Wangchuk-led groups in Ladakh demand Constitutional protection under 6th schedule | Latest News India

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By Mahtab Ahmad

Several groups in Ladakh led by environmentalist and educationist Sonam Wangchuk are demanding constitutional measures enabling them to protect their land, culture, environment. Ladakh is being treated like a colony, with bureaucrats from outside controlling all policies related to the ecologically sensitive region, Wangchuk alleged on Sunday in a webinar.

Wanchuk is currently on a 21-day fast in Ladakh in the open in subzero temperatures to press for his demands. (ANI)

Wanchuk is currently on a 21-day fast in Ladakh in the open in subzero temperatures to press for his demands. The webinar to express solidarity with Ladakh’s cause was attended by over 350 persons, including Medha Patkar, leader of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, and environmentalist Ashish Kothari.

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Also Read | Why Sonam Wangchuk’s climate fast is an opportunity to look at Ladakh’s delicate future

“Since the time Ladakh got separated from Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, the local people expected conservation of our unique environment landscape and climate. The government had promised in different meetings and those promises are in the meeting minutes of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Tribal and Law ministries,” Wangchuk said.

“But, after a few months, it became a crime to remind them about those promises. Boys were being picked up, detained for protesting,” he alleged. “This is not only an environmental movement now; it’s a matter of truth and justice. Promises are not being delivered.”

Ladakh has become like a colony. Some commissioners from a far off place with no link with local people or ecology are trying to run this place. Ladakh is in fact like Mars. Imagine someone, say from Lucknow, trying to make policies for the region. They wouldn’t understand and they will end up making big mistakes, cause irreparable damage to our valleys, mountains,” Wangchuk added. “We are seeing what is happening in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim. We wish to prevent that ecological disaster.”

The 21-day fast that he is currently undertaking will be followed by a relay fast, the activist said. “Women will fast for 10 days, then youth, then bhikshus (Buddhist monks), nomads,” Wangchuk said. “Saving Ladakh is important for the country. On one side, there is Pakistan and China on another. People’s confidence is important as it’s a sensitive region.”

The main demand of the groups is to include Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which contains provisions regarding the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. It allows for local communities to have a significant say in how these area are administered.

In August 2019, Ladakh received a Union Territory status that the people of Ladakh, especially in Leh district, had been demanding for over seven decades because their aspirations were long ignored by the then Jammu and Kashmir state government, he said.

“However, UT status without legislature, or adequate constitutional safeguards to protect the unique cultural identity and fragile ecosystem and culture of Ladakh, has jeopardized this potential. On January 2, 2022, the Ministry of Home Affairs constituted a high-powered committee for Ladakh to look over the region’s development but didn’t mention the demand for the 6th Schedule despite unequivocal local demands,” according to a March 22 note released by Vikalp Sangam, which counts many grassroots and environmental organisations as members.

Over 90% of the trans- Himalayan bio- geographical zone in India is located in Ladakh, an area that is home to many endangered species like the wild yak, snow leopard and black-necked crane. These animals provide crucial ecosystem functions and have been sustaining indigenous communities for centuries, Vikalp Sangam said. Owing to the scarce resources scattered over large mountainous areas, these animals need to range far and wide for food. Several projects that will impact land in the region are among one of the major concerns raised by environmental groups.

“There is a genuine fear that UT status without constitutional safeguards in Ladakh’s governance could result in the kind of extractive modern unsustainable development that has impacted the rest of India. Unregulated growth in tourism, influx of businesses and large corporate houses, mining interests, could destroy the fine balance that the people of Ladakhi have achieved while pursuing their livelihoods as well as exacerbate the glacial loss that is already a huge concern, threatening to impact livelihoods of not just the people of Ladakh but of millions of Indians who depend on its waters,” the note said.

“Corporate giants have already begun exploring the area for business opportunities (including in tourism) and prospecting for minerals and other natural resources. While some roads and other necessary infrastructure are welcome, what is being planned or constructed is on a mega scale that seems to be more for the benefit of businesses from outside rather than the people of Ladakh themselves,” the note said. “This includes an airport with a capacity of 2 million visitors (over six times the resident population). A proposed mega-solar project could take up 20,000 acres of the fragile Changthang pastures, crucial for pastoralists and wildlife.”

“If such projects and their proponents/builders are given an open access, Ladakh will be damaged beyond repair,” it said.

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