Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 21 September 2023

Party symbol for Ladakh polls

Source: By Naveed Iqbal: The Indian Express

The Supreme Court restored to the National Conference, its party symbol – the plough – after the Ladakh administration refused to allot the symbol to the party’s candidates for the upcoming election to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in Kargil. The Ladakh UT had challenged the order of the High Court of J&K and Ladakh allotting the symbol to the NC, in the Supreme Court and the court had reserved its judgement in the case.

On 6 September 2023, a bench comprising Justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah pronounced its order and also imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh on the Ladakh administration for filing the petition.

How did the matter of the symbol for NC candidates reach the courts?

With the announcement of the LAHDC polls for Kargil, the election commissioner for the UT of Ladakh refused to allot the symbol of the plough to the NC. In its arguments against reserving the plough symbol for the NC, the Ladakh administration said that no state party, including the NC, is a recognised party in Ladakh, and that the NC could therefore not claim its plough symbol in the UT.

However, the NC challenged this decision in the High Court of J&K and Ladakh and the courts ruled in their favour. The NC and Congress have a seat-sharing agreement for the upcoming election to 26 seats in the Hill Council. Polls for the council were slated for 10 September 2023 however the 6 September 2023 order by the Supreme Court is likely to push the election further.

Why is this election significant?

The hill council elections in Kargil are crucial since these are the first local polls in the region since Ladakh’s split from J&K in August 2019. Following its reorganisation, Ladakh witnessed continued protests for the protection of its language and culture as well as land and jobs besides the region’s inclusion under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

The pushback against the centre has also brought unity among civil and religious groups in both districts, one with a majority Muslim population (Kargil) and the other with a majority Buddhist population (Leh).

What is the LAHDC?

The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils were constituted under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils Act, 1997. For effective governance in the districts comprising Ladakh – Leh and Kargil – two councils were constituted in 1995 (LAHDC, Leh) and 2003 (LAHDC, Kargil). The law was deemed to come into force from June 1995.

What are the powers of the LAHDC?

Powers to both councils include drafting development plans for the region, formulation of budgets for both districts, implementation of movement schemes, promotion of language and culturepublic healtheducationlocal road transport and its development among other concerns. Small-scale industries, non-conventional energy and tourism also form part of the 28 subjects under the LAHDC’s ambit in governance in the Ladakh region. The Hill Councils also have the authority to levy and collect taxes and other fees in their jurisdiction.

What is the composition of the councils?

The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil and Leh comprise 30 councillors each. Out of which 26 councillors are elected while four are nominated. Among these, a Chairperson is elected who also serves as Chief Executive Councillor for the council.

The Chief Executive Councillor holds the rank and powers of a Cabinet Minister while four Executive Councillors possess the rank and status of Deputy Minister. The Deputy Commissioner of the district is designated as the Chief Executive Officer, LAHDC holds control over the overall district administration, execution of works and maintaining Law and Order.

How has political representation changed in Ladakh since Ladakh became a UT?

Apart from the Hill Councils, prior to August 2019, the Ladakh region elected two Members to the Legislative Assembly of J&K from Leh and Kargil and a single Member to Parliament. However, after the bifurcation of the former state, Ladakh became a UT without an assembly, thereby concentrating political authority in the Hill Councils and the lone MP. The Hill Councils have given shape to the political landscape in the region with many of the former MPs having served in the councils.

When are elections to the councils due?

The LAHDC-K elections were due on 10 September 2023. However, this is likely to get pushed owing to the court’s order. There are 89 candidates in the fray for 26 constituencies in the council. This includes 17 from the BJP, four from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), 21 from the Congress, and 47 Independent candidates.

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