution to the issues related to language, culture and conservation of land in Ladakh. However, there has been no progress on this.

 

Conclusion

Delay in fulfilling the demands will increase the trust deficit among local populace. Thus, the government by mutual discussion with social and political organisations of Ladakh must align with popular aspirations and build a common consensus to protect the distinct cultural identity of the region.

 

SourceThe Hindu

 

QUESTION – The protests in Ladakh seeking special rights and safeguards for the people of the region points towards a larger disconnect of UTs with New Delhi. Discuss the issue in brief and examine how it should be a lesson for pan-India governance of UTs.