A battle to save Ladakh, and all of humanity

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    Syllabus: GS2/Polity and Governance

    • Recently, it was found that Ladakh is currently at the forefront of a battle that concerns not just its own survival, but the survival of all of humanity.
    About the Ladakh

    – Ladakh is a land of high passes, snow-capped mountains, and serene monasteries nestled between Pakistan and China.


    – It was established as a Union Territory of India in 2019, following the passage of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act.
    a. Prior to that, it was part of the Jammu and Kashmir state.

    Geographical Features:

    – Ladakh is located at a height of 11,500 feet and is home to 97% indigenous tribes.
    – It is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region to the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south.
    – Both the Indian-administered Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan to the west, and the southwest corner of Xinjiang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north.

    Economy and Lifestyle:

    – The economy of Ladakh is largely dependent on domestic and foreign tourism, and agriculture.
    – Many of its residents lead simple pastoral lives and depend on farming and animal rearing for a livelihood.

    Cultural Heritage:

    – The main religious groups in the region are Muslims (mainly Shia) (46%), Buddhists (mainly Tibetan Buddhists) (40%), and Hindus (12%) with the remaining 2% made of other religions.
    – The region is known for its festivals, traditional music, and folk dances.
    • The Fragile Ecosystem of Ladakh: The Himalayan region faces the damaging effects of climate change through floods, drought, landslides, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants.
      • There are about 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayan region, often referred to as the Third Pole.
      • These glaciers form an important part of the hydrological process by releasing meltwater to the Indus, the Ganga, and the Brahmaputra.
    • The Threat of Climate Change: The Himalayan glaciers, like those in the rest of the world, are at risk of melting due to global warming and climate change.
      • It will affect both residents of the mountain region and those living downstream.
      • According to a study published in 2021, glaciers in the Pangong region retreated around 6.7% between 1990 and 2019.
    • The Role of Infrastructure Development: In the name of development, several mega infrastructure projects were launched at a rapid pace in Ladakh.
      • These included the construction of bridges, widening of roads, tunnels, railway lines, mega solar projects, a state-of-the-art airport terminal and wayside amenities to boost tourism.
      • However, these developments have upset the fragile balance in the Himalayan ecosystem and its biodiversity.
    • No decentralisation of power: There had been four MLAs from the region in the erstwhile J&K Assembly; the administration of the region is now completely in the hands of bureaucrats.
      • To many in Ladakh, the government now looks even more distant than Srinagar.
    • Changed domicile policy in Jammu and Kashmir: It raised fears in the region about its own land, employment, demography, and cultural identity.
    • Limited Finances: The UT has two Hill councils in Leh and Kargil, but neither is under the Sixth Schedule.
      • Their powers are limited to collection of some local taxes such as parking fees and allotment and use of land vested by the Centre.
    • Climate Change Mitigation: Sonam Wangchuk, a climate activist, has highlighted the larger issue of the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem.
      • In response to these threats, he addressed a 30,000-strong crowd at Leh, Ladakh to announce his fight is not just about Ladakh and its people. It is a battle for all of humanity and its future generations.
    • Sustainable Infrastructure Development: The rapid pace of infrastructure development in Ladakh, including the construction of bridges, roads, tunnels, railway lines, and solar projects, has disrupted the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.
      • There is a need for sustainable development that takes into account the environmental impact.
    • Empowerment of Local Bodies: The local bodies known as the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils had a key role in decisions related to healthcare, land, and other local issues.
      • There is a need to empower these local bodies and give them more say in developmental projects.
    • Protection of Cultural Identity: There is a growing concern among locals about the loss of their tribal identity due to the influx of outsiders and industrialists.
      • Measures need to be taken to protect Ladakh’s unique culture and language.
    • Constitutional Safeguards: The people of Ladakh have been demanding constitutional safeguards to protect their land, culture, language, and environment.
      • These demands need to be addressed to ensure the protection of Ladakh’s unique identity.
      • Recently, the Union Government has agreed to examine whether the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution can be implemented in Ladakh’s context.
    Sixth Schedule

    – It comes under Article 244 that provides for the formation of Autonomous Administrative Divisions — Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) — that have some legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within a state.
    a. It applies to the Northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (three Councils each), and Tripura (one Council).
    • Carbon Neutral Strategy: The National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE) under the Ministry of Science and Technology has been tasked with developing a capacity to scientifically assess the vulnerability of the Himalayan region to climate change.
      • A carbon neutral strategy for Ladakh is needed to address potential environmental challenges.
    • National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST): In September 2019, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommended the inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule.
      • The Commission took note of the fact that the newly created Union Territory of Ladakh is predominantly a tribal region in the country.
    • Report highlights of the Parliamentary Standing Committee: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs recently tabled a report in the Rajya Sabha.
      • The report stated that, according to the 2011 Census, the tribal population in the Union Territory of Ladakh is 2,18,355, that is 79.61% of the total population of 2,74,289.
      • Special Status: The committee recommended that special status may be granted to the Union Territory of Ladakh considering the developmental requirements of the tribal population.
    Daily Mains Practice Question
    [Q] How do you think the efforts of individuals like Sonam Wangchuk can influence policy changes and public awareness regarding environmental issues in regions like Ladakh?