With Centre unlikely to make any overtures, people of Ladakh brace for the long haul

Ladakhi leaders say the path to agitation will continue; they said they expected to hear something from the government but no one had approached them so far

February 16, 2023 07:33 pm | Updated February 18, 2023 08:36 pm IST - New Delhi

Students from Ladakh stage a protest at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on February 15, 2023 over various demands including Statehood for Ladakh and inclusion of the Union Territory in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

Students from Ladakh stage a protest at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on February 15, 2023 over various demands including Statehood for Ladakh and inclusion of the Union Territory in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. | Photo Credit: ANI

With the Centre unlikely to make overtures to civil society groups in Ladakh, who have been demanding Statehood and constitutional safeguards, the leaders said on Thursday that the path to agitation will continue.

Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament, Thupstan Chhewang, and one of the tallest leaders in Ladakh told The Hindu that too many industries were dangerous for the ecologically fragile region and they want “controlled tourism” as seen in Bhutan, which levies $200 per day as a sustainable development fee for international tourists and ₹1,200 per day for Indian tourists.

Mr. Chhewang said there was a threat on the China front too as Chinese troops had reached places in Ladakh where they had not been present before. Several patrolling points or areas in Eastern Ladakh have become inaccessible to security personnel as part of an agreement after Indian and Chinese troops engaged in violent clashes in Galwan in June 2020 that led to the killing of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers.

A day after hundreds from Ladakh participated in a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, the leaders said at a press conference on Thursday that they expected to hear something from the government but no one had approached them so far. A senior government official said the Centre agreed to form a committee to examine the issues of employment, and protection of land and culture.

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

“Ladakh is undergoing a crisis. We do not have any democracy. People are at the mercy of bureaucrats in the absence of elected representatives. Ladakh is strategically important. You have Pakistan on one side and China on the other,” Sajjad Kargili, social activist and a member of the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), said.

Sonam Wangchuk, education reformer and a popular voice from Ladakh, said that Ladakhis did not want industries. “Glaciers are melting fast. According to a study by Kashmir University, 17 glaciers in proximity to highways have melted at an accelerated pace,” he said.

Mr. Kargili added that in the past three years, only Raj Niwas (the Governor’s residence) has seen development, and “not a single infrastructure” has been created for the people.

Amid intensified protests, the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, R.K. Mathur, was replaced with Arunachal Pradesh Governor, 83-year-old Brigadier (Retd.) B.D. Mishra on February 12.

“Removing the L-G is not a solution. He will also act on the directions of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The new L-G is quite old and since he is from an Army background, we expect that he will understand the strategic importance of Ladakh,” Mr. Thupstan said.

He added that Ladakh has many postgraduate and Ph.D. scholars but the only jobs the administration has advertised so far is those of gardeners and peons.

Also read | Explained: Sonam Wangchuk’s climate fast, Ladakh’s fragile ecology and the Sixth Schedule 

On August 5, 2019, the special status of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was read down by the Parliament, and the State was bifurcated into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh, the latter without a Legislative Assembly.

More than three years on, the Leh and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA), an apex body, have come together to demand Statehood, the inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, filling of vacancies, and two seats to the Lok Sabha and one seat to the Rajya Sabha for the region.

The leaders have rejected the high-powered committee constituted by the MHA on January 2, saying they will only speak to Home Minister Amit Shah from now on. Mr. Kargili and Mr. Thupstan were part of the committee formed by the MHA.

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