Might consider hunger strike if Ladakh is not protected under the Constitution’ Sixth Schedule, the innovator tells Down To Earth
Sonam Wangchuk’s fast, which will begin Janauary 26, will be solar-powered and carbon-neutral.
Ladakhi environmentalist and innovator Sonam Wangchuk recently announced a five-day sanketic anshan, or symbolic fast, from January 26, 2023, to protect the eco-sensitive Union Territory.
In a 13-minute video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Wangchuk asked people to join him in protecting the environment and appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to help safeguard the region under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
Down To Earth talked to the innovator about the challenges Ladakh faces, how the people can help the environment and how he prepares to deal with the intense cold during his fast in the world’s highest motorable mountain pass, Khardung La. Here are some edited excerpts:
DTE: Your climate fast begins on January 26, Republic Day. How do you plan to battle the intense cold that reaches -40 degrees Celsius in pursuit of your higher goals?
Sonam Wangchuk: Going up to 18,000 feet is not unheard of; mountaineers go to even higher, colder locations. However, being on a fast makes it different and I will not be using mountaineering equipment.
The idea is to inflict some pain with the cold to draw the attention of the people and those in power towards Ladakh’s climate emergency and environmental fragility.
I will also use this opportunity to show climate-friendly solutions, as the fast will be solar-powered and carbon-neutral. I will only consume hot water heated by solar energy concentrators.
The light will be solar powered too and I am also designing a solar bed that will be exposed to the sun during the day, absorb its heat and release it at night.
DTE: In your address to the PM, you mentioned the inclusion of Ladakh in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Will that help the Union Territory fight the climate crisis?
SW: Ladakh needs to be saved on two fronts. The first one is external — industries, commerce and large tourism. Inclusion in the Sixth Schedule can help here.
The Union Territory can’t be treated like other regions in the country like Chandigarh or Lucknow — the region is eco-sensitive and fragile. The culture has adapted to these conditions and people happily live on just five litres of water daily.
The second is saving Ladakh from its own people. We need sensitivity while developing this region, which has been a problem after the abrogation of Article 370. The Schedule can’t help us here — we need to keep in mind the eco-sensitivity and fragility of the ecosystem and safeguard it.
The Himalayan glaciers feed around two billion people and half the Indian population. Just like we protect our water sources like the springs, we need to preserve these glaciers, which are the springs of the continent.
DTE: If the PM and home minister agree to participate in talks for Ladakh’s inclusion, what would be the step ahead?
SW: The first part of my appeal is urging the government to hold talks with Ladakh leaders. If that happens, I will still carry out a two-day symbolic fast, which appeals to the people. It is not just the people in office who can save this region. I would ask the people of India to switch to carbon-neutral lifestyles over their carbon-intensive ways.
The PM launched a new movement at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called ‘LiFE — Lifestyle For Environment’. I completely support this movement and want people in big cities to pledge to change their lifestyles on January 26.
The people can do a climate fast for one day in their homes and register their climate-friendly pledges at our website ilivesimply.org. I want at least a million people to pledge sustainable behaviour, which is the second part of my climate fast.
Bringing people to the discussion table is my goal, which is why this is a ‘symbolic’ fast. The government agreeing to give Ladakh protection under the Sixth Schedule would be the best-case scenario. Else, I will have to consider longer and more serious options.
DTE: What would these more serious options be?
SW: Gandhi ji has taught us about amaran anshan, or hunger strike till death, so that’s an option.
DTE: The Himalayas have been in the spotlight since around Christmas Day when Joshimath started subsiding rapidly. As a part of the Himalayas, Ladakh is not just eco-sensitive but also a strategic region. How do we balance these strategic needs with the needs of the Himalayan environment?
SW: We must defend our territory and the environment from ‘natural’ dangers like climate change and man-made ones like our not-so-friendly neighbouring countries, China and Pakistan. Defence takes priority, but activities like uranium mining are avoidable.
Defence need not be destructive either. That’s why we are building solar-heated shelters for the Indian Army to make it truly green. The Army and defence’s influence on nature should be harmless and benign. But if needed, defence should get a free-hand in the situation.
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