Explained | Why has a high-power Ladakh committee been formed?

Why is the Union Territory asking for protection of the region under the sixth schedule of the Constitution? What has been the government’s response? What is the mandate of the newly constituted committee?

January 05, 2023 08:30 am | Updated 12:24 pm IST

The story so far: On January 2, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) constituted a high-powered committee chaired by Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai for the Union Territory of Ladakh. The committee will discuss measures to protect the region’s unique culture and language taking into consideration its geographical location and strategic importance; ensure protection of land and employment for the people of Ladakh; strategise inclusive development and discuss issues related to the empowerment of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill District Councils of Leh and Kargil.

Why was the committee formed?

Civil society groups in Ladakh have been demanding protection of land, resources and employment for the past three years after the special status of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was read down by Parliament on August 5, 2019. The fear of big businesses and conglomerates taking away land and jobs from the local people have contributed to this demand.

What is the sixth schedule?

The sixth schedule under Article 244 of the Constitution protects the autonomy of tribal populations through creation of autonomous development councils which can frame laws on land, public health and agriculture. As of now ten autonomous councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

As per the 2011 Census, the total population of Ladakh was 2,74,289, and nearly 80% of them are tribals.

What is the background?

In 2020, the Peoples Movement for Constitutional safeguard under the sixth schedule or the Apex Body, Leh was formed. They announced that they would boycott the upcoming district autonomous council elections if their demands were not met. The representatives which included former BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang and Skyabje Thiksey Khampo Rinpochey were called to Delhi for a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah following which they called off the boycott call. They were assured that discussions would commence after 15 days of the culmination of elections. In the same year, the Apex Body and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) from the two districts of Leh and Kargil in Ladakh came together to jointly fight for constitutional safeguards for the region. On August 2, 2022, the two bodies renewed their demand to seek full Statehood for Ladakh. The UT has shut down at least twice and protested several occasions in the past three years over these demands.

However, members of the new committee state that the MHA order instituting the committee is not clear as it avoids any mention of the primary demand for inclusion under the sixth schedule of the Constitution. Moreover, even before the committee was announced, the Apex Body and KDA had scheduled a meeting in Jammu on January 7 to chart the future course of action.

What is the government’s stand?

Not keen to give any special status to Ladakh, the MHA informed a parliamentary standing committee recently that the objective for inclusion of tribal population under the sixth schedule is to ensure their overall socio-economic development, which, the UT administration has already been taking care of and that sufficient funds are being provided to Ladakh to meet its overall developmental requirements. A report tabled in Rajya Sabha on December 13, 2022, quoted MHA officials, that the Ladakh administration recently increased the reservation for the Scheduled Tribes in direct recruitment from 10% to 45% which will significantly help the tribal population in their development.

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