The Goba of Ladakh: Current Relevance of a Traditional Governance System


This report documents the traditional governance systems in Ladakh and explains its relevance in the present social, political, administrative landscape. The report brings out the interface between the traditional system and modern institutions of governance and makes broader policy recommendations to strengthen local governance in Ladakh.

The report has been compiled by Shrishtee Bajpai, Ashish Kothari along with Tsewang Namgail, Karma Sonam, and Kunzang Deachen. The study is a collaborative effort between Kalpavriksh, Snow Leopard Conservancy - India Trust, Nature Conservation Foundation, Local Futures and Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation.

The report primarily studies the goba (lambardar/nambardar) system in Ladakh. Goba, the report states, is a village headman who acts as a representative of the village with "social and cultural-ritual responsibilities”. The system has been recognised under the Jammu and Kashmir’ Lambardari Act, in 1972. The goba comes under the revenue department. The goba and patwari (revenue officer) work together on curating information on land, population, livestock and more.

The research for the report began in the year 2021. The study was carried out in four parts of Leh district: the Sham region, the Gya-Rumtse area, Leh town and surrounds, and Changthang. The team conducted semi- structured one-to-one or group interviews or conversations with relevant people including the local-regional administration, communities, researchers, activists, among others.

The report states that the goba system remains relevant for the people of Ladakh. It displays some elements of ‘direct democracy’ and is a place-based process of decision making that is often cognizant of the importance and limits of local ecological contexts. It is seen as a relatively apolitical (i.e., independent of political parties) position which is seen as more neutral than the sarpanch. However, it has its own weakness related to caste and gender dynamics, the report adds.

This 80-page report is divided into five sections: Introduction and background (Chapter 1); The Goba System (Chapter 2); Relationship with new or modern institutional structures (Chapter 3); Analysis (Chapter 4); Recommendation (Chapter 5).

Over the last two decades, due to several struggles of better governance in Ladakh, varied administrative and political changes have taken place, the report states. These changes – such as the formation of Autonomous Hill Council, panchayat, or the recent Union Territory status – have been undertaken without adequate understanding and linkages with the traditional systems. This, the report states, has resulted in considerable overlaps in the key functions between the goba and the sarpanch/panchayat, or the local councillor. This disrupts the local governance substantially.

The report recommends the following steps: i) Greater recognition, incentives and facilities to the Goba; ii) Steps to tackle gender and caste issues within the goba system; iii) Clearer lines of governance between goba and other governance institutions. This would require amending relevant laws, including the LAHDC Act, J&K Panchayati Act, to ensure that the goba is consulted in relevant community matters; iv) Granting the status of 6th schedule in the Constitution of India to Ladakh “because of its unique sociocultural and ecological character."

Focus by Shrishtee Bajpai and Ashish Kothari.


Shrishtee Bajpai, Ashish Kothari with Tsewang Namgail, Karma Sonam, and Kunzang Deachen


Kalpavriksh, Snow Leopard Conservancy - India Trust, Nature Conservation Foundation, Local Futures and Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation