The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) on September 11 wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah and Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda, recommending that Ladakh be declared a tribal area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. But, nothing has been done so far despite the continuous protests of people from the Union Territory of Ladakh.
The Sixth Schedule provides for the administration of tribal areas after setting up autonomous district and regional councils.
“What have we got from forming a union territory? Now, we have no land protection, we have no job protection, there is no protection for tribals, etc. Now, they have given us the empty bottle of union territory,” Agha Syed Ahmed, a former legislative counsel member from Kargil, told NewsClick.
“If Ladakh is not declared as tribal area under the sixth schedule of Indian Constitution, it will affect the entire people of Ladakh region, whether it is Muslim or Buddhist or any other group,” said Ahmed, who is also part of the Joint Action Committee of Kargil.
The Joint Action Committee of Kargil has been demanding to revoke the abrogating of Article 370 and 37A and strongly advocate for the inclusion of Ladakh as a tribal area under the 6th schedule of Indian Constitution. “Considering our future generations, we have submitted a 14-point demand to the lieutenant governor, both to the current governor and previous governor, and so far nothing has been done on this,” said Ahmed.
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Earlier, in its letter to Home Ministry, the NCST had stated, “The commission, after careful consideration, recommends that the Union Territory of Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution… Accordingly, NCST chairperson (Nand Kumar Sai) has written to home and tribal affairs ministers conveying the recommendation.”
The NCST feels this will help “democratic devolution of powers, preserve and promote distinct culture of the region, protect agrarian rights including rights on land and enhance transfer of funds for speedy development of the region”, it said.
The NCST’s recommendation comes against the backdrop of a growing demand from a predominantly tribal population and political leaders of Ladakh for according “tribal area” status to the region.
The Home Ministry is the central authority for declaring an area as a ‘tribal area’.
“The commission discussed the issue of including Ladakh under the Fifth or Sixth Schedule of the Constitution on a meeting held on August 27. Later, on September 4, the NCST consulted the home, law and tribal affairs ministries in this regard,” NCST Joint Secretary S K Ratho said.
“After discussing the issue in detail, the commission decided to recommend ‘tribal area’ status for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution,” he told PTI.
Though a section of people from Ladakh have welcomed the Centre’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and make it into a Union territory, they fear an influx of outsiders would lead to a change in the region’s demography, jeopardising their culture and identity. The NCST has also said to take note of the fact that Ladakh is a predominantly tribal area.
“We (the people of Kargil) never demanded for a union territory and partition. The government of India has forcefully imposed their decision on us. Actually people from Leh have demanded for the union territory and now they also realised that there is nothing in being a union territory. We had six legislators – 4 Assembly members from Ladakh and two council members – and now they have snatched these posts,” Agha told NewsClick.
People from Kargil, one of the two districts under Ladakh, are against the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and formation of two union territories. On November 1, the first day when Ladakh became a union territory, Kargil observed a “Black Day”.
Tribals make up 66.8% of the population in Leh, 73.35% in Nubra valley, 97.05% in Khalsti, 83.49% in Kargil, 89.96% in Sanku and 99.16% in Zanskar areas of Ladakh.
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“The official figures, however, do not include a number of communities, including Sunni Muslims, in the region who have been seeking Scheduled Tribe status. Taking this into account, the total tribal population in Ladakh is more than 97%,” the statement said.
The Scheduled Tribes that inhabit the region include Balti, Beda, Boto, Brokpa/Drokpa, Changpa, Garra, Mon and Purigpa.
“The commission also noted that prior to the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh, people in the region had certain agrarian rights, including right on land, which restricted people from other parts of the country from purchasing or acquiring land in Ladakh,” the statement said.
Also, the region has several distinct cultural heritages that needed to be preserved, the commission said.
In a memorandum to Munda in August, BJP MP from Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, had said the region is a predominantly tribal area with tribals making up to 98% of its population.
“After the Centre announced its decision to make Ladakh a Union Territory, the biggest concern of the tribal population here is to protect its identity, culture, land and economy,” he had said.
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Chairman Gyal P Wangyal had also told the minister that “now their only demand is that Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule so that their land remains protected”.
“They (the Centre) have implemented their decision at the cost of our rights, culture etc. Though India is a democratic nation with many diversities like many flowers in a garden, the Centre is trying to keep only one flower-lotus,” said Ahmed, adding that, “we will continue to raise our demands.”
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(With inputs from PTI)