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Ladakh’s fight for Sixth Schedule status

Published: 22nd Jun, 2023

Context

In bid to seek sixth schedule of the Indian constitution and Statehood to the eco-fragile region of Ladakh, Environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk started a six-day climate fast.

Background

  • The Leh Apex Body (LAB) and the Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) has jointly put forward a four-point agenda to drive the agitations in the UT of Ladakh as follows:
    • Statehood for Ladakh
    • Safeguards under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution
    • Formation of Public Service Commission and job reservation for Ladakh youth
    • Creation of two separate parliamentary constituencies for Leh and Kargil
  • This alliance between Leh and Kargil is historic, given that the two communities have been divided politically and religiously for over six decades.

About

  • The Sixth Schedule: 
    • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India consists of provisions for the administration of tribal areas in north eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, according to Article 244 of the Constitution
    • Passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, the Sixth Schedule seeks to safeguard the rights of tribal population through the formation of Autonomous District Councils (ADC).
    • ADCs are bodies representing a district to which the Constitution has given varying degrees of autonomy within the state legislature.   
    • Along with protecting the tribal population, the Schedule provides autonomy to the communities through creation of autonomous development councils (ADCs) which are empowered to frame laws on land, public health, agriculture and others.

Autonomous District Councils (ADCs):

  • They are the autonomous administrative divisions that have some legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within a state.
  • ADCs have up to 30 members with a term of five years.
  • It can make laws, rules and regulations with regard to land, forest, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, village- and town-level policing, inheritance, marriage and divorce, social customs and mining, etc.

Understanding the ‘crux’ of Ladakh’s demand?

  • The demand is for the local Councils that should be empowered with legislative power by bringing them under the ambit of Sixth Schedule of Article 244(1) of the Constitution.
  • They demand a Bodoland-type power arrangement that protects the rights of indigenous people over their land with legislative subjects that are exclusive to local governments without interference from Central Laws.
  • A similar provision under Article 371 (A) is given to other areas such as in Nagaland in respect of the religious, social practices, customary law of the Nagas.

Can Ladakhis be described as ‘vulnerable’ community?

  • Ladakh is known as a part of the global Buddhist civilisation or Islamic heritage that cannot be described as a ‘primitive’ or ‘vulnerable’ community.
  • Diverse and rich cultural setting: Ladakh is historically perceived as a cosmopolitan region with centuries of multiple cultural settings. It was an Asian pivot – the people here traversed diverse cultural boundaries and engaged with ideas.
    • Its Buddhist community resembles nothing like the Chakma tribes in the Northeast.
    • The Baltis and Purigs of Kargil cherish their rich Persian Shia and Sufi heritages.
  • Social Features: 
    • High education level: The region had the highest literacy rate (82 percent) in J&K.
    • Social equality: A great deal of social equality exists; the women enjoy high status in every aspect of life.
    • Elite population: It has a highly westernised Buddhist and Balti elite which send children to study in India’s top-public schools.

What is the ground to ask for sixth schedule status?

  • The demand from the local tribal communities in Ladakh is to extend the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the region.
  • This was primarily driven by concerns over the protection of tribal rights and the preservation of the unique cultural identity of the local communities.

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) Recommendation:

  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has recommended that the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh be included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • NCST, a constitutional body to safeguard socio-cultural rights of Scheduled Tribes, was entrusted with the responsibility of examining the status of tribals in Ladakh, by the Centre.
  • If included, Ladakh will be the only UT in the Sixth Schedule. Also, bestowing such a status to Ladakh would require a constitutional amendment.
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