The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) on Wednesday wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah and Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda, recommending that Ladakh be declared a tribal area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The Sixth Schedule provides for the administration of tribal areas after setting up autonomous district and regional councils.
“The commission, after careful consideration, recommends that the Union Territory of Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution… Accordingly, NCST chairperson (Nand Kumar Sai) has written to home and tribal affairs ministers conveying the recommendation,” a statement said.
The NCST feels this will help “democratic devolution of powers, preserve and promote distinct culture of the region, protect agrarian rights including rights on land and enhance transfer of funds for speedy development of the region”, it said.
The NCST’s recommendation comes against the backdrop of growing demand from a predominantly tribal population and political leaders of Ladakh for according “tribal area” status to the region.
The Home Ministry is the central authority for declaring an area as a “tribal area”.
“The commission discussed the issue of including Ladakh under the Fifth or Sixth Schedule of the Constitution on a meeting held on August 27. Later, on September 4, the NCST consulted the home, law and tribal affairs ministries in this regard,” NCST Joint Secretary S K Ratho said.
“After discussing the issue in detail, the commission decided to recommend ‘tribal area’ status for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution,” he told PTI.
Though Ladakhis have welcomed the Centre’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and make a Union territory, they fear an influx of outsiders would lead to a change in the region’s demography, jeopardising their culture and identity.
The NCST in a statement said it took note of the fact that Ladakh is a predominantly tribal area.
Tribals make up 66.8 per cent of the population in Leh, 73.35 per cent in Nubra, 97.05 per cent in Khalsti, 83.49 per cent in Kargil, 89.96 per cent in Sanku and 99.16 per cent in Zanskar areas of Ladakh, it said.
“The official figures, however, do not include a number of communities, including Sunni Muslims, in the region who have been seeking Scheduled Tribe status. Taking this into account, the total tribal population in Ladakh is more than 97 per cent,” the statement said.
The Scheduled Tribes that inhabit the region include Balti, Beda, Boto, Brokpa/Drokpa, Changpa, Garra, Mon and Purigpa.
“The commission also noted that prior to the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh, people in the region had certain agrarian rights, including right on land, which restricted people from other parts of the country from purchasing or acquiring land in Ladakh,” the statement said.
Also, the region has several distinct cultural heritages that needed to be preserved, the commission said.
In a memorandum to Munda in August, BJP MP from Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, had said the region is a predominantly tribal area with tribals making up to 98 per cent of its population.
“After the Centre announced its decision to make Ladakh a Union Territory, the biggest concern of the tribal population here is to protect its identity, culture, land and economy,” he had said.
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Chairman Gyal P Wangyal had also told the minister that “now their only demand is that Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule so that their land remains protected”.