Historically, Ladakh has over the past eleven centuries been one of the Himalayan kingdoms. It was subjugated by the Maharaja of Jammu in the mid-nineteenth century and remained a part of the Dogra ruler’s kingdom till 26 October 1947.
With the independence of India, most of the erstwhile princely states became states in free India but Ladakh in the state of Jammu & Kashmir remained a district. But people of Ladakh resisted from the beginning, upset in part because of the attempts to drive a wedge between Shia Muslims in Kargil and the Buddhists in Leh.
Sheikh Abdullah even launched a 'Greater Kashmir' concept, which was again resisted by Ladakhis who wanted a separate legislative arrangement under the Indian Union. The grant of the UT status to Ladakh, therefore, fulfilled a long-standing demand of Ladakh. But Ladakh has been denied a separate legislature. But the window of opportunity that has been opened brings a legislature and statehood later in the realm of possibility.
Because of its small and electorally insignificant population, Ladakh also suffered from neglect. Ladakh's economic potential, its colossal water resources, rich minerals, hydropower, geothermal, solar power, horticultural & herbal produces, world's finest quality cashmere fiber; and most importantly of its immense geo-strategic significance were largely ignored.
Ladakh currently guards the nation from its two adversaries. The PLA continues its mischief of grabbing land in Eastern Ladakh. It is deploying an alternative strategy of playing the low risk, slow game of changing the Himalayan configuration to its advantage.
India has been slow in upgrading infrastructure along the border which after multiple Chinese incursions has started receiving some attention. But the fact is, no border can ever be completely secured by only placing army, tanks, fighter jets, missiles etc., unless and until people residing along the border are taken care of.
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. Despite being environmentally and ecologically fragile because of its geographical location, Ladakh is still important in terms of its unique biodiversity that is not found anywhere else in 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 realise our aspirations, also has exposed us to the perils of unsustainable development. India, having ratified the Paris 'COP 21 Global Climate Agreement' after the UNFCCC 2015, to work towards 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 Council to make laws to ensure the preservation and safeguard its land, culture and economic aspects, especially relevant in a UT without a legislature.
Member of the Rajya Sabha in Parliament Mrs Ambika Soni pleaded strongly in the last session of Parliament for extending provisions of the Sixth Schedule of our Constitution to the UT of Ladakh. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has also recommended to the Government that Ladakh be declared a Tribal area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The delay is causing serious apprehensions in Ladakh. It would be unjust and discriminatory to not extend the Sixth Schedule to Ladakh, which despite its gross neglect, has stood behind the nation against every military aggression from outside.
(The writer is former Chairman/Chief Executive Councillor of
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh. Opinion expressed are his own.)