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Ladakh: Authorities Impose Prohibitory Order, Ban Internet Ahead of April 7 March

The authorities have justified the prohibitory order, citing 'apprehension of breach of peace and public tranquility'.
Sonam Wangchuk while ending his climate fast on Tuesday. Photo: Screengrab from video

New Delhi: The Ladakh administration has imposed an indefinite prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, while high speed internet has been banned for 24 hours in Leh district ahead of a march on April 7 to highlight the region’s shrinking pasturelands.

The prohibitory order was issued on Friday, April 5.

The authorities have justified the prohibitory order, citing “apprehension of breach of peace and public tranquility”. However, the move coincides with the Pashmina march, called by the Ladakhi climate activist Sonam Wanchuk, which is scheduled to be held on April 7.

The march aims to highlight Ladakh’s shrinking pasturelands due to rampant industrial activities and incursions by the People’s Liberation Army, which have reportedly turned several areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China into ‘no-go’ zones for local shepherds.

According to reports, nearly 8,000 people from Ladakh and other parts of the country are expected to participate in the march to Changthang, the world’s highest inhabited plateau. This region is home of the high-altitude Himalayan goats whose wool is used in making the high-end Kashmiri Pashmina shawls.

However, the fate of the march remains uncertain because of the prohibitory orders.

Taking to X (formerly Twitter), Wangchuk, who was on a 21-day ‘climate fast’ against the Union government’s refusal to provide constitutional safeguards for Ladakh, said that the administration was “overreacting” and “threatening” the people to stay away from the march.

Reports indicate that hundreds of people from across the country have been gathering support under the banner ‘Friends of Ladakh’. Some of them have already arrived in Ladakh to express solidarity with Wangchuk and participate in the march, which was reportedly proposed to take place along the north and south bank of Pangong Tso, Chushul, Demchok, and other areas along the LAC.

“From last 31 days, thousands of people fasted in Leh and prayed for the welfare of our region, and not a single untoward incident happened. Now, some of those people are being hauled to police stations and made to sign affidavits of peaceful conduct. Is this how you are going to bring peace?” he said in a video message on X.

In a post accompanying the video, Wangchuk said: “PEACEFUL LADAKH IS VERY CONFUSED!  After 31 days of extremely peaceful prayers & fasts…  Suddenly peace initiatives of the administration sounds more dangerous than anything! PEACE AT ANY COST !!? #SaveLadakh #SAVEHIMALAYAS #SaveGlaciers #6thSchedule #SupportSonamWangchuk“.

Wangchuk, whose life story inspired the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots, was joined by dozens of women from different parts of Ladakh. They have also been observing fast at the protest site in Leh district. In a video message, Wangchuk said that youngsters from Ladakh and other parts of the country were scheduled to join the fast on Saturday (April 6).

He said that the march was aimed to highlight how some pasturelands, where Ladakhi shepherds previously used to graze their goats and other livestock, have either been turned into solar parks or reportedly taken over by the Chinese. He also urged the administration to allow the protest to continue.

Earlier, an order issued by the deputy commissioner of Leh, Santosh Sukhadeve, on Friday, April 5, said that there are “reliable inputs of apprehension of breach of peace and public tranquility” in Leh district, which has been, in the recent months, an epicentre of protests against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government.

Invoking Section 144 of the CrPC, the deputy commissioner said that public gathering has been banned on April 6 and April 7 in Leh district and no procession or rally would be allowed “without the prior approval” of authorities.

“No one shall make any statements, which has the potential to disturb the communal harmony, public tranquility and which may lead to law and order problem in the district,” the order, a copy of which The Wire has seen, said, adding that violators “shall invite punitive action under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.”

In an order titled ‘Temporary suspension/reduce the speed of mobile data service’, the chief of Ladakh Police, Shiv Darshan Singh, said on Friday that there are “apprehensions of possibility (sic) misuse of Mobile Data (2G,3G, 4G, 5G & Public Wi-fi Facilities of 5G) Services by anti-social elements and miscreants to incite/provoke general public” in Leh district.

Referring to unspecified “inputs” from senior superintendent of Leh police and “other intelligence agencies”, the Ladakh police chief said that social media may be used to “cause and flare up law and order situation in the UT of Ladakh, especially in district Leh” due to “present emergent security scenario”.

Invoking powers under sub-rule (1) of Rule 2 of Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public emergency of Public Safety) Rule 2017, Singh said that it was “absolutely necessary” to ban the high-speed internet and public wifi facilities for 24 hours in Leh “in the interest of maintenance of public peace, law and order”.

“Hence, it is hereby ordered to Scale Down the Internet Speed/Mobile Data Services of 3G, 4G, 5G & Public Wifi facilities 5G) to 2G in Leh city (Latitude 34.149722 and longitude 77.575) within the 10 km radius w.e.f 1800 Hrs on 06-04-2024 to 1800 Hrs on 07.04.2024,” the order said.

Last month, talks between Ladakh leaders and activists and the Union home ministry over the restoration of Ladakh’s statehood, inclusion of the region in the Sixth Schedule, a job reservation policy for locals and a parliamentary seat each for Leh and Kargil districts, broke down.

Ladakh was part of Jammu and Kashmir before the Union government bifurcated the erstwhile state into two Union territories on August 5, 2019. While the decision had initially triggered celebrations in Ladakh, the lack of public involvement in policy decisions has triggered anger and protests in recent years.

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