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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 15, April 13, 2024

Ladakh fights to restore statehood and Mountainous Ecology | Soma Marla

Friday 12 April 2024, by Soma S. Marla


Currently, in Ladakh section 144 has been imposed, the internet is shut and barricades are put on all roads leading to Leh city. All these restrictions are imposed to stop people joining the peaceful Pashmina march demanding statehood to protect people’s livelihoods, and employment and stop corporate encroachment on its land. The struggle was not sudden but started in 2019 with the Union government‘s abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and changing Ladakh’s status to a Union territory, separate from Jammu and Kashmir without a state assembly.

Sonam Wangchuk, renowned climatologist and educationalist (known from Imran Khan’s iconic ‘3 idiots’ film) has been leading the people’s struggle for the last forty days. He recently ended his 21-day-long fast under the open sky in freezing -10 degrees temperatures. He was joined by 400 women activists sitting on hunger strike for 10 days. The planned Pashmina march, by the local pastoral population marching from Leh City in the South to Changthang in the north bordering China, was abandoned due to government restrictions. This march was intended to stop pastoral lands in Changthang to various mining, tourism and other projects of major corporate houses in the country. Apart from losing pastoral livelihoods, the locals fear their cultural and geographical identity is threatened. The sentiment is so strong that nearly 30,000 people ie. One-tenth of Ladakh’s population joined the march in Leh in late March in solidarity with Sonam Wangchuk’s hunger strike.


in 2019 with the Union government’s abrogating Article 370, dividing Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh into Union territories devoid of state assembly. Changing Ladakh’s status to a Union territory, left the region with no democratic and constitutional right to elect its political representatives. Eventually, Ladakh lost control of appointing the Civil Service Commission for job recruitment. Like elsewhere in India, unemployment is an acute problem among Ladakh’s educated youth.

The sixth schedule is the given constitutional protection of tribal population in the country. With rights to administer and the tribal area to protect the land and other natural resources by people from other regions, tribals can form Autonomous Regional councils and also District Councils with the rights to administer. North Eastern states like Mizoram and Meghalaya have these constitutional provisions guaranteed by the Constitution. But lack of statehood deprives Ladakh to elect the autonomous tribal councils and legislate measures to protect land, forest, wter, village administration, property and divorce. Similarly protects the local population from land grab by land sharks from other parts of the country.

Mining and Lithium

An estimated 1600 tons of Lithium has been found in the northern pastoral lands of Ladakh bordering China. Lithium is crucial in manufacturing Electric vehicle batteries and energy storage. As India is ambitious to bring 30 percent of automobiles by 2030 to EV mode and currently much of this metal is being imported. The import of Lithium escalates the cost of EVs. The present BJP government is liberally giving away mining rights to a few corporate houses in the country to mine Lithium in pastoral lands of northern Ladakh. A vast majority of shepherds graze their cattle and goats in these pastoral lands.

Acquisition of these lands by mining sharks simply deprives these sections of population livelihoods. And drives them to other regions in search of menial low-paying jobs in urban India. This is a big blow to the livelihoods and cultural identity of Ladakh. Besides the mining corporations are leaving the mined surface open thus seriously endangering the biodiversity of flora and other wild animals. As the ecological balance is being disturbed, already the snow cover of the Himalayan mountains is becoming thinner. The population is not aware of Lithium mining but the land should be regeneratively restored to promote sustainable development subsequently.

Uncontrolled Tourism

The union government is actively encouraging tourism to the ecologically fragile Ladakh mountainous region. The land area has a carrying capacity to hold the number of tourists visiting the region daily. Crossing the inflow limits simply disturbs the ecological balance.

To facilitate tourism big multi-storeyed buildings and hotels are being constructed. In some places roads and buildings are constructed on mountain precarious slopes even at angles of 30 to 40 degrees. This is an open invitation to landslides and other disasters witnessed similar to ones in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Besides over-exploitation of water resources and littered hundreds of plastic waste dumped is severely disturbing the mountainous ecology.

Contrary to claims of the Union government Chinese are pushing gradually into Chumur and other areas, occupying dozens of kilometres and thus severely shrinking the pastoral lands. Often locals are prevented from entering their own pastoral lands and their horses are taken away by Chinese border patrol.

Demands of Ladakh struggle reflects need to protect the livelihoods, Himalayan ecology, culture and geographical identity apart from democratic rights to self-rule. In solidarity with Ladakh protests were held on 10th April in JNU campus, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and other places. Union government should immediately respond soon to the demands of Ladkh people and restore its statehood.

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