Opinion: China must change its flawed environmental policy in Tibet

Opinion: China must change its flawed environmental policy in Tibet
August 14, 2017

By Lobsang Sangay

The Guardian, August 7, 2017 – s Australia continues to battle a water crisis and the challenges facing the world’s driest inhabited continent, Tibet on the other hand is Asia’s water tower, its principal rainmaker and the largest source of fresh water, feeding over a billion lives in Asia including China.

At an average elevation of 4,000 meters above sea level and with an area of 2.5m sq km, Tibet is the world’s highest and largest plateau. It’s nearly two-third the size of the European continent. If Tibet were still a sovereign nation it would be the world’s tenth largest. It has the largest concentration of the world’s tallest mountains and is called the earth’s third pole because it has the largest reservoir of glacial ice after the two poles. Tibet is also a treasure trove of minerals, oil and natural gas reserves and a leading producer of lithium in China.

The Chinese scientists have over the years been proposing an increase in nature reserves across Tibet considering the fragile ecosystem on the plateau. In April this year China unveiled its grand plans on turning the entire stretch of Tibet into a national park.

The Chinese government has been declaring more and more national parks and nature reserves across Tibet in recent years, and this is a welcome gesture. The Chinese government must take into consideration the fragility and delicate nature of Tibet’s environment and reign in the factors that contribute to environmental crises in Tibet: rapid urbanisation, transfer of Chinese population into Tibet, unchecked mining on Tibet’s sacred mountains, and damming of Tibet’s rivers to facilitate hydro power projects.

In light of such robust projects, Tibetans are not only deprived of their traditional way of living, but are made peripheral beneficiaries of the projects.

The real beneficiaries are the Chinese officials who pocket their share of the gain, the Chinese companies and the Chinese employers benefitting from the economic opportunities.

We are not against Chinese developmental projects in Tibet per se, but we propose that the real beneficiaries of any development must be Tibetans in Tibet. Any projects that China undertake must be environmentally sustainable, culturally sensitive and economically beneficially to local Tibetans.

China’s rolling of its strategic and economic imperatives in Tibet has greater implications on the larger environmental consequences caused by climate change.

Today, the Chinese government’s flawed environmental and developmental policies have turned this resource-rich plateau and fragile ecosystem into a hub of its mining and dam building activities. This not only changes the water map of Asia for the worse but also contributes to an environmental crisis, which in turn contributes to climate change across Asia. The rising temperatures on the roof of the world make Tibet both a driver and amplifier of global warming.

2016 has been a year of natural disasters: a glacial avalanche in Aru in the Ngari region (Western Tibet), and mud floods and a landslide in Amdo (eastern Tibet). Between June and July 2017 alone, four distinct cases of floods were reported in Kham (south east region of Tibet). These are the cumulative effect of climate change.

More cases of natural disasters are imminent. The Chinese government must consider these impending threats and accordingly orient its urban development project towards mitigating the increasing threats posed by climate change.

China has escalated military control over Tibetan borders, expanded mining based on the rich resources of the Tibetan plateau in order to fuel China’s economic development and has dramatically expanded infrastructure with a strategic road and rail network. It seeks to raise the productivity of the industrial cities of Xi’an, Chongqing and Chengdu at the foot of the Tibetan plateau and to address the progressive scarcity of water resources in the North and North-East of China with water sourced in Tibet.

Tibet is facing two critical issues: Its political and environmental future. Of the two, the latter is a bigger issue given the implications for Asia and the rest of the world.

Dalai Lama says strong action on climate change is a human responsibility.

Tibet symbolises the three crises that confront Asia today; a natural resources crisis, an environmental and a climate crisis. These three are interlinked and potentially pose a threat to the ecological wellbeing and climate security not just of Asia but even of Europe, North America and Australia. According to leading scientists, the recent heat waves in Europe are linked to loss of ice on the Tibetan plateau. A team led by Hai Lin, an atmospheric scientist at Environment Canada in Quebec found that the greater snow-cover in Tibet, the warmer the winter in Canada.

Such formidable scenarios demand greater global attention and a forward-looking leadership to assuage the larger affects of an environmental crisis befalling Tibet. The world leaders must act prudently and not allow political constrains to dwarf redressal mechanism at institutional level to an impending global environmental crisis.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan from the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego has rightly said that “our understanding of global climate change would be incomplete without taking into consideration what’s happening to the Tibetan plateau.”

