Historically, Ladakh has over eleven century old political personality of being one of the Kingdoms in the Himalayas. It had a brief subjugation-links with the Maharaja of Jammu since the mid-nineteenth century whose rule elapsed on 26 October 1947. With the independence of India, while most of the erstwhile princely states were granted statehood in free India, unfortunately, Ladakh again got subjugated under Jammu and Kashmir as a mere district only. But, the people of Ladakh from the beginning persistently resisted being part of the unitary framework of J&K State. Moreover, the Valley consistently tried to drive a wedge between Kargil-Shia verses Leh-Buddhist. Sheikh Abdullah besides bifurcating Ladakh on communal lines even launched a nefarious ‘Greater Kashmir’ concept to obliterate the identities of Ladakh. It was against this backdrop that the people of Ladakh had been seeking a separate legislative arrangement under the Indian Union since India got freedom.
In the backdrop of above stated facts grant of UT status to Ladakh not only fulfills a very long standing genuine demand of Ladakh, but could also prove to be a masterstroke in India’s long term home and foreign policy. Yes, the demand was for UT with Legislature which has not been given. Nevertheless, UT Ladakh has come into existence, which now opens the door for certainly having the Legislature at a later stage and ultimately achieving a Statehood under the Indian Union. It also seems ironic that Ladakh suffered gross national apathy on the ground of demographic deficiency (low weight in electoral politics) being used more often than not as an alibi to deny justice, which had been rather self-harming to have ignored Ladakh thus far. The nation failed to underpin Ladakh’s economic potential, its colossal water resources, rich minerals, hydropower, geothermal, solar power, horticultural and herbel produces, world’s finest quality cashmere fiber; and most importantly of its immense geo-strategic significance – currently guards the nation from its two adversaries. The PLA continues its mischief of grabbing land Eastern Ladakh. It is deploying an alternative stratagy of playing the low risk, slow game of changing the Himalayan configuration to its advantage. India has been very slow in upgrading infrastructures along the border which now seem to be receiving utmost attention in the wake of recent Chinese multiple incursions. But, the fact is, no border can ever be completely secured by only placing army, tanks, fighter jets, missiles etc., unless and until the people residing along the borders are taken care of in all respects of developments.
Now Ladakh having assumed the UT status (without Legislature) on 31 October 2019, we stand at a juncture of our history where we must reflect on what development means to us and the future that Ladakh chooses to carve out for itself. Being a region which is first and foremost environmentally and ecologically fragile because of its geographical location, holds importance in terms of the unique assemblage of biodiversity that is not found anywhere across the world, the limited and scarce amount of natural resources which has been critical to our survival in the region, the rich culture that we have developed through generations in living sustainably with our environment, and now within a context of external factors such as climate impacts that is diminishing out resource base, these factors need to be integral to the development approach that we assume for the new UT of Ladakh.
The notion of sustainable development as defined in the Brundtland Commission Repot 1987 as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” must therefore be central to the framework the Ladakh UT creates for itself.
The creation of the UT of Ladakh, while giving us immense potential to realize our aspirations, also has exposed us to the perils of unsustainable development. As such, creating safeguards for Ladakh as we seek to develop should seamlessly integrate into our developmental planning in Ladakh, which regrettably has not been given to us till now. India, having ratified the Paris ‘COP 21 Global Climate Agreement’ after the UNFCCC 2015, to work towards the sustainable development goals, must therefore allow the values of sustainability to be safeguarded in its states and union territories. Constitutional safeguards such as the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution allows not only for the region to maintain its distinctiveness as a tribal area but also those values that are required to sustain Ladakh into the future. Moreover, the Sixth Schedule also provides the necessary framework through which legitimacy is given to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils to make laws to ensure the preservation and safeguard its land, culture and economic aspects, especially relevant in a UT without a legislature. Based on foregoing factors, Member of Parliament Mrs Ambika Soni strongly pleaded in the last session of Parliament in Rajya Sabha for extending the provisions of Sixth Schedule of our Constitution in UT Ladakh.
As Ladakh is deserving of the provision of safeguards under the Sixth Schedule, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) strongly recommended to Government in writing to declare Ladakh a Tribal area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. I expect the ruling Party to be magnanimous and get it implemented at the earliest, provided there is a hidden agenda to not grant it , which is being widely apprehended in Ladakh at present, due to its delay despite intial euphoria on it. While having many areas and states already protected through the constitutional provisions of Sixth Schedule, it would be very unjust and glaringly discriminatory to not provide safeguard to save Ladakh for our posterity. In fact, in spite of gross neglect, the people of Ladakh stood behind the nation against every military aggression posed by adversaries.
(The author is former two time Chairman/Chief Executive Councillor Ladakh Autonomous Hill Dev. Council Leh)