Tuesday, July 16, 2024
HomeNews ReportsAre things really 'aaall well' in Ladakh? A closer look at 'climate fast' by...

Are things really ‘aaall well’ in Ladakh? A closer look at ‘climate fast’ by Sonam Wangchuk and criticism of his projects by locals

Villagers in Ladakh say that while Sonam Wangchuk claims to fight to save the environment, his projects harm it as plastic garbage has been left behind by abandoned Ice Stupas

Ladakh’s celebrated educator and innovator, Sonam Wangchuk, who attained fame after the release of the Bollywood movie named 3 Idiots, is in news for the past few days. The engineer-turned-education reformer staged a ‘climate fast’ late in January to protest against the destruction of the ecology in the region. He is demanding constitutional protection of the fragile ecology of the region, known as the third pole of the earth.

Wangchuk staged a five-day protest at the education institute founded by him named Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL), and he also claimed that he was confined to house arrest by the Ladakh Police at the Institute. The saga began when Wangchuk on January 26 announced that he would stage a one-day protest at Khardung La, one of the highest mountain passes in Asia, to demand the inclusion of the region in the sixth schedule of the constitution.

However, the local administration asked him to conduct the protest on January 26 at his university, as it was too cold in the mountains. “I received a letter that day which said that the government was concerned about the safety of a ‘celebrated’ person like me. It added that there is severe cold at Khardung La and that there are wild animals that can cause harm to my life. The government asked me to stage a protest at HIAL, which is far away from Leh. And now I am under house arrest,” Sonam Wangchuk said in a video that he released amid a protest on January 26.

Police have denied Wangchuk’s claim that he was placed under house arrest. Police said that he was only prevented from holding the fast atop Khardung La, and there was no other restriction on him.

Denied permission to hold the protest at Khardung La, Wangchuk held the five-day protest at his institution, where he was joined by several others. However, Wangchuk and many others still remained outside, despite the harsh winter, as a part of their protest. The protest ended on January 30.

Amid the protests, Sonam Wangchuk released an 18-minute long video on his YouTube channel and claimed that he was house arrested by the local administration. He said that the Lt Governor and the BJP government were restricting his activities under the guise of protecting him and safeguarding him.

“When the protest was scheduled at Khardung La, they (govt) asked me to skip the mountain pass location for the protest and asked me to conduct the protest at HIAL, which is far away from Leh. They also have restricted my movement and I am not allowed to leave HIAL. The massive Police force has been deployed outside HIAL to control me and my movement. I am not allowed to move from here,” he could be heard saying in the video.

Wangchuk also alleged that the government had asked him to sign a bond asking him to stop saying anything against the government activities in Leh and that he was not allowed to deliver speeches or statements. “One of the deployed police officers handed me the bond and asked me to sign. On refusal, he said that I would be detained. These people have also detained three young teachers working at my school and are now blackmailing me to act according to them for the youngsters’ release,” he added in the video on January 27.

He further said that the government was arresting people and journalists who have been demanding the inclusion of Ladakh in the sixth schedule. “The government in the election manifesto had said that it would include the region in the sixth schedule. So then why are people getting arrested now when they are demanding the same,” he said.

According to Wangchuk, the people of Ladakh are facing natural threats and they hoped that the government would help them safeguard the region after the abrogation of Article 370. “Ladakh was declared a Union Territory. We were delighted but also concerned because becoming a Union Territory without safeguards would keep Ladakh open to industrial and mining exploitation, harming our ecology and glaciers. We hoped the Centre would provide us with safeguards, if not from Article 370, then from the Sixth Schedule. But nothing is happening,” he claimed.

Wangchuk also alleged that the BJP-led administration and the former Lieutenant Governor Radha Krishna Mathur ignored Ladakh after it was stripped from Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and was made a separate Union Territory. While Sonam Wangchuk had praised the abolition of Article 370, he now says that Ladakh was in a better position when it was part of Jammu and Kashmir. He also alleged that the government was sowing the seeds of militancy in the union territory of Ladakh.

People protesting across Ladakh with Wangchuk (Image source- Sonam Wangchuk YT)

Sonam Wangchuk’s demand for the inclusion of Ladakh in sixth schedule

Several civil society leaders in Ladakh are demanding that the UT be included in the sixth schedule of the Article 244 of the Indian Constitution which ensures the overall socio-economic development of the region which houses a predominantly tribal population. Since the special status of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution was removed by Parliament in 2019, civil society organizations in Ladakh have been calling for the protection of land, resources, and jobs. 