Tibet’s environment impinges on regional and global security. The global efforts to reign in China’s policies in Tibet underpinning an oversight of the importance of Tibet’s environment and sensitivity over its fragile ecosystem, must be robust. In the age of climate change the future of Asia and by extension that of our planet Earth hinges on the developments in Tibet, the roof of the world.

India raises Tibet concerns with China

India raises Tibet concerns with China
July 31, 2017

Press Trust of India, July 28, 2017 – There is no quid pro quo with China on the issue of “sufferings” of the Tibetan people and stapled visas being given to Arunachal Pradesh residents by Beijing, government said on Thursday.

There is no quid pro quo with China on the two issues, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha replying to questions on the two issues.

Responding to supplementaries on the issue of stapled visa to Arunachal residents by China, she said “the issue has been raised in every bilateral meeting at various levels, be it at my level or that of the Prime Minister. The issue has been raised by us.”

Asked about India’s stand on Tibet, she said “we used to earlier talk of One China policy, but we used to say that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. And when we say that, we want that China should also recognise this. Our policy has been made very clear.”

On the issue of whether India remained a mute spectator towards the alleged atrocities in Tibet, the Minister said “We are not sitting as a mute spectator. Whenever there are differences, we raise them.”

She said the Dalai Lama wanted to visit Tawang and “we allowed him to do so”. This is not the first time but the fifth or sixth time that he is visiting that place.

“Whatever issue that is there that goes against India’s interest, we lodge our protest,” Ms Swaraj said.

To a question, she said there was no policy under which Chinese companies are denied security permission. She also objected to a member raising the issue of a particular Chinese company in the House.

She said that denial of security permission to one particular company cannot determine the relations between the two countries. She said it done under a process and if a Japanese or a Korean company applied, they get it first.

To another question on the cancellation of a visit of Indian journalists to Tibet by China, Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar said there is no official information from China about it.

He said Indian journalists are independent and take their decisions independently and it was between them and the Chinese authorities about the visit to Tibet.

“As far as the visit being cancelled, officially we don’t have any information. It is between the journalists and the host country,” he said.

Mr Akbar said in 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Xi Jinping in Astana, a close development partnership issue was raised and both countries decided to increase people-to-people and media contacts and decided to do everything to bring the two countries together.

“We will continue to make such efforts and take them forward,” he said, adding that a high-level media forum has been established to further strengthen media exchanges. The last meeting of this media forum was held in Beijing in February 2015.

“Government has no details of such a visit because the government was not approached by the host agency or the journalists for assistance,” he said in a written reply.

Tibetan man self-immolates in India, 2nd this month

Tibetan man self-immolates in India, 2nd this month
July 31, 2017

By Lalit Mohan

Tribune News Service, July 29, 2017 – Charred remains of an unidentified Tibetan youth were found in a forest below the Dalai Lama temple at Mcleodganj on Saturday causing quite a stir in the area.

While many Tibetans suspected that it could be another act of self-immolation, police say anything in the matter could only be said after post-mortem.

Sources said the body was noticed by a Tibetan passerby at about 4 pm. He told Tibetan settlement officials that the body of a Tibetan was on fire in a forest, who further informed police.

As the word spread a large number of residents of Mcleodganj started gathering at the spot. Many Tibetan websites cast apprehensions that this could be another self-immolation by a Tibetan.

In last two years more than 150 Tibetans have committed self-immolation to protest against the Chinese rule in Tibet. While most of them have committed self-immolation inside Tibet, two have taken the extreme step in India.

Sources added that the place where charred remains of the youth have been recovered is used by Tibetans to invoke the deities through incense ceremonies.

The DSP (Headquarters) who was present at the spot said a forensic team has been called to examine the body and the spot where it was found.

A Tibetan youth who had committed self-immolation in Varanasi two weeks ago was cremated in Mcleodganj by the Tibetan Youth Congress.

Another Tibetan youth who had committed self-immolation in Delhi was also cremated in Mcleodganj.

China closes brick factory created to support Tibetan monastery

China closes brick factory created to support Tibetan monastery
July 17, 2017

Radio Free Asia, July 14, 2017 – Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province have closed two facilities set up to provide income for a local Tibetan monastery, calling the move part of a drive to improve the local environment, Tibetan sources say.

