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We Need To #SaveLakshwadeep, Because Patel’s Actions Are A ‘Recipe For Disaster’

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Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands, located off the coast of Kerala. It comprises 10 inhabited islands with a  combined population of only 64,429 people (2011 census). It finds itself in the middle of a controversy now.

The hashtag #SaveLakshadweep was trending on Twitter due to the four bills introduced by its present administrator, Praful Khoda Patel.

Usually, people at the Joint Secretary Level are entrusted with the post of Lakshadweep’s Administrator. But, towards the end of 2020, a non-IAS officer, Patel, took charge as the 35th Administrator of the island. He also happens to be the administrator of Daman and Diu as well as Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

In India, we have approximately 4,926 IAS officers and lots of educated politicians. Yet, the government handed over three union territories (UTs) to the same person. Why?

The administrator of Lakshadweep (left), seen here with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, is in the line of fire for his highhandedness. Photo credit: Praful Patel, Facebook.

Now, let’s discuss the bills introduced by this man in greater detail.

The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021

“The law disqualifies those with more than two children from getting elected to the Gram Panchayat. However, the law will not disqualify anyone having more than two children, if they have been elected before the regulation has been modified; or more than one child born in single delivery within the period of one year from the date of such commencement.”

The same norms have also been enacted in other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujrat, Maharashtra, Uttrakhand, Odisha and Karnataka. In 2021, Assam became the latest state to do so with a view of controlling its population.

Population is a major concern in India. But, if one sees the population of Lakshadweep (64,429), one is bound to question the legitimacy of the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021, in a small union territory with a low population.

The Animal Preservation Regulation

This regulation states that, “Notwithstanding any law for the time being in force or any usage to the contrary, no person shall slaughter or cause to be slaughtered any animal unless, he has obtained in respect of such animal a certificate in writing from the competent authority appointed for the area that the animal is fit for slaughter.”

It goes on to add that, “No certificate shall be granted in respect of cow, calf, bull or bullock.”

This regulation has stirred controversy because of the beef ban. In India, cows are considered to be sacred by some Hindus. So, people prefer to sell buffalo or ox meat as beef. But, if we see the current trade law of India, which regulates the import and export of beef, it refers to beef as the meat of cow, oxen and calf.

India has a diverse culture with different types of eating habits. For instance, some Hindus don’t consume cow meat and Muslims don’t consume pig meat. However, if we see the north-eastern region of India, a majority of the seven states’ population consumes beef as a part of their staple diet.

This made the government decide not to ban beef there. If we see Lakshadweep’s population, 64.8% of it consumes beef. Apart from this, it is a Muslim-majority territory, with no religious sanction against the consuming of cow meat.

If the ruling government didn’t ban beef in the north-eastern region, then why ban it in Lakshadweep?

The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation

This regulation intends, “To provide for preventive detention (up to 1 year) of bootleggers, dangerous person, drug offenders, immoral traffic offenders, property grabbers, cyber offenders, money lending offenders, cruel person, depredators of environment and sexual offenders for preventing their anti-social and dangerous activities prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.”

This regulation also intends to “prevent a person from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.”

As per the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), it shows that the Lakshadweep archipelago reports the least number of violent crimes in the country. According to the NCRB report (2019),  Lakshadweep had zero cases of murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery and dacoity.

But, there have been crimes which are not directly related to the people of the islands, however, they happened on its coast. In 2019, intelligence reports suggested that ISIS terrorists’ movement was observed and Kerala coast was on high-alert, as the boat suspected to be carrying 15 ISIS terrorists was said to be approaching Lakshadweep.

In March ’21, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard conducted a swift operation in tandem with each other and Lakshadweep’s administrator. They found a boat of Sri Lankan origin, loaded with heroin, AK-47s & 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

The movement of terror and narcotic supplies was tracked by the Indian Navy in the coast of Kerala (Kochi) and Lakshadweep.

Is this the reason behind enacting the Goonda Act or is there more to it?

When we see the actions taken by  administrator Patel in Daman and Diu, it clearly shows that the real motive behind implementing this regulation is not to stop terror activity  on the coast, but to start a development plan.

If any local or outsider questions this development plan, the administrator can easily detain them up to a year. Moreover, the person won’t be entitled to any legal proceedings.

Therefore, I believe that the Goonda Act is not to save the islanders, but to save businessmen from potential protests against their capitalist interests.

The Land Development Authority Regulation

This regulation empowers the administrator to constitute a Planning & Development Authority. Furthermore, it gives them the right to plan the development of any area identified as having a “bad layout or obsolete development” and only cantonment areas will be exempt from this.

Patel declared that he wants to transform Lakshadweep into the next Maldives and that, with development, he can attract tourists. For this plan, ₹700 crore has been allocated, which would include a central subsidy worth ₹250 crore.

Patel’s model of tourism development seeks to let investors procure land on a 100-year lease. Photo Credit: Save Lakshadweep, Facebook.

A group of scientists raised their concerns regarding the proposed Land Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), seeking an intervention from the President of India and asking for  the “incautious  draft” to be withdrawn.

As per the scientists, “Lakshadweep has experienced catastrophic climate change-related coral mass mortality events, straining the accretion and buffer capacity of the reefs. As an example, the reefs of the capital, Kavaratti, are already eroding more than they are growing. Lakshadweep is not just ecologically fragile, but also socially progressive and it needs a sustainable development framework.”

They clearly state that the infrastructure development in Lakshadweep is not a long-term vision, because of its fragile ecology and climate vulnerability.

The locals are concerned about their land, which they think will be taken over by the administrator for land development. When a journalist asked Patel to comment on this issue, he dismissed it by saying that such fears are “misplaced and people’s agenda,” adding that “nothing like this will happen”.

But after that, at least 90 makeshift fishermen sheds were demolished in the capital, Kavaratti.  After the demolition, people are scared as they don’t have the right to approach the judiciary. The LDAR allows the administrator to alter or demolish their sheds citing development.

If they raise their voice, the administrator has the power to detain them by using the previously-mentioned Goonda Act. Dr Muneer Manikfan, vice-chairperson of the Minicoy Panchayat, said that the “LDAR is the worst. They want our land without us.”

By demolishing the sheds, Patel’s actions raise serious questions about the sincerity of his statement.

Patel’s Disastrous Actions

Patel’s regulations are a recipe for disaster. The following has happened after he was appointed as the administrator of Lakshadweep:

  1. Within two weeks of  him being appointed, Lakshadweep’s zero Covid-19 cases surged to 7,364 positive cases, with a total of 28 deaths. The reason behind this astronomical rise in cases is his foolhardy decision to revoke the 14-days quarantine rule and the one about only welcoming those tourists who have a negative-RTPCR report.
  2. The local dairy farms, which were run by the Animal Husbandry department and have been operational for many years, are now closed. The islanders are compelled to buy milk products imported from Gujarat. Currently, this matter is sub judice and the Kerala High Court has passed a stay order regarding the same.

While  development and new regulations are important to bring about change, it shouldn’t be pursued at the cost of Lakshadweep’s unique environment, ecology, inhabitants and its heritage as well as & culture. Lakshadweep has its own beauty, which tourists and the administrator won’t be able to find in the Maldives.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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