Locals say that the recent military disengagement around a disputed area puts their livelihoods at risk. They accuse New Delhi of turning its territory into a buffer zone to provide significant concessions to Beijing.Local villagers say that the recent process of disengaging Indian and Chinese troops from the disputed area of Ladakh caused around 120 square kilometers (74 square miles) of Kugrang Valley -- comprising major pastures for Pashmina goats in the region's cold desert -- to be turned into a buffer zone.
They accuse New Delhi of failing to deter Beijing's expansionist plans along the de facto border between India and China known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
"We are in shock. How can the government surrender our territory? These scarce pastures are our lifeline. Without them our livestock will perish and so will our livelihood," said Acho Stobgais, the head of Ladakh's Phobrang village.
At least 4,500 Pashmina goats, 700 yaks and other livestock of 113 families of Phobrang, Lukum and Urgo villages are dependent on the pastures of Kugrang Valley, which has become a no-go area for both Indian soldiers and civilians, Stobgais said.
Does disengagement in Ladakh hand concessions to China?
Stobgais, who worked as a driver for the Indian Army between 2019-20, contested the Indian government's claim that the area has been restored to the pre-standoff period, before April 2020.
Instead, he said New Delhi gave significant concessions to Beijing for reasons unknown to him by creating demilitarizing zones on its own territory.
"I used to pick up ration for the Indian Army from Karam Singh Hill, near the mouth of Kugrang, and drive 30 kilometers to PP-16, which was housing the Indian Army base camp," Stobgais said. "From there, I drove the Indian Army several times upto 11 kilometers to PP-15 towards Galwan Valley."
In 2011, the Indian border guards would patrol 8 kilometers further from PP-15 up to Alpha-3 pass towards the LAC, Stobgais added.
"Now, the whole Kugrang Valley has been surrendered," he pointed out. "The biggest surprise is that the government allowed removal of barracks of Indian border guards at PP-16, which had been there since 1962, and moved back to Karam Singh Hill."
"We are worried about this unfortunate turn of events. If India continues giving asymmetric concessions to China, time is not far when the PLA [China's People's Liberation Army] will overrun our villages," Stobgais said.
Stobgais urged India to include local elected leaders in the negotiations with China as they know about the limits of Indian territory in the disputed mountainous region.