The two facilities, one a brick works and the other a sand-sifting plant, had been operated by the Ragya monastery in Qinghai’s Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) prefecture for many years, a Tibetan living in South India told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“But recently, Chinese authorities arrived to shut them down,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity and citing contacts in Golog.

“They claim that they are doing this so that they can plant trees and clean up the environment in the area, but they are creating a real nuisance and disturbance with this order,” he said.

“The sand plant and brick works that they closed were the main source of income for Ragya monastery,” he added.

Local authorities are meanwhile building bridges and highways nearby “in a tight-lipped scheme to mine natural resources in the area,” RFA’s source said, adding that excavations on nearby Machen mountain are continuing without a break.

“The Chinese mining on Machen mountain has not stopped, and the welfare of the Tibetan people is being completely ignored,” he said.

Mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth.

In August 2015, security forces in Qinghai attacked and beat a group of elderly Tibetan villagers and women who were blocking construction of a dam, injuring an unknown number and later detaining several, sources said in earlier reports.

The group had sought since the beginning of the year to halt the work near Seching village in the Yadzi (Xunhua) Salar Autonomous County amid concerns it could be linked to mining operations in the area, an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Tibetan student self-immolates in India

Tibetan student self-immolates in India
July 17, 2017

Al Jazeera, July 16, 2017 – A Tibetan student has self-immolated in India after shouting “freedom”, police said on Saturday, injuring himself critically.

Tenzin Choeying set himself on fire on Friday at the Central University for Tibetan Studies in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state.

Self-immolation has regularly been used as a protest against China’s actions in Tibet. But Indian police said they are also investigating the 20-year-old’s recent exam failures as being a possible cause for his actions.

The International Campaign for Tibet identified the student as Tenzin Choeying. It quoted Chime Namgyal, head of the Tibetan Youth Congress activist group in Varanasi, as saying Choeying shouted “Victory to Tibet”.

Tenzin Tsundue, who visited Choeying at the hospital in Varanasi, told Al Jazeera that the patient is expected to survive.

“He is stable, the next five days are crucial, the doctor says,” he wrote in a Whatsapp message to Al Jazeera.

“My concern, as his brother, is to arrange for him the best treatment, and get him back to life.”

Tsundue also sent to Al Jazeera a note, which he said Choeying wrote before the incident.

In it, Choeying wrote in English, “Please don’t cry. Tell everyone that my body is for Tibet.”

Police said they were still investigating and will take statements from Choeying and his family. “The boy is recovering at the hospital. He can speak but has around 50 percent burns,” Sanjay Tripathi, a Varanasi police spokesman, told AFP news agency.

Religious repression accusations

China says its troops “liberated” Tibet in 1951, but many Tibetans accuse the government of religious repression and eroding their culture.

China rejects the accusations and blames the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who lives in exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala, of inciting self-immolations in a bid to split Tibet from the rest of the nation.

A young farmer self-immolated in southwest China in March, the first Tibetan to set himself on fire in 2017.

The Tibetan government-in-exile in India said he was the 146th Tibetan to self-immolate since 2009. Choeying is the not the first Tibetan to set himself on fire in India. A Tibetan exile set himself alight and died two days later in New Delhi in 2012.

Under pressure from China, Botswana dumps the Dalai Lama

Under pressure from China, Botswana dumps the Dalai Lama
July 17, 2017

By Mpho Tebele

The Southern Times, July 17, 2017 – In what is seen as fearing a backlash from China, Botswana has distanced itself from the planned visit by exiled Tibet spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

In a statement, government spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay said that in light of ongoing domestic and international media reports, the government of Botswana has no official involvement in a three-day conference entitled “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama Spirituality, Science and Humanity.” The event is scheduled for 17-19 August 2017.

Ramsay said that contrary to information released by the event’s apparent organisers “Mind and Life Institute,” President Khama “shall not be delivering the opening address at the event; neither shall he be participating in the said conference in any other way.”

“We further wish to affirm that, contrary to speculation in some quarters, the Government of Botswana will not be accommodating or otherwise extending official hospitality to Lhamo Thondup, otherwise known as Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, should he visit our country,” read Ramsay’s statement.

“Finally we wish to hereby affirm, again contrary to information circulated by the ‘Mind and Life Institute,’ that the Botswana Government’s Chief of Protocol is not acting as a contact person for the event.”

