The Centre has agreed to examine whether the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution can be implemented in Ladakh, reported The Hindu.

This was after the third round of talks between the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and two civil society groups from the Union territory – Leh Apex Body and Kargil Democratic Alliance – on Saturday in Delhi.

The Centre said it will invite experts from civil society and the government to the fourth round of talks to discuss the constitutionality of the groups’ stipulations, which include the implementation of the Sixth Schedule and statehood for Ladakh.

Earlier this month, Ladakh saw a near-complete shutdown as thousands of people hit the streets to voice these demands.

The Sixth Schedule under Article 244 (Administration of Scheduled Areas and Tribal Areas) of the Constitution of India guarantees certain protections for land and a nominal autonomy for citizens in designated tribal areas. In Ladakh, more than 97% of the population belong to Scheduled Tribes while Kargil is a Muslim-majority region.

The inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule would allow for the creation of autonomous development councils to govern land, public health and agriculture. Ten such councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, the only states where the Sixth Schedule has been implemented.

Civil society groups are also demanding separate Lok Sabha seats for Leh and Kargil districts, and a separate Public Service Commission for Ladakh with its own recruitment process for government jobs.

At Saturday’s meeting, the Centre said that the issue of the Service Selection Board for Ladakh would be addressed soon, reported The Hindu, citing Kargil Democratic Alliance member Sajjad Kargili. The Union government is examining the feasibility of providing gazetted jobs in Ladakh, as is done in parts of the North East, Kargili said.

On August 5, 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government had rescinded the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcated the state into the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

As Ladakh lost its special status, the autonomy of its powerful hill councils in Leh and Kargil also waned. The hill councils were formed in the mid-1990s and early 2000s when the public felt overlooked by the bureaucracy and the Centre. The people of the Union territory have also felt excluded from decision-making process that has santioned several development projects in Ladakh’s sensitive ecosystem.

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