Why is Ladakh Protesting?

Elections to this carved out Union Territory (UT) are scheduled for the fifth phase on May 20 along with Baramulla, while the other seats in the Jammu & Kashmir UT vote(d) on April 19 (Udhampur), April 26 (Jammu), Anantnag (May 7) and Srinagar (May 13)
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The abrogation of Article 370 marked a watershed moment in the history of federalism in India. With the enactment of “THE GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL CAPITAL TERRITORY OF DELHI (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2023,” the Union Government negated the result of the Supreme Court’s judgement in NCT Delhi vs. Union of India, giving the Delhi government power on the transfer of officers in the territory of Delhi.

Except for the cooperation sought for the GST amendment, the NDA government’s actions have not been representative of respect to federal principles, seeking cooperation of states indicated by the recent dispute between the State of Kerala and the Centre. The new addition to this pattern of not paying much heed to regional aspirations is the instance of Ladakh.

After the abrogation of Article 370, the Union reorganised the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories – Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh. Immediately after the reorganisation, the people of Ladakh had showed optimism about the region’s future and its development which until then was under the control of power in Srinagar. The Union Territory of Ladakh consists of Leh and Kargil. Leh is a Buddhist majority district while Kargil is a Muslim majority one. Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal briefly became a national face of the fact that people of Leh Ladakh region supported the abrogation – with his speech on Lok Sabha. Notably, he has been replaced by Tashi Gyalson for the Ladakh BJP MP candidature this time in 2024. According to a report in The Hindu, JT Namgyal and his supporters are unhappy with this change but he stands by the party and its ideology!

Ladakh is seeing protests against the centre’s undue control of the region with the prominent educationist and the award-winning engineer Sonam Wangchuk becoming the face of this agitation, demanding constitutional safeguards under the sixth schedule and statehood for Ladakh. The protests for statehood and inclusion of the region into the Sixth Schedule are being carried out by a collaboration between two bodies – Leh Apex Body (LAB) and the Kargil Development Council (KDC). While protests have been on since January, the fractured and divided media only began reflecting this unique form of resistance in late March and April 2024.

It was reported in March 2024 that the Union Home Minister Amit Shah told the LAB –during negotiations before the protests were re-launched– that Sixth Schedule inclusion might not be possible but Article 371 like provisions could be made for the region of Ladakh. In this article, we shall discuss the protections accorded to areas under the Sixth Schedule and Article 371, and why Ladakh is protesting for it.

Under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act, 1997, Autonomous district councils were constituted with powers on economic development, healthcare, education, land use, taxation and local governance. The Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council came into existence in 1997 while the Kargil AHDC came into existence in 2003. These councils do not have legislative but executive powers of these subjects.

What is the Sixth Schedule?

The Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution governs tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram: Administration: These areas are autonomous districts or such districts further divided into autonomous regions under the state’s executive authority. Autonomous Districts and Regions: Administered by District and Regional Councils determined by the Governor. Councils: Each District Council has up to 30 members, with four nominated by the Governor and the rest elected. Legislative Powers: Councils can make laws on specified matters like land and forest management. Tribal Interests: Protects tribal land and resources, prohibits their transfer to non-tribal groups, and safeguards tribal communities’ cultural identities.

What is Article 371?

Article 371 deals with special provisions for States of Maharashtra and Gujarat with bestowing responsibility on the Governor on the aforementioned states to establish separate developments boards for Vidarbha, Marathwada and rest of the state for Maharashtra, and similar boards for Saurashtra and Kutch and rest of the state for Gujarat. These responsibilities cover equitable allocation of funds for development expenditure, providing adequate facilities for technical education and vocational training, and adequate opportunities for employment in services under the control of the State Government. Later, as the negotiations between different states and unions continued in Independent India, 371A to 371J covering Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka were added. For example, for Nagaland, governed by 371A, the provision is that no act of parliament in respect of religious or social practices of the Nagas, customary Naga law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, ownership and transfer of land and its resources shall apply to the state of Nagaland unless the legislative assembly of the state decides so by a resolution.

Why is Ladakh protesting for Statehood?

Before the abrogation of Article 370, Ladakh used to send four legislators to the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. However, after the region has been converted into a Union Territory, the only representative from the region is the Lok Sabha member from the region. Given that there is no representation, and that the administration is carried with New Delhi as the focal point, there is no adequate say – according to those who are protesting – in development projects announced in the region.

With statehood and a legislative assembly, there will be greater and deeper democracy in the state. It is feared that due to the rich mineral resources present in the region, big corporations which are not from Ladakh will come to Ladakh and Ladakh will not have a say in how those resources should be mined in tandem with the environmental requirements in the region whereas the centre will have a greater say since Ladakh is a union territory.

While the Congress has stated in its manifesto that it will include the 6th schedule to include the tribal areas of Ladakh, people of Ladakh will have to wait till June 4, 2024 to see if it has to fight with BJP as it is doing now or to negotiate with Congress for its statehood.

(The author is part of the legal research team in the organisation)



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