Ladakh's top environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk has alleged the Union Territory's administration wants to silence him as he sits on a long fast in protest against destruction of the region's ecology and unsustainable development.
On Day 3 of his five-day fast to raise awareness about severe environmental exploitation of the region, Mr Wangchuk told NDTV the Ladakh administration is trying to force his hand into signing a bond to prevent him from spreading his message and reaching out to people.
He also tweeted a copy of what he claimed was the bond that he has been asked to sign to ensure he wouldn't make any statement or participate at public meetings for a month.
"I am under house arrest. In fact quite worse than that. If you're under house arrest, you know the rules clearly and you may even explore legal ways to counter it. But right now I am being kept at our institute and my movement is restricted," Mr Wangchuk, wrapped in a blanket amidst snow-capped mountains, told NDTV in a video statement.
He co-founded the Himalayan Institute of Alternative Ladakh, or HIAL, on whose grounds he has been fasting. Mr Wangchuk had planned his fast at Khardung La Pass, where the temperature could fall to minus 40 degree Celsius. He alleged the administration is trying to stop him from reaching Khardung La Pass.
"Calling lawyers of the world. The Ladakh Union Territory administration wants me to sign this bond even when only fasts and prayers are happening. Please advise. How right is it? Should I silence myself? I don't mind arrest at all," Mr Wangchuk tweeted, tagging Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
CALLING LAWYERS OF THE WORLD!!!— Sonam Wangchuk (@Wangchuk66) January 28, 2023
The #Ladakh UT administration wants me to sign this bond even when only fasts & prayers r happening
How right is it, should I silence myself!
I don't mind arrest at all#ClimateFast#6thSchedule#LiFE#saveladakh@AmitShah@narendramodipic.twitter.com/Lq0gZPOtOf
Good morning world!— Sonam Wangchuk (@Wangchuk66) January 28, 2023
Starting 3rd day of #ClimateFast outdoors, under heavy police presence...
don't worry it's all for my 'safety'
Thanks for all ur support. #SaveLadakh@AmitShah@narendramodi@UNFCCC@UNEP@LeoDiCapriopic.twitter.com/4HNxdI9TPq
The police told news agency PTI that when Mr Wangchuk tried to move towards Khardung La Pass, they requested him to return, but he resisted. He was brought back under lawful action to his institute, a police officer told PTI.
"He (Wangchuk) was not given permission by the administration to hold a five-day fast at Khardung La Pass as the temperatures fall below minus 40 degrees Celsius there. It was high risk for him and his followers to move to the place and accordingly, he was requested to observe the fast at his Himalayan Institute of Alternative Ladakh (HIAL) campus," Senior Leh Superintendent of Police PD Nitya told PTI.
Mr Wangchuk received the Magsaysay Award in 2018. His work had inspired the fictional character, Phunsukh Wangdu, played by actor Aamir Khan in the 2009 film "3 Idiots".
He has said that without preventive steps, unsustainable industries, tourism and commerce will continue to mushroom in Ladakh and finish the region eventually.
"Recent studies from Kashmir University and other research organisations have concluded that glaciers in Leh-Ladakh will finish nearly to their two-thirds if they are not properly taken care of. A study by Kashmir University has found that the glaciers surrounded by highways and human activities are melting at a comparatively faster rate," Mr Wangchuk said.
He has also asked the government to include the region in the 6th schedule of the Constitution, which allows administration of some tribal areas as autonomous entities.