Asked if it made a u-turn fearing a backlash from China, the Botswana government said consistent with the United Nations, Botswana like virtually all jurisdictions in the world, upholds the one-China principle in its official relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In a rare visit to Africa, the Dalai Lama is set for a three –day sojourn in Botswana in August at the invitation of a non-profit group called Mind and Dialogue in Botswana.

South Africa has previously denied the Dalai Lama visa for fear angering China which hold Tibet to be part of its sovereign territory.

The Dalai Lama seeks autonomy for Tibet but the Chinese government insists it is already autonomous and accuses him of seeking independence.

Immigration and Gender Affairs Minister Edwin Batshu has since confirmed that government has approved a visa for the Dalai Lama. A member of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi (House of Chiefs) recently expressed a worry that the visit by the Dalai Lama has already shown that that it has caused some diplomatic tension between Gaborone and Beijing.

According to The Patriot newspaper, as a warning shot, Chinese embassy in Gaborone has suspended all the scholarship and workshops that they used to sponsor government officials to China.

The paper reports that Beijing has instructed its embassy in Gaborone to suspend sponsorship seminars adding that most of the training were supposed to start in July and none of those that were supposed to travel to China have been called. The Chinese embassy declined to discuss the issue.

The only country that has stood against China over the Dalai Lama is India which has ignored all the appeals by Beijing not to honour the Dalai Lama. Following the Dalai Lama’s visit to India’s north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, China slammed India for facilitating his visit to the area saying the visit has severely damaged the two countries relations. While India has stated that his visit to the area was purely religious in nature and urged

China not to create artificial controversy over the visit, it also urged Beijing not to interfere in India’s internal affairs.

In May this, the Chinese government also criticised the USA for sending a bipartisan delegation of American lawmakers to India to visit the exiled spiritual leader.

China pursues an aggressive One-China policy through which it wants the world to accept that there is only one China and no independent states of Taiwan and Tibet. On account of advocating for an independent Tibet, China sees the Dalai Lama as a separatist.

China regularly deploys its economic and political muscle to pressure governments to limit contact with the Dalai Lama.

India-China Standoff in High Himalayas Pulls In Tiny Bhutan

India-China Standoff in High Himalayas Pulls In Tiny Bhutan


A tense standoff between India and China in the high Himalayas is being played out not on the disputed borders between the two Asian giants, but on a plateau claimed by China and Bhutan. Many analysts say the face off is also a play for power in the tiny, strategically located country, which is India’s closest ally in South Asia, but where Beijing wants to increase its presence. Indian troops obstructed a Chinese road-building project at Doklam Plateau around mid-June. The area also known as “Chicken’s Neck” is hugely strategic for India because it connects the country’s mainland to its northeastern region. New Delhi cites its treaties with Bhutan, with which it has close military and economic ties, for keeping its soldiers in the area despite strident calls by Beijing to vacate the mountain region. As the standoff drags on, there are fears in New Delhi that Beijing is also testing its ties with Bhutan, the tiny nation that has made gross national happiness its mantra, but where worries are growing about a big power conflict on its doorstep. Analysts point out that China wants to wean Bhutan away from India and expand ties with a country with which it has no diplomatic ties. “At a strategic level, China would like to separate India from Bhutan, they would like to open up Bhutan to their greater influence, that goes without saying,” said Manoj Joshi, a strategic affairs analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

One small move at a time

According to political analysts, it is not the first time the Chinese have built a road in a disputed area in Bhutan, which has a disputed border with China at several places in the high Himalayas. “They have done the same in other areas, built roads in mountains and valleys and then claimed it was their territory during border negotiations,” said a Bhutanese political analyst who did not want to be identified. “It has been a hot button issue here, and has been repeatedly debated in parliament.” These “encroachments” are seen as efforts by Beijing to muscle into Bhutan in the same manner as it has done in South China Sea. Analysts call it a “salami slicing” tactic. But Bhutan, which worries about being drawn into the rivalry between the two large neighbors, has maintained a studied silence on the latest dispute, except to issue one demarche calling on Beijing to restore the status quo in the area. “Bhutan has done well, so far, to avoid both the fire from the Dragon on our heads and also the Elephant’s tusks in our soft underbelly. We must keep it this way,” Bhutanese journalist Tenzing Lamsang wrote for The Wire. Despite some calls in Bhutan to settle its border with China without worrying about Indian interests, political analysts say public opinion largely favors New Delhi’s firm stand on the Doklam plateau.

