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The Ladakh Issue

Context

After Sonam Wangchuk, a Magsaysay Award winner, went on a fast, a movement erupted calling for the inclusion of the Ladakh region in the Sixth Schedule under Article 244 of the Constitution (which provides special protection to tribal populations).

Relevance

GS Paper-2: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions, and basic structure.

Mains Question

What is the Indian Constitution’s Sixth Schedule, and why does Ladakh want to be included in it? Discuss.


What is Ladakh asking for?

  • In 2020, Leh’s political and religious institutions established the Leh Apex Body (LAB). In November 2020, the National Conference, the Congress, and seminaries affiliated with Shia Muslims in the Kargil district came together to form the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA).
  • Despite having different political stances, the LAB and the KDA are now working together to achieve shared objectives.
  • They have presented the Centre with four key demands, which they describe as essential to safeguarding Ladakh’s identity, culture, and delicate environment: o Restoration of full-fledged Statehood; o Constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule; o Separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil districts; and o Job reservation for locals.

The sixth schedule is what?

  • The Indian Constitution’s Sixth Schedule, Article 244, allows for the creation of autonomous administrative regions known as Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). These within a state have some autonomy in terms of legislative, judicial, and administrative issues.
  • ADCs can enact laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to land, forests, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, village- and town-level policing, etc. ADCs can have up to 30 members and have terms of five years.
  • It currently applies to the North-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (three Councils each), and Tripura. The Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam is an exception with more than 40 members and the authority to make laws on 39 issues (one Council).

Ladakh wants to be included in the sixth schedule, but why?

  • Following the decisions that created two new Union Territories on August 5, 2019, there was initially a lot of excitement, primarily in Leh.
  • The Leh district, which is primarily populated by Buddhists, has long demanded UT status because it felt ignored by the previous state government, which was presided over by politicians from Kashmir and Jammu.
  • The excitement diminished as it became clear that, in contrast to the UT of Ladakh, the UT of J&K would not have a legislature.
  • The region’s administration is now entirely in the hands of bureaucrats; there had been four MLAs from the region in the previous J&K Assembly.
  • Many people in Ladakh now perceive the government as being even further away than Srinagar. In Jammu and Kashmir, the altered domicile policy has also stoked concerns about the region’s own land, employment, demographics, and cultural identity.
  • The two Hill councils in the UT are located in Leh and Kargil, but neither is subject to the Sixth Schedule. Their authority is restricted to the collection of a few local taxes, like parking fees, as well as the allocation and use of land granted by the Center.

Ladakh may be added to the sixth schedule.

  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommended the inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule in September 2019, noting that the new UT was primarily tribal (more than 97%), that outsiders had been prohibited from buying or acquiring land there, and that its unique cultural heritage needed to be preserved.
  • It should be noted that the Sixth Schedule does not include any regions besides the Northeast.
  • The autonomous councils in Manipur, a state with a majority of tribal people in some areas, as well as Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, states with entirely tribal populations, are not included in the Sixth Schedule.
  • Inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule would be challenging. The Sixth Schedule is for the Northeast, the Constitution makes this very clear. However, it remains the government’s prerogative — it can, if it so chooses, bring a Bill to amend the Constitution for this purpose. For tribal areas in the rest of the country, there is the Fifth Schedule.

Government response:

  • The two committees the Center appointed to reassure the local populations appear to be in a bind because they haven’t moved much over the past two years.
  • Due to its lack of authority to address the issues brought up, the second committee established this year under Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai has only fueled local resentment.

Conclusion

  • In conclusion, the region will only remain troubled to the benefit of those looking to cause trouble unless drastic measures are taken to appease the locals by satisfying their legitimate demands.
  • In light of Ladakh’s strategic importance and geographic location, the government should establish an all-inclusive committee with participation from all relevant parties to discuss measures to protect the region’s “unique culture and language”.
  • It is important to have in-depth discussions so that the demands can be met with an accurate assessment and the appropriate actions can be taken.

March 2024
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