In Conversation with Tsering Samphel, Former MLA & Member, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

By Stanzin Dasal Leh, Oct 16, 2023
Leh :

Q. Tell us about your childhood days, your education, and your political career.

I was born and brought up in Hemis Shukpachan and studied until class 5th in the village school. Later, I continued my education up to class 10 at Govt. High School Tingmosgang. During those days, very few students appeared for matriculation exams, and in 1967, I was one of the 22 students from the district who took the 10th exam and 12 of us failed. Times were such that even an 8th grader could secure a teaching job, so I worked as a teacher in Likir.

At one point I came to know that Ven. Lama Lobzang is taking many students from Leh to study in Delhi, so, I joined a group of students, but I returned after two years due to difficulties in settling down. Back in Leh, I reappeared for the subject in which I had failed in class 10th and successfully cleared it. I had a strong desire to continue my studies, but financial constraints prevented me from pursuing higher education in Srinagar like many of my friends did. During this time, obtaining a 10th-grade pass was a significant achievement in Ladakh. The Ladakh Buddhist Association recognized my passion and appointed me as an office secretary for a monthly salary of 100 rupees.  The LBA officials recognized my dedication and encouraged me to become a deed writer (Arzi Navis) in Srinagar. After obtaining my license, I set up my chamber in Leh near the LBA office.

In 1976, during the first parliamentary election in Ladakh, with Kushok Bakula Rinpoche as the candidate, I was asked to work at the Congress office for party-related activities, which marked the beginning of my political career.

Q. You have worked with the Ladakh Buddhist Association and accomplished incredible work for the benefit and welfare of many people. Brief us about it.

I served as the General Secretary of the Ladakh Buddhist Association from 1974 to 1977, with Advocate Sonam Gyaltson as the President. One of our notable achievements during this time was organizing the first Kalachakra Initiation by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Ladakh in 1976. When the Deputy Commissioner of Leh, Mr. Rehman, suggested organizing it at the NDS ground, we recommended the Choglamsar Jevetsal land, situated by the Indus River with lush green surroundings, to make the devotees more comfortable.  

Also, in 1998 we were successful in inviting Dalai Lama to Ladakh after an 8 years gap, this decision not only proved to be the best but also led to His Holiness Dalai Lama's frequent visits to Ladakh, strengthening the communal and social bonds here. We also handed over the Jevetsal Photang to His Holiness in 1998.

We also obtained an allotment of 75 kanals of land in Leh town under LBA, a significant revenue generation initiative. Furthermore, we played a pivotal role in transforming the narrow road at Leh gate into the magnificent structure it is today.

During my tenure, the seed for the demand for Union Territory (UT) status for Ladakh was sown. We organised around 85 demonstrations at various levels, published a booklet titled 'Why UT for Ladakh?' distributed across India, organised eight national seminars on the demand and participated in countless press conferences. I participated in dialogues and conferences at national and international levels, advocating for Ladakh’s UT status. Today, I can proudly say that I kept the voices of UT demand alive during the turbulent times in Jammu & Kashmir and amidst the challenges of those times.

Q. Since Ladakh is a Union Territory now, the people of Ladakh are demanding safeguards under the 6th schedule of the Indian constitution.  What you have to say about it?

Drawing on my experience as a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and my involvement in understanding the functions of Hill Councils in Darjeeling and various Union Territories have given me insight into tribal rights and laws. Ladakh, which was once part of the erstwhile state of Jammu& Kashmir, enjoyed protection under Article 35A and 370. However, as a Union Territory now, its opened up to the mainland, necessitating safeguards for land, jobs and the environment.

I believe that constitutional safeguards under the 6th schedule of the Indian constitution are essential for Ladakh. While we had high expectations from the BJP to fulfill our demands, it appears they are reluctant to ensure these safeguards under the 6th schedule. Regardless, I firmly believe that Ladakh's safeguard can only be assured through the 6th schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Q.  What you have to say about the status of Hill Council in UT set up and how important is it for further strengthening and empowerment?

Despite statements indicating that Hill Councils have power in the UT setup, the reality is quite different. Currently, Ladakh has an annual budget of Rs. 6000 crore, but the Hill Councils of Leh and Kargil are allocated only approximately Rs. 500 crore out of the total UT budget. The majority of funds are controlled by non-elected representatives, and the Councils have limited oversight over these funds. It's challenging to claim that Hill Councils hold significant power in this context.

Q. What are your thoughts on the statehood demand for Ladakh?

The idea of statehood for Ladakh seems difficult given our sparse population, geographical location, and strategic considerations, I am somewhat skeptical. At present, our primary focus should be on achieving the safeguards offered by the 6th schedule, which is no less than statehood in terms of protecting Ladakh's interests. There is a time and place for every demand, and right now, prioritizing the 6th schedule is the prudent approach.

Q. Having been in politics for so long and witnessed changes, how do you perceive the political situation today? Are there any notable changes?

I have had the privilege of working alongside leaders like Kushok Bakula Rinpoche and P Namgyal, who fought for the basic needs of the people, such as schools, colleges, bridges, and roads, with limited resources. The political landscape has shifted today, with leaders often emphasizing their contributions, which should be an inherent part of their responsibilities. Back then, leaders were more concerned with serving the people than showcasing their achievements. For instance, during Minister Sonam Nurboo's time, he used an 18-crore fund under PWD to build iron bridges in Nubra, Sham, and Rong, instead of using it for smaller, vote-winning projects.

However, the political landscape has changed. Today's leaders often focus on self-promotion and achievements. It's essential to discourage politics driven solely by money and power. Instead, we should work collaboratively for Ladakh's betterment, leaving behind petty disputes.

Message to the readers

"We, as Ladakhi, should stand united, setting aside our differences, and work together for the betterment of Ladakh. Just as we united for the cause of Union Territory status, let us now unite and strive for the constitutional safeguards of Ladakh under the 6th schedule."