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Why are Ladakh’s residents on a hunger strike?

The article discusses the Ladakh residents’ hunger strike for constitutional safeguards, governance changes post-Union Territory designation, challenges in land use, and the potential solution of the Sixth Schedule inclusion.

Formation of Ladakh as a Union Territory

The abrogation of Article 370 occurred in August 2019. This led to Ladakh becoming a separate Union Territory. It became distinct from Jammu and Kashmir. Unlike Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh did not retain a legislature. This change left Ladakhis worried. They were concerned about their identity, resources, and bureaucratic control.

Demands of the Ladakh Residents

Ladakh is demanding full statehood, inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, job reservations for locals, and separate parliamentary seats for Leh and Kargil. These demands aim to empower Ladakh with greater autonomy, protect tribal rights, preserve cultural identity, and ensure effective representation in the Indian Parliament.

The Sixth Schedule: 

The Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution applies mainly to tribal areas in northeastern states. It sets rules for administration through Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). These ADCs operate with different levels of autonomy within the state legislature. They can make laws on land, public health, agriculture, and other topics. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) suggests including Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule. This inclusion aims to safeguard tribal rights and maintain cultural identity.

Origins of the Hunger Strike

The town of Leh is located at an altitude of approximately 3,500 metres in Ladakh. A 21-day hunger strike was initiated by local residents here. The strike aims to draw attention to their demands for safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. It would empower them to make decisions about the use and management of crucial resources like land and water. This hunger strike stems from the reorganization of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. It resulted in Ladakh being designated as a Union Territory without a legislature.

Governance Concerns

The governance structure in Ladakh has undergone significant changes since its designation as a Union Territory. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDCs) in Leh and Kargil have seen a reduction in their powers, exemplified by the draft Ladakh Industrial Land Allotment Policy 2023. It excludes them from decision-making related to land allotment and leasing. Residents, particularly those in border regions, face challenges related to land use and lack the authority to intervene in matters concerning their land. The Sixth Schedule is seen as a potential solution to address these issues. It will help in providing for the establishment of regional councils with authority over land use, grazing, agriculture, and other matters of local interest.

Pressures on Local Resources

The surge in tourism in Ladakh, with over 5 lakh domestic tourists visiting in 2022, has led to rapid urbanisation and increased demand for resources, particularly water. A report highlighted the disparity in water usage between tourists and locals, with some residents having limited access to clean water. While tourism is vital for the region’s economy, sustainable practices are needed to alleviate the strain on local resources.

Climate Change Impacts

Climate change poses significant challenges to Ladakh, with an increase in floods, landslides, and extreme rainfall events in recent years. Global warming has led to the formation of more glacial lakes and shrinking glaciers, increasing the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). Rising temperatures are also contributing to permafrost degradation and mudflows in the region. Despite these challenges, there is growing interest from mining and renewable energy companies in Ladakh, which could exacerbate environmental degradation.

Conclusion

The hunger strike by Ladakh residents underscores the pressing issues facing the region, including governance, resource management, and the impacts of climate change. Addressing these challenges requires careful planning, sustainable development, and inclusive decision-making to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for the residents of Ladakh.

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