Leaders from BJP, Congress and AAP in Leh have decided to boycott the elections to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. On Tuesday, the members of People’s Movement for the 6th schedule for Ladakh held a meeting and passed a resolution saying they would boycott the election till such time the constitutional safeguards under Sixth Schedule are granted to the Union Territory of Ladakh.
Among the key leaders and representatives present there were former Lok Sabha MP Thupstan Chewang, former Rajya Sabha Member Skyabje Thiksey Rinpochey, former minister Chering Dorjey, President All Ladakh Gonpa Association Shatup Changa, President Ladakh Buddhist Association PT Kunzang, former minister and Congress president Ladakh Nuwang Rigzin Jora, BJP Leh district president Nawang Samstan, AAP Leh Convener T Phumtsog.
Why boycott elections to Council?
Former Lok Sabha MP Thupstan Chhewang says the Council does not even have the power to legislate or frame any rules as per Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils Act. “Earlier, even to frame a rule, we had to take the concurrence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir…when Ladakh was made UT, Centre had assured that the Council would be empowered but the experience in the last one year has been very disappointing,” Chhewang adds. He says that the Council cannot protect the interest of tribal so no point of contesting elections.
What is at the heart of the demand?
This has to do with Article 35A, which gave the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir power to define permanent residents who can only buy land or take jobs in the state. However, abolition of Article 370 has taken away this protection from Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh — two new Union Territories carved out on August 5, 2019. Former minister Chering Dorjay says that Article 35 A was good for the people of Ladakh as nobody from outside could buy land here. But now, he says, the people as well as council can transfer lands to anyone. But this can change if safeguards are granted under the Sixth Schedule. “Then, people here can’t transfer land to non-tribals. They can transfer their land to only tribals,” says Dorjay.
The former minister also flags administrative issues that have cropped up after Ladakh became a Union Territory. He says currently the officers at the council are accountable to the Centre. “Their transfer and annual progress report is under Centre, so when a decision taken at the council level gets delayed in execution because the person or the chief executive overseeing the development is accountable to the Centre,” he says. These issues, Dorjay believes, can only be resolved when the council is given autonomy under the Sixth Schedule.
Fear of demographic change in Ladakh
“Ladakh has 95% tribal population with distinct ethnicity, culture, custom — these can be protected only if the state has constitutional safeguards under the Sixth Schedule,” says former MP Thupstan Chhewang. Even for him, the biggest concerns are change in demography and protection of tribal lands. He says that the biggest fear among Ladakhis is that now people will set up industry here, buy lands, bring people from outside that will lead to demographic change and loss of jobs for locals.
The minister refers to new domicile law for Jammu and Kashmir and says that people in Ladakh have this fear that Centre may bring a similar law allowing outsiders to become residents after 10-15 years. “There is no need to bring any demographic change in Ladakh as the people here are nationalists…we are demanding the sixth schedule because it will provide safeguards for tribal lands as non-tribal people can not buy them and jobs will be for tribal,” the former minister said.
Sixth Schedule – How it protects Tribals
The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution has provisions for the administration of tribal areas in the border states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. It has provisions for the constitution of autonomous districts and councils. Under the Sixth Schedule, autonomous districts and councils have a varying degree of autonomy to frame laws to protect the interests of the tribal.
The leaders in Ladakh, however, are demanding powers similar to what has been given to the Bodoland Territorial Council under the Sixth Schedule. The Bodoland Territorial Council has been given greater autonomy to frame laws in comparison to other District Councils. As per the Constitution, the Bodoland Territorial Council can make laws on 39 additional subjects such as culture, education, health and agriculture, labour and employment, land and revenue among others.