Influence at stake

While keeping the Chinese out of the strategic plateau is India’s immediate concern, there is also concern about maintaining its influence in Bhutan, which is a buffer between China and India. India has watched warily as Beijing has steadily increased its presence in its neighborhood in recent years as countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have also been increasingly drawn into the Chinese sphere of influence by the promise of massive investments in roads, ports and other infrastructure. In India there are concerns that the same should not happen in Bhutan, its most steadfast ally. Saying the Chinese have been applying pressure on the Bhutanese border, analyst Manoj Joshi said. “If Bhutan were to go the way of say Nepal, where Indian influence is now questioned, it would make a difference, that buffer would vanish.” India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar this week expressed confidence that India and China have the maturity to handle their latest dispute and it will be handled diplomatically. “I see no reason why, when having handled so many situations in the past, we would not be able to handle it,” he said. But while in the past such border standoffs have been resolved quickly, this time around there are no signs the issue is getting resolved, nearly a month after it erupted.

Tibetan villagers fight eviction from their land in Chamdo

Tibetan villagers fight eviction from their land in Chamdo
July 10, 2017

Radio Free Asia, July 6, 2017 – Tibetan villagers living in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture are resisting local authorities’ orders to vacate their land, vowing to petition higher levels of government for permission to stay, a source living in the region says.

The land, which is shared by Pashoe (in Chinese, Basu) county’s Nara and Dziwa villages, has been farmed by villagers and their ancestors for centuries, but has now been claimed by Pema township officials for development, an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Authorities say they need the land for the construction of hospitals and schools and other public places, and are offering low levels of compensation for those now living there,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Houses, farming fields, and orchards are all being claimed, the source said.

“Villagers believe that this attempt to take their land for so little money is a corrupt plot and that officials will, in turn, sell the land for commercial development at a much higher rate to Chinese businessmen and their relatives,” he said.

Chinese officials are now using threats to force villagers to sign hand-over agreements by July 20, and are claiming that their orders to seize the land come from “all levels of the Chinese government,” the source said.

“But villagers believe that no orders have been given by higher authorities, and that the plan to take their land comes only from the county chief and a few other officials.”

“[The villagers] are determined now to seek intervention by China’s central government and to bring their grievances to the highest authorities,” the source said.

In April, nearly 200 Tibetan families living in Pashoe and neighboring Dzogang (Zuogang) county were ordered to leave their homes to make way for an unspecified government construction project, with the move to new locations to be made at their own expense, sources told RFA in an earlier report.

Chinese development projects in Tibetan areas have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms and local officials of improperly seizing land and disrupting the lives of local people.

Many result in violent suppression, the detention of protest organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government’s wishes.

Reported by Dawa Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney

Vancouver soccer festival welcomes Tibetan women’s team

Vancouver soccer festival welcomes Tibetan women’s team
July 10, 2017

By Nathan Caddell

Georgia Straight, July 7, 2017 – This weekend marks the 13th year of the Vancouver International Soccer Festival and the tournament has been making headlines for featuring an unlikely contender.

Indeed, among the amateur teams in the tourney is a women’s squad from Tibet.

The 14 women, age 16 to 20, all Tibetan refugees living in India or Nepal, were initially supposed to be guests of the Dallas Cup, an international youth soccer tournament in Texas, but their visa applications were denied by the American government.

That’s when Adri Hamael, founder and executive director of the VISF, picked up the phone.

“It was all over the news that Team Tibet was denied entry to play in the Dallas Cup, and the wheels started turning in my head,” says Hamael over the phone to the Straight. “Number one, I was really angry about it because how much threat are 15 Tibetan women to the United States of America? Or anyone? So my anger gave up to ‘I need to get this team to come to Canada.’ ”

At the time Hamael wasn’t aware how challenging it would be to arrange for the women to travel to Canada and play. Getting the women visas was made easier due to help from the Canadian embassy.

“Our government opened their arms and said ‘Yes.’ I was kind of shocked.”

With the fundraising for the plane trip already in place due to the expected flight to Dallas, Hamael said that the tournament covered the rest of the costs.

“They fundraised for their own plane tickets. These girls aren’t just a charity case, they worked hard to prepare for the Dallas Cup, including raising $20,000 for their plane tickets. I offered to pay for all other expenses. They are staying with us for two weeks, we are paying for their accommodation, their training facilities, food, transportation, which is a significant cost.”

