Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council

Context: Amidst sub-zero temperatures, people are protesting to bring attention to Ladakh’s susceptibility to climate change and its connection to the Sixth Schedule rights. With the looming threat of climate change, the ongoing demonstrations aimed at preserving Ladakh’s identity under the Sixth Schedule take on even greater significance and urgency.

More on the news:

The Ladakh region is highly vulnerable to climate change, with retreating glaciers and villages forced to relocate due to lack of water.

People in Ladakh has been protesting in freezing temperatures to highlight this vulnerability and advocate for the implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which empowers autonomous councils to administer rights over land, forest, sanitation, and employment to safeguard cultural and indigenous identities. 

About Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council:

The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Act 1995 was enacted in response to the demands of the Ladakhi people who sought to create a separate Indian Union Territory due to their distinct religious and cultural identity, which differed from the rest of Jammu and Kashmir.

The creation of the Autonomous Hill Councils in Ladakh represented an important step towards recognizing the unique identity and aspirations of the region’s people.

The council provided a platform for participatory democracy, enabling the people to take charge of their own development and governance while also ensuring that their distinctive cultural and religious identity is preserved.

Composition of council:

The total number of seats, in the Council to be filled by persons chosen by direct election on the basis of adult suffrage from territorial constituencies shall be twenty-six.

The Governor may nominate not more than four persons from amongst the principal religious minorities and women in the district to be members of the Council.

The members of the Council shall at its first meeting after a general election elect from amongst the elected members one member to be the Chairman.

The Executive council:

There shall be an Executive Council consisting of – (a) the Chairman who shall be the Chief Executive Councillor; and (b) four members to be nominated by the Chief Executive Councillor from amongst the members of the Council: Provided that at least one member shall be nominated from amongst the principal religious minorities in the district. The Executive Council shall be collectively responsible to the Council.

Powers and Functions of Council:

Subject to the provisions of 1995 Act the Council shall have executive powers in the district in relation to:

  1. Allotment, use and occupation of land vested in the Council by the Government under this Act.
  2. Formulation of development programme for the district in respect of District Component Schemes as notified by the Government and Centrally Sponsored Schemes and indicate priorities for various schemes and consider issues relating to the speedy development and economic upliftment of the district.
  3. Laying down guidelines for implementation of schemes at gross root level and Promotion of co-operative institutions.
  4. Special measures for employment generation and the alleviation of poverty and Management of undemarcated forests.
  5. Supervision and constitution of notified area committees and Formulation of periodical and annual plans for the district.
  6. Promotion of languages and culture of the area, Tourism, Vocational training, Education, Fisheries.
  7. Public health and sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries and Construction and maintenance of roads except highways.
  8. Preservation, protection and improvement of livestock and prevention of animal diseases.
  9. To collect within the district such taxes payable under any law as may be prescribed by the Government and credit the same to the Consolidated Fund.

What is the Sixth Schedule?

The Sixth Schedule, outlined in Article 244, allows for the establishment of self-governing administrative entities known as Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) within a state.

These councils possess some legislative, judicial, and administrative powers and can operate autonomously in certain areas. ADCs consist of up to 30 members who serve a five-year term and have the authority to create laws, regulations, and policies concerning various matters, such as land, forest, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, policing at the village and town level, inheritance, marriage and divorce, social customs, and mining.

The Sixth Schedule is applicable to the north-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (with three councils each), and Tripura (with one council).

Why Ladakh is demanding sixth schedule?

The creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh, which had initially been met with enthusiasm in the Buddhist-dominated region, has soured due to the absence of a legislative assembly and concerns over changes in the domicile policy in Jammu and Kashmir. While there are two Hill councils in Leh and Kargil, their powers are limited and the administration of the region is completely in the hands of bureaucrats. Due to the limited powers conferred on the councils, there is growing demand for inclusion into the sixth schedule. Ladakh’s inclusion under the Sixth Schedule, which would enable the preservation of its distinct culture and the restriction of land acquisition by outsiders, has been recommended by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.

Government’s response to Ladakh’s demand for sixth schedule:

Home Ministry official has stated that the Constitution only permits the Sixth Schedule for the Northeast, and the Fifth Schedule applies to tribal areas in the rest of the country. The government has the option to amend the Constitution to allow for Ladakh’s inclusion.

Benefits of inclusion into sixth schedule:

  1. The district and regional councils have jurisdiction over specific areas and can create laws regarding topics such as land, forests, canal water, village administration, inheritance of property, marriage and divorce, social customs, and shifting cultivation. 
  2. Within their territories, the district and regional councils can establish village councils or courts to adjudicate disputes between tribes and hear appeals. 
  3. The district council can manage primary schools, dispensaries, markets, ferries, fisheries, and roads within its district. It can also regulate money lending and trading by non-tribals. 
  4. The district and regional councils have the authority to collect land revenue and impose specified taxes. 
  5. Acts of Parliament or state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and regions, or they may apply with modifications and exceptions. 
  6. The Governor has the power to appoint a commission to investigate matters related to the administration of autonomous districts or regions. He can also dissolve a district or regional council based on the commission’s recommendation.

Way Forward:

It is essential to engage in constructive dialogue with people of Ladakh and take into account the interests and aspirations of all stakeholders, while also ensuring the region’s sustainable and equitable development.

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