Ladakh leaders raise pitch for elected House after J&K meet

New Delhi: It’s been 22 months after their long pending demand for being designated a separate union territory was met, and as the Union government and parties active in Jammu & Kashmir work on restoring the political process in the UT of J&K, some leaders in Ladakh have raised a demand for an elected legislature too.

After the state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated in 2019, J&K and Ladakh were designated as UTs, but while the former has an assembly, the latter is without one. The Union government’s stated position is that J&K’s statehood will be restored when the time is right.

Former BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang said that at a meeting of representatives from political, social and religious bodies that was held on Wednesday under the aegis of an apex body, it was decided to reach out to the union government with its demand for a legislature. The meeting was also attended by BJP MP from Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal.

“We have been demanding safeguards for the protection of our land, jobs, environment, culture and language that existed prior to the formation of the UT, but the Centre has not met any of these demands despite assurances,” Chhewang said over phone from Ladakh.

Namgyal was not reachable for a comment on the issue.

Chhewang said at the last meeting in January with Home Minister Amit Shah, that the delegation from Ladakh was assured that a committee would be formed under the chairmanship of the Minister of State for home G Kishan Reddy to address local concerns for protection of rights under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution within two months.

A panel of names for the committee, including representatives from Kargil and Leh divisions, and the autonomous hill development councils has also been forward to the centre, he said.

“We understand that Covid and assembly elections took up the government’s time, but our demand primarily was either protection under the Sixth Schedule or a separate schedule of the Constitution for safeguarding the interests of the residents of Ladakh in respect of land ownership, job reservation, environmental protection, cultural and language preservation,” he said. There has been concern in the UT that with domicile rules not defined, land and government jobs will be available to outsiders depriving the residents, a large percentage of whom are from Scheduled Tribes.

The demand for a legislature, he added, has been raised because the centre has “failed to offer protection” to the people by reserving jobs and ensuring land rights. “They have completely undermined the autonomous hill district councils that are elected by the people and whatever power they had is being usurped by the bureaucrats in the UT.”

Ladakh has two autonomous district councils that have the mandate to decide on issues such as economic development, healthcare, education, land use, taxation, and local governance.

As per the provisions of the Sixth Schedule, autonomous development councils can frame laws on land, public health, and agriculture to protect the tribal population and provide autonomy. These laws, however, require the approval of the lieutenant governor.

Pawan Raina, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to Ladakh L-G, RK Mathur did not respond to calls.

“In the absence of elected representatives, the administration has taken over. And as Kashmiri leaders have been saying, bureaucracy is not a substitute for democratically elected administration. What is happening in Ladakh is that people’s representatives have no say,” Chhewang said.

The former MP also said there has been little by way of development and employment in the UT in the past 22 months. “Not a single recruitment drive has been carried out. The domicile law has not been framed,” he said.

However, the apex body’s demand will need endorsement from the Kargil division as well. So, it will now reach out to leaders from the Kargil division to second their demand for the legislature. Leaders in Kargil have been demanding the restoration of Article 370 and statehood.

“There is a demand in the Kargil region that they should be merged with J&K since they have more in common in with Kashmir including the language than Leh,” said a leader from J&K, who asked not to be named.

Chhewang, however, said the Apex Body will call on the leaders from the Kargil region in the next few days so that a consensus is built on the issue.

BJP’s national genral secretary, Tarun Chugh, who is in-charge of the UT said, “The BJP is committed to safeguarding the rights of the tribal people in Ladakh. We will see to it that their languages, customs, traditions and ecology are all protected.”

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