Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel has become the new person of interest and is all over the news. The reason is: new set of rules that he has introduced to govern the group of islands. Taking over the charge after Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu in December last year, he has introduced several controversial draft regulations such as Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation and amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules. These draft rules have created a huge outcry in the islands and has also got reactions from the outside.
Patel’s decisions are also creating political troubles. So far, eight members of BJP’s youth wing have resigned and have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the Patel’s decisions. The workers have alleged that these decisions will disturb social harmony and peace in the islands.
The administrator is also being blamed for an increase in COVID-19 cases as he disallowed the rule of mandatory quarantine for people coming from outside.
What does the new rules say?
Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) – has become the major reason for public anger. The administrator has issued a regulation for setting up LDA. The draft empowers the administrator to undertake the development of any area identified as having “bad layout or obsolete development”. The word development means carrying out building or construction activities, mining , cutting of hills, drilling etc. These lands will be used for creating airports, roads and highways, tramways, stadiums, playgrounds, theatres and more.
The act also contains provisions such as forceful eviction and transferable development rights, meaning the local citizenry will be under pressure to develop the land as per the development plans of the planning authority. In case of non compliance, hefty fines and eviction will be served as punishment.
The administrator also plans to ban the sale and consumption of beef. Almost 90% of population inhabiting in these islands is Muslim, in the light of which the move to ban beef consumption is proving to create a lot of discontent. The law also aims to put a ban on slaughter of cattle and its trade. Rajya Sabha MP from Lakshadweep Elamaram Kareem in its plea to President has said that the law disregards the islander’s choice to food and livelihood. The administration also tries to dilute the liquor laws, under which liquor will be served in every resort which was earlier limited to resorts in the uninhabited Bangaram island.
The other controversial law that administrator Patel promises to bring is ‘Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation’ or ‘The Goonda Act’. It gives administration the power to lock up any person who is considered to be disturbing the law and order situation for up to one year. This special and harsh law is being presented against the peace and safe background of the islanders. As per the NCRB data, in 2019, Lakshadweep reported zero instances of murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery and dacoity. Only 16 violent crimes were reported in 2019, six in 2018 and eight in 2017.
Further, the administration has presented an amendment to the panchayat laws by barring candidates with more than two children to contest the panchayat elections.
What is the problem?
Lakshadweep is a group of ten inhabited islands and an extremely close knit community. Laws like these have a strong potential to disturb the social harmony and peace of the region. Also, the regulation proposing to setup LDA might prove to be disastrous as the islands are too fragile and sensitive. Carrying hard infrastructure and development activities might cause some serious and irreparable harm to ecology of the islands.
The islanders and public representatives also say that the laws have been passed without adhering to the fundamental principle of public consultation. The group of ten islands have been under a lockdown due to ongoing pandemic, as a result, administration saw this as an opportunity to frame these draft laws and avoided consultation with stakeholders on such key policy and social issues.
Shashi Tharoor in its recent op-ed called this as blatant abuse of power and gross overreach by the Lakshadweep administrator.
As #SaveLakshadweep trends on social media and online campaigns/petitions goes viral, the set of new rules appear to be undemocratic and highly unfair. It might end up messing the peaceful and scenic identity of the islands of Lakshadweep. As outrage intensifies, it will be interesting to see if it succeeds in making the administrator Patel dump these draft laws.
(Author is a lawyer and an independent researcher)
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