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Acres of land sold by Tibetan refugees to locals in Ladakh Sonamling settlement
[Friday, November 23, 2018 18:13]
By Tenzin Sangmo

Dharamshala, November 23: The CTA is faced with the daunting task of tackling the conundrum of Tibetans in Ladakh selling settlement land to the locals in hundreds of acres over the years.

Reach Ladakh, a newspaper in Ladakh, carried out two reports pertaining to the issue on August 29thand October 19thtitled “Leh Hill Council team meets Home Minister, Central Tibetan Administration and 1,141 kanals of government land sold illegally in Leh
respectively on its online portal.

The report stated that 1141 kanals of the original 6,810 kanals allotted to Tibetans by the district administration were found to be sold illegally by Tibetans to the locals, based on a study by Tehsildar Leh.

Tehsildar Gurmet Namgail confirmed over a call that the report was compiled in 2016 and further study hasn’t been carried out yet.

It is learned that the CRO office received a letter from the Enforcement Directorate office of the government of India dated March 4, 2016, requesting for the details of 14 individuals named in the letter as main defaulters according to their research.

CRO office likewise obliged and submitted details to the office. It is believed that investigation is going on right now.

It must be remembered that the official tally of the land sold and the list of individuals are from 2016, two years ago. A lot more has been sold and bought since then that remains unaccounted for.

Kalon Sonam Topgyal of Department of Home, CTA had been working closely with the concerned authorities to control the situation.

In his last meeting in August 2018, he met with the Chief Executive Councillor Mr Dorjey Motup of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), District Commissioner (DC) Ms Avny Lavasa, Councilors, Chief Representative Officer (CRO) Mr Tsetan Wangchuk and other stakeholders to discuss the issue.

According to Kalon Sonam Topgyal, camp no. 2, 3, and 11 consist the most number of defaulters.

A year ago, he sat for a similar meeting headed by the then CEC of LAHDC, late Dr Sonam Dawa Lonpo, a popular Tibetan friend, to discuss Tibetan Rehabilitation policy. The illegal land selling came up for a lengthy discussion.

According to Greater Jammu report, the CEC directed CRO and ACR Leh to carry a joint survey to tally and authenticate their land revenue records to make clear-cut demarcation of lands that belong to Tibetans. This, Kalon Sonam Topgyal said, will prevent encroachment and disagreement.

On both occasions of Kalon’s visit to Ladakh, settlement-wide meetings were convened to address the issue and public was requested to refrain from selling the government of India leased land for the refugees and that dire action may follow the defaulters.

Kalon Sonam Topgyal has urged the LAHDC and Enforcement Directorate to take action against the defaulters.

The selling first started years ago by some of the local Tibetan leaders and others that went unaddressed. In due course of time, as more Ladakhis vied to move to the Leh city area where the settlement is based around, more people sold and bought lands for a huge sum of money. As of now, close to a thousand families have bought plots in the settlement area.

The Councillor of the Choglamsar area, Mr Phunchok Dorjey has seen his workload increased manifold and become complicated. “As large numbers of new households have cropped up almost overnight, there are extra demands for electricity and water supply that puts a strain on available resources in the Choglamsar area.”

Dorjey said he is aware that selling is still rampant as no actions were taken. He also pointed out that there are people who make money by acting as a broker, buying the land off Tibetans to sell it to Ladakhis from faraway villages at an exorbitant amount. A kanal, 1/8th of an acre situated away from the road in Choglamsar area is sold at ₹16-17 lakhs, he said.

Ladakh Sonamling Settlement is one of the 15 agriculture-based settlements and the third biggest settlement in India with a population of 7500 people in twelve camps and nine Jangthang clusters.

In the meantime, more Jangthang residents have been moving to the Sonamling settlement. Dhondup Gyal, the head of the Jangthang region has stated in the past that request of Tibetans from Jangthang’s for land in the region has fallen on deaf ears.

According to Kalon Sonam Topgyal, the local administration is considering offering some land across the Indus river for the rehabilitation.

At the moment, the health department of CTA has sanctioned a grant to build houses in the CRO office compound to accommodate patients from Jangthang undergoing treatment at hospitals in Leh. The CRO remains unavailable for comments on any issues.

Tashi Morup, the project Director of Ladakh Arts and Media Organization, LAMO, remarked “I think… we have a mini Tibet here in Leh in the form of 12 different camps. I often visit Agling and Choglamsar camps mainly for two things; relish laffing and to learn Tibetan as I am really fond of this language not very different from Ladakhi. Hearing about land selling issue saddened me because if it continues would be a great setback and loss to us as having a mini Tibet alongside adds to our diversity and meaningful exchanges culturally and socially.”

Most of the land sold is agricultural land. A Tibetan entrepreneur from Ladakh requesting anonymity stated that there are no clear legal terms of the ownership of the land or a clear agricultural policy from CTA’s part. “We haven’t explored vegetable plantations the way we could have. Most people grew alfalfas that don’t create any income, used only to feed livestock.

People may have sold their land as an alternative income to pay for children’s education, medical bills etc. while many had their land sold by other people.”

Homestay is not allowed in the Tibetan camps. Tibetans can also not acquire a license to run travel agency or own a taxi without partnering with a Ladakhi as it requires State subject certificate.

Tsewang Rigzin, a journalist and a former executive councillor at LAHDC described the situation as complex and difficult.

“Lots of locals have bought land. I think that one day it will have to be legalized as it’s the who’s who and influential lots who have bought and sold the lands mostly.”

CTA president Dr Lobsang Sangay who visited Ladakh on the occasion of H.H. the Dalai Lama’s birthday this year is believed to have sat for a meeting with LAHDC councilor to discuss the issue.

A Ladakhi settler in the camp said, “Tibetans sold it for a vision. We cannot blame Tibetans or locals. We are Indian citizens and we are settled in India. Nobody is going to get out of here. We have spent our hard earned money on it for a roof here, somewhere near the hub.”

Kalon Sonam Topgyal la has recently sent another letter to Enforcement Directorate office for an update, reminding them again about CTA’s request for legal action on the defaulters to deter the practice.

In the meantime, CTA is counting on local bodies, camp leaders, committee, organizations and CRO office to report any new cases of selling land.

Locals, on the other hand, have started to refrain these days from buying land for possible legal implication.

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