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Explained: What is the Sixth Schedule, and can Ladakh be included under it?

Ladakh has got the Union Territory status that it wanted, so why do its representatives now want to be brought under the ambit of a constitutional provision that allows for the creation of autonomous councils with some special powers? What is the Sixth Schedule, and can Ladakh be included under it?

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi |
Updated: December 23, 2021 11:44:56 am
74-year-old Tashi Lhamo of Shey village on the outskirts of Leh is seen in this file photo from August 2019. In 2010, she had taken part in a protest demanding UT status for Ladakh at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. A lot of the old enthusiasm has now turned to disappointment. (Tashi Tobgyal/Express Archive)

BJP MP from Ladakh Jamyang Tsering Namgyal on Tuesday demanded that the region be included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to safeguard land, employment, and cultural identity of the local population. Namgyal spoke in Parliament a day after Ladakh observed a shutdown to press for statehood. Representatives of the region have raised the demand repeatedly since the constitutional changes in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.

What is the Sixth Schedule?

The Sixth Schedule under Article 244 provides for the formation of autonomous administrative divisions — Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) — that have some legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within a state.

ADCs have up to 30 members with a term of five years, and can make laws, rules and regulations with regard to land, forest, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, village- and town-level policing, inheritance, marriage and divorce, social customs and mining, etc. The Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam is an exception with more than 40 members and the right to make laws on 39 issues.

The Sixth Schedule applies to the Northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram (three Councils each), and Tripura (one Council).

Why does Ladakh want to be part of the Sixth Schedule?

There was much enthusiasm initially, mostly in Leh, after the August 5, 2019 decisions that created two new Union Territories. Buddhist-dominated Leh district had long demanded UT status because it felt neglected by the erstwhile state government, which was dominated by politicians from Kashmir and Jammu.

In Parliament, Namgyal had said, “Under Kashmir, our development, our political aspiration, our identity, our language – if all of this got lost it is because of Article 370…” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “given an address on the political aspirations, developmental spirit and even recognized the contribution of the people from the region of Ladakh”, he said.

The enthusiasm waned as it was understood that while the UT of J&K would have a legislature, the UT of Ladakh would not. 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. Also, the changed domicile policy in Jammu and Kashmir has raised fears in the region about its own land, employment, demography, and cultural identity.

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.

On Tuesday, Namgyal, who is a member of the Leh Apex Body, urged the government in Lok Sabha to amend the Ladakh Hill Development Council Act, and define “what will be the role and responsibility of the central government, the UT administration and the Lieutenant Governor”.

What are the voices from the ground saying?

A coalition of social, religious, and political representatives in Leh and Kargil has gone beyond the Sixth Schedule and demanded full statehood for Ladakh, besides protection of land and jobs for locals. The region observed a complete shutdown on Monday to press these demands; a similar bandh had been observed in August during a visit of MoS Home Nityanand Rai to Leh.

In Kargil district, which is dominated by Shia Muslims, demands have been raised for the restoration of special status — also for a merger with the UT of J&K which has been provisioned a legislature. Representatives of social, religious, and political groups in Kargil have come together under the banner of the KDA.

In January this year, a delegation including former MPs Thiksay Rinpoche and Thupstan Chhewang, former BJP minister Chering Dorjay, Leh chief executive councillor Tashi Gyalson, and Namgyal met Home Minister Amit Shah to press their demands.

Can Ladakh be included in Sixth Schedule?

In September 2019, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes recommended the inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule, noting that the new UT was predominantly tribal (more than 97%), people from other parts of the country had been restricted from purchasing or acquiring land there, and its distinct cultural heritage needed preservation.

Notably, no region outside the Northeast has been included in the Sixth Schedule. In fact, even in Manipur, which has predominantly tribal populations in some places, the autonomous councils are not included in the Sixth Schedule. Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which are totally tribal, are also not in the Sixth Schedule.

“Ladakh’s inclusion in the Sixth Schedule would be difficult. The Constitution is very clear, Sixth Schedule is for the Northeast. For tribal areas in the rest of the country, there is the Fifth Schedule,” a Home Ministry official said.
However, it remains the prerogative of the government — it can, if it so decides, bring a Bill to amend the Constitution for this purpose.

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What has been the government’s response?

The Centre woke up to the anxieties of the region when, a year after the abrogation of Article 370, all political parties in Leh, including the BJP, announced a boycott of the LAHDC-Leh elections. They called off the boycott after a meeting with Shah in New Delhi, at which they were promised “Sixth Schedule-like” protections.

In January, the MHA announced that a committee under then MoS Home G Kishan Reddy would be formed to address “the issues related to language of Ladakh, culture of Ladakh and conservation of land in Ladakh”. In July, Reddy promised KDA representatives that representatives of Kargil would be included in the committee.

In August, MoS Home Rai assured representatives of Kargil and Leh that the government was committed to look into their concerns. Not much has happened since.

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