Centre to examine Ladakh’s demand for constitutional safeguards

Groups representing Ladakh’s Buddhists and Shia Muslims have held two rounds of talks with MHA, demanding Statehood, tribal autonomous status, jobs for locals, and Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil

February 24, 2024 06:39 pm | Updated February 25, 2024 02:01 am IST - NEW DELHI

Students from Leh, Ladakh stage a protest over various demands including a separate statehood for Ladakh and  inclusion of the Union Territory (UT) in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, in New Delhi. File

Students from Leh, Ladakh stage a protest over various demands including a separate statehood for Ladakh and inclusion of the Union Territory (UT) in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The Union Government has agreed to examine how the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution can be implemented in Ladakh’s context, according to an understanding reached between civil society leaders and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials on Saturday. In the next meeting, legal and constitutional experts from civil society and government officials will come together to discuss the legality and the context of granting Statehood to Ladakh and its inclusion under the Sixth Schedule.

The Sixth Schedule under Article 244 of the Constitution protects tribal populations, allowing for the creation of autonomous development councils which can frame laws on land, public health, agriculture. As of now, 10 autonomous councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.

On Saturday, members of the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), representing the Buddhist majority and Shia Muslim-dominated regions respectively in Ladakh met MHA officials for a third round of meetings since December 4. The LAB and KDA are jointly demanding Statehood for Ladakh, the inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule thus giving it a tribal status, job reservations for local residents, and a parliamentary seat each for Leh and Kargil.

Fast unto death postponed

Ladakh was turned into a Union Territory without any Legislative Assembly after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked by the Parliament on August 5, 2019 and the erstwhile State was split into the UTs of Ladakh and J&K.

The meeting ended on a positive note, according to former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of parliament Thupstan Chhewang, who is also the chief of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA). He has been spearheading the talks and the movement to ensure a constitutional safeguard for the region. Along with climate activist Sonam Wangchuk, he had threatened to sit on a fast unto death in sub-zero temperatures if their demands were not met, but now says this will be postponed while the meetings with the MHA continue.

Jobs for Ladakh residents

Sajjad Kargili of the KDA said that MHA officials assured them that the issue of creating a Service Selection Board for Ladakh would be resolved soon, and they were examining if gazetted jobs could be provided along the lines of Sixth Schedule areas of northeastern States. “The positive outcome is the result of the unity between LAB and the KDA. The meeting lasted over two hours and we discussed all our demands in detail,” Mr. Kargili said.

The MHA and the civil society groups have had two rounds of talks so far, on December 4, 2023, and on February 19.

Ladakh has a population of 2.74 lakh, according to the 2011 Census. The UT has erupted in protests several times over the past four years amid concerns about the protection of land, resources, and employment for local residents, and bureaucratic overreach.

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