It wasn’t all easy, however, as Hamael cut ties with both the B.C. Soccer Association and Canadian Soccer Association over what he brands as “unnecessary scrutiny”.

“I just think it’s against our principles to single out one team and say ‘this team needs a special permit to play in a tournament, when inclusion is the core value of what we do,” says Hamael.

“Why aren’t you asking me for this on all other participating teams? They were asking me for documents I cannot provide. Because there are no Tibetan football federations accredited and affiliated with FIFA. So I regretfully cancelled my sanctioning with the B.C. and Canadian soccer associations and moved forward.”

In all, the team will be in Vancouver for two weeks. So far, the team has spent the first several days practising with Canadian soccer legend Andrea Neil and touring around the city.

And while it’s the first time a women’s team from Tibet has faced international competition, the VISF was started on a platform of trying to include players from different nations on its fields, no matter their country’s geopolitical status.

“I started it explicitly to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” says Hamael, a Palestinian-Canadian himself. “It started with bringing teams from Israel and Palestine and, instead of pitting them against each other, we formed a team of half-Palestinians, half-Israelis, where they played as one team united against all ethnic local teams and First Nations.”

That first tournament was played at Connaught Park with eight teams. The 13th edition takes place at Empire Field with 30 different cultures represented.

While most fly under the moniker of a specific country, there are also teams representing the Musqueam First Nation and last year’s women’s champs, the Native Indian Football Association. There’s also a Newcomer team, which features refugees from the last year or two.

One thing you won’t find is a team of all men, explains Hamael.

“We used to have men’s teams, but I wanted to promote peace and men can be very intense.”

India sets conditions for Tibetans to get passports, says move out of settlements

India sets conditions for Tibetans to get passports, says move out of settlements
July 3, 2017

Hindustan Times, June 26, 2017 – The Tibetan community is in a fix with the Narendra Modi-led government saying give up refugee status for Indian passport. Tibetans says getting a passport may make them homeless.

Tibetans seeking an Indian passport will need to leave their settlements and forfeit privileges and benefits from the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which is the Tibetan government-in-exile headquartered in McLeodganj near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, the external affairs ministry said in its recent order.

A letter by the Bengaluru regional passport office on June 6 listed four conditions for Tibetans seeking an Indian passport.

“Registration/refugee certificate (RC) and identity certificate should be cancelled; the applicant should not be staying in designated Tibetan refugee settlements; an undertaking that he/she no longer enjoys CTA benefits; and a declaration that he/she no longer enjoys any privileges, including subsidies by being an RC holder,” the letter says.

India is home to an estimated 1.5 lakh Tibetans, most of who live in 35 settlements across the country from Himachal Pradesh to Karnataka.

A monk in Bengaluru was asked by the regional passport officer not only to surrender his RC or stay permit for Tibetans but also fulfil the conditions as per the new rules.

“The CTA has clarified that to apply for an Indian passport is a personal choice of any Tibetan. So we can’t say anything about the new rules,” an official of the Tibetan government-in-exile said.

He was unwilling to be named as he’s not authorised to speak to the media.

‘Getting passport makes us homeless’

In September 2016, the Delhi high court ruled that Tibetans born in India on January 26, 1950, to July 1, 1987, are Indian citizens by birth and should be issued passports under the citizenship act. The order was passed on a public interest litigation by Lobsang Wangyal, the founder of the Miss Tibet pageant, and two others.

“The MEA’s riders have put Tibetans in a dilemma. Getting a passport may make us homeless. This is like asking a Tibetan to become homeless for a second time. We have been asked to leave the home where we were born and have lived our life,” says Wangyal.

He said two Tibetan women from Karnataka’s Bylakuppe, who applied for a passport in Bengaluru, were told that they must provide a different address other than their settlement if their applications were to be processed.

“The rules are ambiguous when they say that an applicant can no longer enjoy CTA benefits,” Wangyal says.

He says the CTA is an independent entity run by exiled Tibetans to work for a free Tibet and the welfare of the community. The order means that Tibetans, after getting an Indian passport, are no longer a part of the CTA.

Wangyal says quoting a lawyer, Simarpal Sawhney, that the new MEA rules for Tibetans violate Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution and can be challenged in court.

He says due to lack of clarity about the order among officials at regional passport offices, Tibetans are being denied the Indian passport.