Ladakh leaders call off hunger strike as MHA agrees to discuss Statehood, constitutional safeguards

The Centre has agreed to discuss their demands in a meeting on February 24; representatives say they look forward to ‘fruitful discussions’

Updated - February 20, 2024 07:25 am IST

Published - February 19, 2024 09:14 pm IST - NEW DELHI

People take part in a protest demanding statehood for Ladakh, the implementation of the 6th Schedule and separate Lok Sabha seats for Kargil and Leh in Leh on February 3, 2024.

People take part in a protest demanding statehood for Ladakh, the implementation of the 6th Schedule and separate Lok Sabha seats for Kargil and Leh in Leh on February 3, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

Ladakh civil society groups have called off an indefinite hunger strike scheduled from Tuesday after a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Monday.

The Centre has agreed to discuss their demands, which include Statehood for Ladakh, granting the region tribal status through inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, and constitution of a Public Service Commission for Ladakh, in a meeting on February 24.

Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang (76), and education reformer Sonam Wangchuk had announced an indefinite hunger strike from Tuesday to demand constitutional safeguards for the Union Territory.

On February 3, Ladakh observed a complete shutdown as thousands gathered in Leh with demands to protect its cultural identity, environment, job reservation for locals, and a parliamentary seat each for Leh and Kargil.

A day before the February 3 shutdown, the MHA had invited the civil society leaders for the second round of high-powered committee dialogue, which was scheduled on Monday.

The committee comprises members of the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) and is headed by Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai.

On Monday, LAB and KDA issued a statement that a joint sub-committee will be constituted for carrying forward the exercise. The sub-committee will comprise Mr. Chhewang, Chering Dorjay Lakrook and Nawang Rigzin Jora, representing the LAB, and Qamar Ali Akhoon, Asgar Ali Karbalai and Sajjad Kargili from the KDA. The statement said that the names of the members have been conveyed to Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla.

“All members of the sub-committee are in Delhi and we look forward to fruitful discussions at the next meeting. In view of this significant development we have decided to drop for the time being our plan to go on hunger strike from tomorrow [February 20],” the statement said.

A source said that at the meeting, MHA officials did not want to commit to a discussion on the issue of Statehood and constitutional safeguards, and instead proposed to enhance the financial powers of hill councils of Leh and Kargil.

However, the members were unanimous in demanding time-bound assurance to discuss their demands.

Mr. Lakrook told The Hindu, “The MHA has agreed to discuss our demand for Statehood and other issues in the next meeting scheduled on February 24. We have decided to call off the hunger strike for the time being.”

After the Centre decided to end the special constitutional position of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), it was split it into two U.T.s - J&K and Ladakh on August 5, 2019. Ladakh was turned into a U.T. without a Legislative Assembly.

The MHA constituted a high-powered committee to address the grievances and demands of the people of Ladakh last year, and the committee led by Mr. Rai held its first meeting on December 4.

In the past four years, Ladakh has shut down on multiple occasions amid fears of disempowerment of locals and overreach of bureaucracy.

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