The village head of one of the last settlements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh’s Chushul said on Tuesday that in the past year at least three large grazing areas near the village have been turned into “no man’s land” or “buffer zones” after Indian troops pulled back from patrolling points in Kugrang Valley that includes patrolling points (PP) 15, 16 and 17.
Konchok Stobgais, the traditional head or nambardaar of Phobrang village, 60 km from PP-17 told The Hindu that after the Army had stopped graziers from accessing land at Ani La, Thadang Valley, and Naglungpa in the past two years. He said that with every disengagement process, the Army climbed down further, thereby ceding the space to China and creating new buffer zones.
Mr. Stobgais said graziers have lost access to around 41 km of Kugrang Valley. “Several government agencies have contacted me asking for land records; we do not possess them but that does not mean this land is not ours. Our elders have lived here for ages, they have memories. China is forcefully claiming our territory, the loss is ours,” he said, on phone from Ladakh.
The Army did not respond to request for comment on the claims made by Mr. Stobgais.
Phobrang village has 113 households comprising 615 people and is spread over an area of 600 sq.km. “They say the land is barren but barren land also has value for livestock. The pashmina goats (unique to nomads in the Changthang area) that provide the finest quality of wool need large areas for grazing. They need nutrition, how can they be restricted to small areas? The Army does not allow livestock or graziers to access certain roads,” he said.
He added that yaks are caught and returned by the Army if they go beyond a certain point.
Mr. Stobgais said some areas had been inaccessible since 2011 but in the past two years, new areas have been added.
“After Modi ji came to power, we hoped that we will get access to the areas we were earlier being stopped from. However, in the past two years, the restrictions have increased, at every check-post we have to give a count of the livestock,” he said.
The patrolling points are the end points along the undefined LAC up to which the Indian troops patrol after starting from their respective base camps.
Since April 2020, Indian troops have been denied access to PPs 9, 10, 11, 12, 12A, 13, 14, 15, 17, 17A. The blocked PPs are spread from Depsang plains in north Ladakh to Pangong Tso (lake) in the south. In all, there are more than 65 PPs from the base of Karakoram to Chumar.
After the June 15, 2020 incident in Galwan where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), 16 rounds of talks between the two armies have taken place leading to disengagement and creation of buffer zones in five areas: Galwan, north and south banks of Pangong Tso, PP-17 A and most recent PP-15.
Konchok Stanzin, Chushul’s councillor, said that local people are never involved in the decision-making. He said the Army reduced its presence even from PP-16, which was never a friction point. On September 12, India and China completed the disengagement process from PP-15 in Gogra-Hot Springs to end the standoff since May 2020.
“We are aghast after the latest disengagement process. Though the agreement was for PP-15, even PP-16 which was never a friction point has also been cleared of Army presence. My constituency comprises the border area. When they turn our land into buffer zones, the Army never involves us in the decision-making. Villages here still do not have phone connectivity, while across the border they have 5G connection,” Mr. Stanzin said.