Srinagar: There were scenes of celebration in parts of Ladakh when the Narendra Modi government split it from Jammu & Kashmir and made it a separate union territory last August. Eleven months down the line, there seems to be apprehension on the ground about some implications of the decision, which involved stripping Jammu & Kashmir of its special status.
At the heart of the unease lies the amended Jammu and Kashmir domicile definition introduced by the Modi government in April, and the absence of a similar legislation in Ladakh.
A job ad issued by J&K Bank last month brought forth these fears, as Ladakh residents realised they could no longer apply for it. Under the old scheme of affairs, government jobs in the state were reserved for J&K residents, including Ladakhis.
That reservation is now gone, and the new J&K domicile law allows outsiders to aim for government jobs if they fulfil certain conditions. Meanwhile, Ladakh’s own jobs are being thrown open to outsiders, say local residents.
In this light, Ladakh residents, particularly the youth, are increasingly worried about their shot at a government job or admissions to educational institutes under the new status quo.
Demands for a domicile law for Ladakh — a law that would guarantee jobs and land rights to residents — have thus intensified, with some sections even calling for an amendment to the J&K domicile law to restore their lost eligibility for jobs in the educational institutes and government jobs in its sister union territory.
The administration, meanwhile, says employment opportunities are a focus area, and that it is working to start recruitment drives for local residents.
The J&K Bank ad was released last month, and sought applications from “domicile of J&K UT for appointment to the post of probationary officer”.
“Candidates who are residents of Ladakh UT, including those candidates of Ladakh who had already applied pursuant to notification dated 06.10.2018, shall be notified separately,” it added, but there has been no subsequent notification so far.
Ladakh-based lawyer Najum Ul Huda, who has filed a plea in the Jammu & Kashmir High Court to challenge 100 per cent reservation to J&K domiciles in government employment, said the situation is grim.
“There is hardly any opportunity for employment, and jobs that are being announced here (in Ladakh) are being outsourced to outsiders,” he added. “There is nothing for the local residents. Recently, Ladakh University issued an advertisement to recruit guest lecturers, for which thousands of applications came… Not even one local resident was eligible for the job because, on educational indices, we are far behind the rest of India,” he said.
“There were vacancies for junior engineers and assistant engineers, which were outsourced as well. Private agencies are being asked to seek manpower on an annual contract basis,” Huda added.
According to government documents accessed by ThePrint, the UT administration has involved at least two private recruitment firms — one based in New Delhi and the other in Mohali (Punjab) — to fill up vacancies for its law and engineering departments.
Huda said if the Modi government has allowed central government employees posted in J&K to seek domicile status, the same could be done for state government employees of the erstwhile state of J&K.
“I do not want to go into the specifics, but the only way that we will be able to apply for jobs in J&K is if the jobs open up for everyone else in the country,” said Huda. “If they keep only 50 per cent reservation (for J&K domiciles) as opposed to 100 per cent, it will at least open jobs for us Ladakhis,” said Huda. “The J&K government was a major source of employment but from this, too, we have been left out.”
‘Our biggest loss’
Before the scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35A, local property rights, government jobs and scholarships were restricted to permanent residents of J&K. Who qualified for the tag was at the state legislature’s discretion.
However, according to the domicile law introduced in April, anyone who fulfils certain conditions — resided in J&K for 15 years, studied there for seven years, and appeared in either the Class 10 or the Class 12 exams in the UT — is eligible for domicile certificates. So are the children of central government employees (Army, paramilitary forces, IAS, IPS), and employees of public sector undertakings and banks, central universities etc who have served in J&K for 10 years.
While there are some Ladakhi residents who would meet the eligibility criteria, a vast number won’t.
Mohammad Nayeem Lone, 23, president of the All Ladakh Students Welfare Association’s Jammu chapter, a prominent local student association, said the demand of their organisation is “simple”. “We want a domicile law for Ladakh and, until the time that happens, the government should continue with the reservations (in J&K) we had.”
This demand would require an amendment to the J&K domicile law, and Jimmy Ansari, president of the All Kargil Ladakh Students Association (Chandigarh unit), another bloc representing students, said the government should do it if that’s what it takes.
“Our biggest loss has been the J&K Bank. Those who had applied before the abrogation of Article 370 have been informed via email that they are no longer eligible and the new advertisement for fresh vacancies has excluded Ladakhis,” he added.
“This is at a time when we have no constitutional safeguards to protect our land and jobs. We want what we had, which is reservations in jobs in J&K. We want to be able to apply for J&K Bank. If an amendment to the J&K domicile is needed for this, the government must do that, at least temporarily,” said Ansari, who is pursuing a PhD in life sciences.
Stanzin Chostak, 27, an advocate from Zanskar, echoed the demand. “There is a lot of anxiety among Ladakhis and our concerns must be expressed before it snowballs into a crisis situation where the youths lose their sense of purpose,” Chostak said, echoing the concerns on J&K Bank.
When ThePrint tried to seek a comment from the J&K Bank spokesperson, this correspondent was directed to vice-president (human resources) Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat who did not respond to calls or messages sent to his mobile phone.
Kargil councilor Nasir Munshi, district Congress president, noted how local jobs were being handed out to outsiders. To back his argument, he cited a communication dated 30 June, from Umang Narula, adviser to the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the J&K government, which sought immediate deployment of officials to the UT to address a manpower shortage in directorates and other offices.
“Kargil people did not want UT status, but now that they have thrust it on us, there should be a domicile law. People are confused and concerned about their future,” said Munshi.
“The exclusion from J&K Bank, the end of reservations are major issues but then there is another issue that is creating anxiety among people. The Centre announced 45 per cent reservation for STs in government jobs in Ladakh. But they have not specified if STs of the entire country are eligible or only local Ladakhis. These were jobs in Group C and Group D category,” he added.
Thousands of Ladakhi families live, work and own businesses in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir. If there is a domicile law in Ladakh, these families will most likely have to make a choice between opting for Ladakh or J&K.
Residents who spoke to ThePrint said they they will choose Ladakh even as they admitted that limited opportunities in the region will complicate their lives.
“This is why there is so much anxiety. It’s been a year since the state of J&K was partitioned but the rules and regulations that have come are so confusing. There is no coherence. Naturally, some Ladakhis will demand an amendment to the J&K domicile law because they don’t know what the future holds for them,” said a Ladakh resident, who lives in Srinagar.
“Since birth, we have seen ourselves as part of Jammu and Kashmir. A majority of students would go to educational institutes in Kashmir or Jammu. All that is gone and, with hardly recruitment drives taking place, what options are the Ladakhis left with?” Syed Abbas, a lawyer from the region, asked. “A lot of Ladakhis have their homes, their businesses in Jammu and Kashmir. What is the future of the children of these Ladakhi families? Should we be close to Delhi or to Kashmir?”
‘Working on bringing jobs’
Ladakh Divisional Commissioner and Secretary Saugat Biswas said he won’t be able to comment on the subject of a domicile law for the region, but added that recruitment for government jobs is an issue that his administration has been working on continuously with the hill council, which manages local governance.
“The district recruitment boards are with the autonomous hill bodies and we are working with them to provide the youth of Ladakh with employment opportunities. Our priority was to recruit youth for vacancies that were announced in the past and had not been filled. Once this task is completed we move on to new recruitment drives,” he added.
Asked about growing demands in Ladakh to amend the domicile law in J&K, a senior J&K government official said it wasn’t something they can take a call on. “Right from the scrapping of Article 370 to the introduction of domicile, these were decisions taken by the central government. However, I have faith in the UT administration of Ladakh that they will address the concerns of local residents and provide ample job opportunities to the youth.”