Lakshadweep, which literally means one lakh islands in Malayalam, is an archipelago near the western coast of India and is an Indian Union Territory and a district. Lakshadweep forms a single Indian district and is governed by an administrator appointed by the President of India, just like any other Indian Union Territory, under article 239 of the constitution. All the administrators appointed by the President of India are people who have served years in the Indian Civil or Police service. However, the new administrator of Lakshadweep Praful Khoda Patel has no such history and the new administration has been found creating problems for the local population of the island lately.
Praful Patel has affiliations with the BJP and he has served as the Home Minister of Gujarat under Narendra Modi when Amit Shah was jailed in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Patel also has familial ties with the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh. In contrast to the background of Lakshadweep’s new administrator, the island is populated 97% by Muslims of Mappila and Malayalam origin who have accused Patel of destroying the island of Lakshadweep.
Let us take into account some legal facts to verify if the new administrator really is trying to destroy the communal fabric of the islands.
1. A Draft named Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) has been proposed by Patel which gives the administrator powers to remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity. The draft proposes to change the existing land ownership and usage in Lakshadweep by giving sweeping, arbitrary, unchecked powers to the government and all its bodies to directly interfere with an islander’s right to possess and retain their property. It empowers the government to pick any land it sees fit in the name of development with no regard for the owner of the land. Not only does this draft proposes to strip islanders of their properties, but it will also harm the environment destroying the fragile eco-system of Lakshadweep as the development includes harmful practices such as mining and quarrying in an island where the area is less than 5 sq km.
2. the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), introduced in January 2021, under which a person can be detained without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year. According to the data released by NCRB, Lakshadweep has not reported a single case of child abduction or murder. The administration wants to enforce the goonda act of that preventive degree in a more or less crime-free island where about 70,000 people live.
3. Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021: This draft proposes to put a ban on individuals to contest panchayat polls if he/she has more than 2 kids. “No person shall be a member of the gram panchayat or ‘continue as such’ who has more than 2 children, reads the draft”.
4. While India battles its horrific second wave, Lakshadweep is going through its first wave of COVID 19 having reported its first case of the virus in January this year.
The old guidelines and SOPs were highly successful in combating the infection to affect the union territory. Passengers were required to be quarantined for 7 days in guesthouses run by the UT administration in Kochi before they took an RT-PCR test. However, Patel did away with this quarantine period and allowed people to enter the island by merely showing a negative RT-PCR test from any ICMR approved lab. The island territory which was devoid of COVID cases until mid-January this year has about 6000+ cases now (which is a big chunk of population in an island of 70,000 people).
5. The administrator has also been accused of trying to interfere in the traditional life of the people of Lakshadweep by banning beef in a place where more than 98% of the population consumes beef and revoking the restrictions on alcohol in the name of tourism. The administration has also decided that islanders should no longer depend on Beypore, Kerala (a communist-run state) for freight transit. Instead, they should depend on Mangalore, Karnataka (a bjp run state) for this purpose.
While Kerala MP Elamaram Kareem wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday complaining about the “authoritarian rule of the administrator in Lakshadweep”, netizens have pointed out that Lakshadweep is another Kashmir in the making where the autonomy of the indigenous people is being revoked through laws and centralized authoritarianism. Hashtags of #savelakshadweep are already trending among Indian Twitterati.