The local leaders are also demanding that Ladakh can’t be kept under the central government’s rule forever, and it must be given the status of a state. Sonam Wangchuk has also demanded the inclusion of the region under the sixth schedule, but for one specific reason, to protect the ecology of the region.

He stated that he was concerned about Ladakh’s climate, environment, and overall ecology there. “I have been concerned about Ladakh’s ecology, mountains, and glaciers for 30 years. People here are facing the heat of the lifestyle that is being lived by people in huge cities like London, New York, Paris, Beijing, and New Delhi. We have become climate victims by having to cope with emissions emanating from all these places,” said Wangchuk in an exclusive interview with News Click.

Sonam Wangchuk is opposing the migration of people from other states to Ladakh, setting up of industries, and private sector enterprises purchasing land, saying that it will destroy the ecology of Ladakh. Our landscape cannot handle more people and increasing industrial activity. Already, we face a huge water shortage. What will happen if industries move here in large numbers? Very soon, not only Ladakhis, people in the rest of the subcontinent will face climate-related problems,” he added.

Wangchuk claimed that he conducted the protest to grab the attention of the Central Government to the local Ladakhi problems. He claimed that Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Miniter Narendra Modi were unaware of the local problems on the ground and that he was attempting to showcase the same to the authorities. However, the he further said that he would protest for a longer time in February if his demands are not met or considered.

What the law says about the sixth schedule

The creation of independent administrative divisions, known as Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), with some degree of judicial, legislative, and administrative autonomy inside a state is permitted by the Sixth Schedule of Article 244. At present, the four northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram have specific provisions in the Sixth Schedule for the management of tribal territories.

The local Ladakhi civilians are pressing that the population of Ladakh contains 97 percent of the tribals and that the imposition of a sixth schedule in the UT is necessary. Also the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, in September 2019 had recommended the inclusion of Ladakh under the sixth schedule, noting that the new UT was predominantly tribal, people from other parts of the country had been barred from dealing in land there, and its distinct cultural heritage needed preservation.

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs has stated that 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,” the MHA had said.

Notably, the regions included in the sixth schedule are Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram which are in the Northeastern part of the country. The other northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are also not included in the sixth schedule though they house a maximum of tribal sects.

The title of the schedule is Provisions as to the Administration of Tribal Areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, making it clear that it is specific to only four states. Inclusion of any other state will require amendment of the constitution.

Sonam Wangchuk had hailed the formation of UT in 2019

Earlier in the year 2019, Wangchuk had hailed the BJP-led government for removing the special status from the former state of Jammu and Kashmir and dividing it into two Union Territories including Ladakh. He later had thanked Tribal Minister Arjun Munda and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for considering to declare the Union Territory of Ladakh as a protected area under Schedule VI of the constitution. “It seems Indian Democracy works,” he had tweeted back then lauding the BJP-ruled centre.

Also, the local Ladakhis had organized ‘thanksgiving’ to celebrate Ladakh becoming a Union Territory after the central government obtained a presidential decree to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories- Jammu and Kashmir with legislature and Ladakh without legislature.

As reported earlier, people in Ladakh had been demanding the union territory status for several decades. Therefore they were elated with the prospect of development of the region as a union territory. Even the Muslim residents in Ladakh then expressed their elation at the government’s decision by hoisting the Indian flag at the top of the centuries-old mosque in the main market region of Leh.

However, the locals after three years seem to have changed their opinion about the government probably after Wangchuk instigated them to join in the protests and demand the inclusion of the UT in the sixth schedule. Wangchuk also stated that the people were unhappy with the government and reiterated that the latter was sowing the seeds of militancy in the region.

Criticism of Sonam Wangchuk and his projects

While the innovator claims that he is highly concerned about the climate in Ladakh, and demands protection of the ecology by including the region in the 6th schedule, some people have been opposing his activities alleging the threat to environmental change in the region. According to the reports, villagers in Leh have alleged that the mountains are being littered with plastic waste due to Wangchuk’s project. In fact, people from several villages have written to the administration against his projects, especially the Ice Stupa artificial glacier project. They say that instead of being beneficial for the environment, it is harming it due to the excessive use of plastic. They also allege that the project is a failure.

