After the August 5, 2019 judgments that formed two new Union Territories, there was a lot of excitement, especially in Leh. The Buddhist-majority Leh district had long sought UT status because it felt neglected by the previous state government, which was dominated by Jammu and Kashmir lawmakers. However, enthusiasm dimmed when it became clear that, while the UT of J&K would have a legislature, the UT of Ladakh would not. There were four MLAs from the region in the previous J&K Assembly; the territory’s governance is now entirely in the hands of bureaucrats.
When Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government revoked the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated it into two Centrally ruled Union Territories (UT) – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, resentment had grown in Ladakh. The Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance, an amalgam of different political groupings of the region have been seeking constitutional safeguards along the lines of the 6th schedule to safeguard the demography, environment, and unique culture of Ladakh. The current Sixth Schedule episode began when the BJP-led current LAHDC Leh administration, in presence of the BJP Member of Parliament (MP) Jamyang Tsering Mangyal, passed a resolution in the first week of September demanding safeguard for Ladakh under anyone of Article 371, the Sixth Schedule, or Domicile Law.
These tribal areas are to be administered as autonomous districts. These autonomous districts are not outside the executive authority of the state concerned but provision is made for the creation of district councils and regional councils for the exercise of certain legislative and judicial functions. Their councils are primarily representative bodies that have got the power of law-making in certain specific fields such as management of a forest other than a reserved forest, inheritance of property, marriage and social customs, and the Government may also confer upon their councils the power to try certain suits or offences. These councils also have the power to assess and collect land revenue and to impose certain specified taxes.
However, the Apex Body, after meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah on September 26, agreed to withdraw the boycott call. Shah assured the Ladakhi delegation that all issues related to Ladakh’s language, demography, ethnicity, land and jobs will be considered positively. It is also assured that “a dialogue between a larger Ladakhi delegation comprising of representatives from Leh and Kargil District under the aegis of the “Peoples Movement for Constitutional Safeguards under VI Schedule” and Union Home Ministry would commence after 15 days of the culmination of LAHDC election.
In sharp contrast to the resolution passed by the LAHDC Leh, the public representatives of Sham region of Leh unanimously rejected the demand for “Article 371” and “Domicile Law” and revived the demand to include Ladakh in Sixth Schedule. Grabbing this opportunity as a launching pad, the elders in Leh — whom the locals call “veteran leaders” — intensified the demand for Sixth Schedule and a legislature for the centrally administered Union Territory (UT). The demand was made in a joint meeting that was attended by veteran leaders, representatives of various religions (Buddhists, Christians, Sunnis, Shias), student organizations and political parties.
Nonetheless, the Muslim-majority Kargil district is silent on the demand for Sixth Schedule inclusion as they have always maintained the need to restore statehood and Article 370 for the region. They did not support the extension of the Sixth Schedule. They have always been against the division of the state. In our political history, Ladakh faced many challenges and agitations, but no government has constituted such an inclusive and high-powered committee.
Union territory has been the long-standing demand of Ladakh since 1949, and from then the people of Ladakh have been reiterating our demand for the union territory. The demand has been legitimised on various grounds based on Geographical, Cultural and Linguistic. The three strips in the flag of Jammu and Kashmir represent the three Geographical regions Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir but no due importance or power has been delegated to the regions equally. The state govt. has discriminated against Ladakh in terms of Government Recruitment, Education and Funds allocation since its merger with the Indian state through an Agreement of accession.
According to Article 244 of the Constitution, the Sixth Schedule was enacted in 1949 to protect indigenous groups through the establishment of autonomous administrative divisions known as Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). The Sixth Schedule contains provisions that grant indigenous tribes significant autonomy, and it currently applies to the Northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (three Councils each), and Tripura (one Council).
Under the Sixth Schedule, the ADCs and Regional Councils have the authority to create laws, receive funding from the Consolidated Fund of India, and develop the region in the fields of health care, education, roads, and regulations. This ensures the security of the indigenous population’s economy, environment, and traditions. Parliamentary laws either do not apply to autonomous districts and regions or have varying degrees of application.