The people of Ladakh believe that the division of IIOJK into two Union territories has been a deceitful step of the Indian government to usurp the resources of the region.
Indian government has failed to fulfil its promises made to the people of Ladakh even after almost three and half years in 2019. Masses in Ladakh say that they have been fooled in the name of the union territory, the Indian government has scammed the people of Ladakh with mere cosmetic actions comprising MoUs and developmental plans. When the Indian government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the constitution and split the state into two Union Territories in august 2019, the news was “met with celebration” in Ladakhi.
Three years later, however, there is a disappointment. Ladakh’s demand for its own legislature has been met, nor has it been given the status of a Sixth Schedule area. Instead, Indian government has initiated a series of projects beneficial to the mainland, completely neglecting the people of Ladakh.
The same is causing a sense of insecurity, and a feeling of being betrayed, especially among the youth in the region. The Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which is currently applicable in parts of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya, outlines the administration of tribal areas in these states. According to the Sixth Schedule, district and regional councils whose 26 members are elected and four are nominated by the governor can make laws about land, management of forests, irrigation, shifting cultivation, and grazing, other than that for marriage, social customs, and public health. In 2019, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommended that the Sixth Schedule be implemented in Ladakh. With a tribal population of more than 97% Ladakh meets the criteria for Sixth Schedule status. Moreover, BJP promised to implement the Sixth Scheduled if it was voted to power in the 2020 Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections, but after the BJP won the elections, the Indian government practically backtracked. The anger has been fuelled by Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announcement in the Union Budget speech on February 1 that provision of Rs 8,300 crore had been made for an “inter-state transmission system” to transmit solar power-generated electricity from Ladakh to Haryana. The solar energy project that the Indian Finance Minister, is one of the many development projects in Ladakh that have sparked social and environmental concerns. Eastern Ladakh, which is where this 13 GW (gigawatt) solar project is proposed to be built, is mostly grazing lands for nomadic pastoralists who believe that it will be completely taken away by India. The solar grid will require 20,000 acres of land in the cold desert, there have been rumours are there that Indian officials have been trying to convince pastoralists to take up employment at the proposed solar grid. An important member of Ladakh leadership said, “We all know that at most they will be employed as labour, their lives would be completely destroyed.” People of Ladakh have strong apprehensions that such large-scale solar projects will have long-term effects such as changing the land use of the region as well as the problem of disposing of solar panel debris. This region is also home to the Tibetan gazelle, which is on the “brink of local extinction” in Ladakh and such a massive land-use change will make their existence more precarious. The grazing lands are also integral to the pashmina or cashmere goats whose wool is used to make the farmed pashmina shawls. In Puga valley, where work on the geothermal project is underway, there has already been instances of geothermal liquid leaking into the Puga stream and polluting it. Unregulated tourism in the sensitive region is another grave threat, four lakh tourists visited Ladakh in year 2020 season. “Ladakh’s population itself is about three lakh the ecology of the region does not have the carrying capacity to manage this unregulated tourism. For many Ladakhis, the main concern are the nature of the projects being introduced by the Indian government and that they have been kept out of the decision making process. Since 2019, the limited autonomy of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council have reduced further with the Union Territory’s administration “interfering a lot more” in the Council’s work.There are also growing concerns about the control the Indian administration has on Ladakh’s land. People’s worry is understandable when the devastating experience of Jammu and Kashmir post-abrogation is already visible. Amed the discontent, the demand for statehood for Ladakh is growing, alone with constitutions safeguards under the Sixth Schedule. Protesters are chanting slogans during the meetings and protests – hum apna hak maangte, nahi kisi se bheek mangte. We are not begging, but demanding our right.”