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SOS from Roof Of The World: Magsaysay Award Winner Sonam Wangchuk’s Climate Fast In Ladakh

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As Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk expresses his worries over corporate expansion in Ladakh and undertakes a Climate Fast in an effort to draw attention to these issues, the Roof of the World is facing threats of environmental damage which require urgent attention from the Prime Minister.

As the Roof of the World, Ladakh has long been a source of natural beauty and a refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life. But all is not well in Ladakh as Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk recently wrote in his SOS to Prime Minister Modi expressing his worries and discontent over corporate expansion in the region. In an effort to draw attention to these issues, Sonam Wangchuk undertook a Climate Fast, making a public call for the Prime Minister to take immediate action to protect the fragile environment of Ladakh.

He initiated his five-day “climate fast” in the 18,000-foot-high Khardungla pass where the temperature is -40°C to bring attention to the gravity of the crisis in Ladakh. Wangchuk began his “climate fast” on January 26, Republic Day. However, his original planning to fast at the Khardung La was disrupted in the end due to the extreme temperature drop to -40 degree celsius. Therefore, he wasn’t allowed to continue anymore. Later, he began his fast at his institute where the last recorded temperature at night was -20 degree celsius. 

Wangchuk, besides being an innovator and engineer, is the inspiration behind Amir Khan’s iconic character in “3 Idiots”. Although the movie taught millions of Indians the ideals of non-conformity and the seductiveness of the unconventional, it glazed over Wangchuk’s most significant contribution: his passion for climate action.  The Ladakh-based engineer is known for setting up his innovative school, the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), whose campus runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting, or heating

Why is Wangchuk on a climate fast right now?

The main agenda behind this solitary protest is to get Ladakh added to the 6th schedule of the Indian constitution. The 6th schedule essentially gives certain regions economic and social autonomy. The criteria to be added to the 6th schedule is that the region in question must have more than 50% tribal population. Ladakh with over 95% tribal population has been assured by the Minister of Tribal affairs that the inclusion would be actualized. This issue has also been raised in the parliament multiple times but no concrete decision or step has been taken. 

The people of Ladakh are in a state of perplexity. How can the center which listened to their demand for union territory status be neglecting them now? The autonomy which would come as a result of being included in the 6th schedule would give the tribal people the power to decide how their resources should be utilized. The current crisis of corporate takeover would worsen the already acute scarcity of resources like water. Mining and other similar activities may cause glaciers to melt.

Wangchuk has previously stated that the urban population should realize its role in exacerbating the climate crisis. He used the situation in the North Mountain region to showcase the devastating effects of the climate crisis. 

Wangchuk has recently ended his fast at the Himalayan Institute of Alternative Ladakh. He said in a video statement, “I have been asked to sign a bond…Three innocent teachers of my school have been taken to the police station, so that they force me to sign the bond….The way youth have been kept unemployed and are being oppressed, this can happen. But remember, we will not let this happen.”

He also added, “Today is the fifth and last day of my climate fast, for the safeguard of mountains, glaciers, land, and people of Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution…Since my climate fast has twin purposes- to draw the attention of Hon’ble Prime Minister towards Ladakh, and to draw the attention of people around India and world to live simpler, carbon neutral lives- I am putting up a solar exhibition here.” 

Wangchuk held a press conference to answer questions regarding his “climate fast” and the situation in Ladakh.

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