Srinagar: Facing a sustained agitation in the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh for safeguarding the rights of natives, the government is inching towards the complete restoration of the pre-August 5, 2019 position on jobs for locals.
Nearly 14 months after giving exclusive rights to Ladakh natives over non-gazetted jobs, the administration has now set the ball rolling for reserving gazetted jobs in a similar way.
A notification issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on November 1, 2022 empowered Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) Radha Krishna Mathur to frame the rules for recruitment to gazetted or Group ‘A’ and Group ‘B’ public service posts.
The MHA notification also delegated powers to Mathur to frame rules for the qualifications necessary for appointment to such services and posts, as well as the conditions of service of persons appointed to them vis-a-vis probation, confirmation, seniority and promotion.
This is an indication that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government is returning to the position that existed vis-a-vis government employment in Ladakh pre-August 5, 2019 – when parliament read down Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which granted special constitutional status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the notification, the L-G-led administration started posting draft recruitment rules for gazetted posts in different departments from November 14 onwards. So far, the draft recruitment rules put in the public domain bar non-locals from being appointed to these posts and make the possession of a ‘Resident Certificate’ a necessary condition for applying to these posts. The certificate should be issued by a competent authority in accordance with the Union Territory of Ladakh Resident Certificate Order (Procedure), 2021.
The 2021 Order makes all those in possession of ‘Permanent Resident Certificates’ living in Ladakh eligible for getting resident certificates. The Permanent Resident Certificate, whose genesis lies in the notifications issued by Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927 and 1931, has become the sole norm to define a ‘resident’ of Ladakh.
Former minister and member of the Leh Apex Body (LAB), Chering Dorjay, welcomed the proposal to reserve gazetted jobs for natives but added that they will not give up their agitation until their other demands are met by the Union government.
“There is no question of backing down from our demands like statehood, constitutional safeguards on the lines of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and additional representation in Parliament,” he said.
Thousands of people staged protests in both Ladakh and Kargil on November 2 in support of these demands on the call of the LAB and Kargil Democratic Alliance – the organisations spearheading the agitation in these districts. These organisations have threatened to launch a sustained agitation in 2023 and 2024 if the Union government doesn’t fulfil their demands.
Leaving behind their historical animosity and rivalry, the Buddist-majority Leh district and Muslim-majority Kargil district have joined hands after August 5, 2019 to fight for statehood and safeguard the rights of locals in jobs and land.
While Kargil district has always been in favour of J&K’s special position and wanted to remain part of the erstwhile state, Leh has been a strong proponent of UT status for the region. After the Union government’s August 5, 2019 move, the Leh district erupted in celebrations but Kargil witnessed massive protests against the move to separate it from J&K, which was made a separate UT.
Questions in J&K over move
As the Union government restores jobs for locals in Ladakh, the move is likely to renew calls for similar protections in J&K, where any non-native who has been living in the erstwhile state for a period of 15 years is currently eligible for government employment.
As per the MHA’s 2020 amendments to the J&K Civil Services (Decentralization and Recruitment) Act, 2010, anyone who has resided for a period of 15 years in the UT of J&K or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10 or 12 examinations in an educational institution located in the UT is eligible for government employment.
Almost all major political parties – except for the BJP – are demanding employment and land safeguards for locals of J&K until the Supreme Court adjudicates the numerous petitions challenging the reading down of Article 370 and the reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J&K into two UTs.
Before August 5, only permanent residents were eligible to apply for jobs or own immovable property in the erstwhile state, which also included Ladakh.
Umer Maqbool is a Srinagar-based independent journalist and can be reached at: [email protected]