Opinion

Why is Lakshadweep up in arms?

The 10 inhabited islands are under lockdown for two months now and the administration is accused of exploiting the inability of the public to mobilise to push what’s widely seen by the islanders as ‘arbitrary legislations’ that are out of sync with the social, political and environmental realities of the archipelago.

Lakshadweep, the smallest union territory, which barely makes news, has been trending in the news and social media for a few days now. The inhabitants of the archipelago have been protesting over a slew of regulations introduced by the new administrator, Praful Khoda Patel in the last five months of his rule, which also saw the archipelago descend from being a ‘COVID-free region’ for nearly a year into one with 6,847 cases until May 24. Many attribute this rise in the cases to the arbitrary alteration of the SOPs by Patel. The 10 inhabited islands are under lockdown for two months now and the administration is accused of exploiting the inability of the public to mobilise to push what’s widely seen by the islanders as ‘arbitrary legislations’ that are out of sync with the social, political and environmental realities of the archipelago.

The draft regulation for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) is widely resented as the people suspect that this might have been issued at the behest of ‘real estate interests’ seeking to usurp the small holdings of property owned by the islanders, a majority of them (94.8% as per the 2011 census) belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) gives the administrator powers to remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity. On the other hand, under Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA), a ‘goonda act’, a person can be detained without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year.

The draft regulation defines development as the “carrying out of building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under land, the cutting of a hill or any portion thereof or the making of any material change in any building or land or in the use of any building or land…” These authorities are to prepare land use maps, carry out zonation for type of land use and indicate areas for ‘proposed national highways, arterial roads, ring roads, major streets…. railways, tramways, airports… theatres, museums…. playgrounds, stadia…”

Besides this, Patel has also approved the contentious draft panchayat notification where a member with more than two children is disqualified. Also, non-vegetarian food items were removed from the school menus in Lakshadweep, a place where people increasingly consume seafood. The administration is also planning to introduce the draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021 – which will, reportedly, outrightly ban the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks – a violation of which could attract a penalty of seven years in prison. Lakshadweep island’s population is 97% Muslim and the authoritative policies by the administrator, who is a close aide of PM Modi, are seen by many as an extension of the Hindutva project. It is also noteworthy that since 2015 administrators in the Union Territory were officers from either the IAS or IPS. However, Patel belongs to neither group.

The #SaveLakshadweep campaign on Monday gained national attention as the likes of actor Prithviraj Sukumaran and footballer C.K. Vineeth took to social media platforms to voice their support for the islanders’ concerns. With the increasing mobilisation against the proposed legislation, there are calls for recalling the administrator. Many MPs have in fact written to the President to recall Patel and put an end to the anti-people legislation. Amidst the criticism, the BJP, defending Patel, claimed that the protests were a result of his efforts to end prevalent “corrupt practices” involving local politicians and usher in development there.

The Digpu News Bottomline

In the past few years, India as a country has seen a rise in public protests against government policies. Be it the Mumbai Aarey Forests Controversy, the CAA NRC protests across the country or the ongoing Farmer protests. While protests are a permanent feature of a buzzing democracy, the government’s response to these protests has been anything but democratic. At the same time, when the country is going through the second wave of a pandemic, how sensible is it to implement something as environmentally and socially sensitive as the draft regulation for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority?

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