Climate Change

Sonam Wangchuk is right. All is not well with Ladakh’s glaciers

In October 2021, 31 glacial lakes and water bodies showed an increase in area by 20%, found CSE & DTE’s State of India’s Environment 2022: In Figures

By Nandita Banerji
Published: Monday 23 January 2023
Sonam Wangchuk ‘urgently’ appealed to people to help protect the environmentally sensitive region of Ladakh. Photo: Sonam Wangchuk / Twitter__

Innovator and environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for urgent intervention to protect Ladakh. Climate impact is visible in the Himalayas, with 25 glacial lakes and water bodies witnessing an increase in water spread area since 2009.

There has been a 40 per cent increase in water spread area in India, China and Nepal, posing a huge threat to seven Indian states and Union Territories, according to Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and Down To Earth’s report, State of India’s Environment 2022: In Figures

Read more: Sonam Wangchuk wins the Magsaysay

In October 2021, 31 glacial lakes and water bodies showed an increase in area by 20 per cent, the report found. The paper analysed data from Monitoring of glacial lakes and water bodies in the Himalayan region for Year 2021 for June to October by the Central Water Commission.

Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have seen the highest increase in water spread area from 2009-2020 at 388 per cent. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh are the other states/UTs at risk. 

Wangchuk is right to raise an alarm. The government has carried out studies and maintains data regarding melting of glaciers in the Indian Himalayan region.

Several institutes monitoring the Himalayan glaciers have reported accelerated heterogeneous mass loss

Wangchuk has ‘urgently’ appealed to people to help protect the environmentally sensitive region of Ladakh in a 13-minute video uploaded to his YouTube channel. He also asked the PM to safeguard the region under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

The clip was also titled Ladakh ke Mann ki Baat, drawing inspiration from the name of PM’s radio programme “Mann Ki Baat”. 

Locals have been demanding the inclusion of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule for a long time to ensure overall economic development and autonomy in decisions, the education reformer pointed out in the clip. The issue has also been previously raised in Parliament, but with no results. 

“Ladakh has nearly 95 per cent of the tribal population while the Constitution seeks 50 per cent of tribal population in an area for applicability of Sixth Schedule,” Wangchuk said. 

The environmentalist also brought up the Ladakh hill council elections won by the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2020 and the scrapping of Article 370 in 2019, which led to Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir separating as two UTs. 

The inclusion of Ladakh into the Schedule was promised many times, including by Union Minister of Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda, Wangchuk said. The non-inclusion is threatening the territory, with several businesses likely to expand in the area. 

This would add to the burden on the limited resources in Ladakh, like water, he pointed out. “Mining and such activities could melt glaciers. Moreover, Ladakh is strategically important for the military and has played a role in Kargil and other wars,” he further said. 

Read more: Store water in the sky

The famed engineer urged the PM and Union Home minister Amit Shah to take part in talks over the issue. 

Wagchuk will also hold a symbolic fast in the mountain pass Khardung La at a temperature of -40 degrees Celsius from January 26, Republic Day, for five days. “If I survive, I will see you,” he says while signing off.

“These glaciers will not live anymore if we continue doing such hazards to the Earth,” Wangchuk told news agency Asian News National (ANI)

The video was shared with the title “All is not well”, referring to the Bollywood film 3 Idiots, which was loosely based on the 56-year-old education reformist. 

On January 22, 2023, Wangchuk shared an update on the test-run of the “climate fast” he held at his rooftop amid -20°C temperatures in Ladakh. It was “successful”, he further shared. 

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