Sonam Wangchuk came up with a method to produce tiny artificial glaciers, or ice stupas, by freezing stream water throughout the winter into 50-meter-tall ice towers. However, not everyone is adoring these man-made glaciers. Images from Phyang village reveal that a significant quantity of plastic pipes, tents, and bottles are used to construct these ice stupas, which has caused environmental worries among the locals.

Image shows plastic underneath the snow (Image- India Today)

While the Ice Stupas have been touted as a ‘green’ solution to the water crisis in the arid desert region situated deep in the Himalayas, many environmentalists and local activists have been objecting to the project. In these ‘artificial glaciers’, a plastic pipe collects water from the source at the higher ground and brings it directly to the lower ground. There, the water enters a dome-shaped network of netting fixed to pipes with holes which sprinkle water in the air. As the water is sprayed in the sub-zero temperatures air, it collects on the dome in the shape of a large cone of ice.

When summer comes, the Ice Stupa starts to melt, providing a supply of water. Therefore, basically, the system stores water in the form of ice during winter, which provides water for irrigation during summer. Local Ladkhis already use this method, but they make ice sheets, and therefore it melts quickly in summer. The Ice Stupa melts gradually due to its cone structure.

However, the use of excessing nets, sheets and pipes made of plastic is causing a different environmental problem in the region. With the excessive use of plastic, its ‘green’ tag comes into question. Social media is filled with photos and videos which show the plastic garbage left in the sites where Ice Stupas were built. The photos and videos show damaged pipes, sheets and nets lying on the snow-covered grounds.

It is claimed that a large number of domes were abandoned after they didn’t work as expected, and it has caused massive plastic pollution. Locals have alleged that many ice stupas have been abandoned by the organisation run by Wangchuk, and they leave plastic waste behind. A resident told India Today, “There is a lot of plastic in areas where he worked. Now, no one is cleaning the mess.” Villagers say that while Wangchuk claims to fight to save the environment, his projects harm it.

Another criticism of the Ice Stupa project is that it is altering the water flow. As the Ice Stupas collect and store water, villages located downstream are alleging that due to the diversion of water to make Ice Stupas, they are not getting enough water from the water streams. In fact, after the locals protested, the administration had to stop the construction of more stupas in the upper regions. Environmentalists also say that by directly collecting water at the source, the Ice Stupas are adversely affecting the recharge system of the groundwater table.

Sonam Wangchuk is also facing criticism over the delay in the construction of an alternative university, for which the administration had granted land to his institute. Now, villagers of Phyang have requested in a letter to the Chairman and Chief Executive Councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, that Wangchuk’s HIAL’s land allocation should be revoked. The villagers of Phyang demanded that the 1200 kanals of land that HIAL had been given permission to use for the construction of an alternative university should be revoked, as the university has not been constructed.

According to the villagers, the villagers gave the NOC for handing over the land on the condition that HIAL would complete university construction within two years of land allotment. But there is not any sign of construction work, and HIAL has not conducted any meeting or consultation with the Board of Members after getting the NOC from the villagers, and therefore the allotment of the land should be withdrawn.

“HIAL has played negatively with the sentiments of innocent villagers in Phyang village by making false promises and enticing (them) just for the sake of getting a NOC for allotment of land”, the villagers stated.

Moreover, the office of Nambardar of Phyang also wrote a letter recommending the cancellation of 1200 kanals of land allocated to Wangchuk. According to the letter, while the given land is sufficient for the project, HIAL is trying to get more land, delaying the project. The villagers have objected to the demand for more land, as they have little land left after granting the 1200 kanals land. Wangchuk was also sent a notice by the administration in 2020 for failure to deposit the amount agreed for 1076 kanals and 1 marla of land allotted to him for the construction of HIAL.

As stated above, Wangchuk conducted the recent protest just to grab the attention of the Central Government to the local Ladakhi problems. He stated that MHA Amit Shah and Prime Miniter Narendra Modi were unaware of the local problems on the ground and that he was attempting to showcase the same to the authorities. However, the engineer said that he would protest for a longer time in February if his demands are not met or considered.

Join OpIndia's official WhatsApp channel

  Support Us  

Whether NDTV or 'The Wire', they never have to worry about funds. In name of saving democracy, they get money from various sources. We need your support to fight them. Please contribute whatever you can afford

OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

Related Articles

Trending now

Recently Popular

- Advertisement -