Lakshadweep Crisis: A Tale of Oppression in the Largest Democracy | #SaveLakshaDweep
Lakshadweep is a union territory of India, an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian sea. The island constitutes a single Indian district and is governed by an administrator appointed by the President of India under Article 239 of the Constitution. Along with Lakshadweep Praful Khoda Patel, the first non-IAS is politically appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Administrator of Union Territories such as Daman and Diu(2014), Dadra and Nagar Haveli(2016).
Praful Khoda Patel has a history of land grabbing disputes. Daman’s seafront was owned by the Adivasi fishing community for generations and they were completely dependent on the sea for their livelihood. In December 2018, Praful Patel issued orders to, confiscate the lands of Daman’s residents & demolish their homes in the name of development. Which led to the Daman protest against his administration. In November 2019 Daman’s Collector, Rakesh Minhas issued section 144. Two High Schools of the District were converted into ‘temporary jails’. Many protesters were held in these ‘temporary jails’ and 8 people were arrested. The administration has forcefully evicted the Aadivasi fisherfolk from their land & homes without providing proper rehousing or compensation.
Following the demise of Administrator Dineshwar Sharma, Praful Khoda Patel took charge as Administrator of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep from 5 December 2020. Over few months the Patel Administration has proposed a new set of draft regulations, whose measures are ‘anti people’. These regulations are facing severe backlash from the opposition & residents of Lakshadweep. The students of this island have started the Twitter campaign #savelakshadweep, which is backed by heavyweight politicians like Rahul Gandhi. On Monday 7th June 2021 several protestors held an underwater protest and staged 12 hour fast using placards with slogans saying ‘Justice for Lakshadweep’, ‘revoke LDAR (Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulations 2021)’. On the same day, Kerala Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution, moved by CM Pinarayi Vijayan, demanding the recall of Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Khoda. In Kochi, United Democratic Front staged a protest in solidarity with the protestors; demanding withdrawal of ‘anti-people laws’ proposed by the Union Government. Even the BJP Chief of Lakshadweep unit Mohammad Kasim joined the anti-LDAR protest. The main key points of increased resentment against this Administration are :
Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021
Under this draft, the Administration is seeking to ban the slaughter of cows, calf, bull & buffalo without a certificate from the competent authority. Sale, transporting & keeping beef & beef products are strictly prohibited. Violation of this law will cause a fine up to Rs. 5 lakh & imprisonment not less than 10 years, which may extend up to life imprisonment. Where 96% of the population belongs to the Muslim community, the Administration did not consider locals’ eating habits. The regulations were forcefully imposed on the island’s residents, which has no Constitutional base.
Another regulation of the Patel Administration is the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, which allows the Administrator with a wide range of power for preventive detention of a person up to one year. As per the data released by National Crime Records Bureau ( NCRB), Lakshadweep has the lowest crime rates in India. Where the Union Territory has no history of violent crimes, the establishment of the goonda act raises serious questions against the true intention of the Patel Administration. According to the residents, the law will be used to prevent revolts against Administration’s immoral deeds.
Following Maldives Model
The Administration wants to follow the model of tourism like the Maldives to build a tourist spot at Lakshadweep. Which will take away agency from local communities. Also, the ecology of the island can be put in grave danger. To build coastal areas for tourism the Administration is demolishing fishermen’s shades saying they violated Coast Guard Act. According to the locals, Patel’s Administration is working only to save the interests of capitalist businesses men; while this activity will destroy the economical, cultural & traditional life of residents.
Marine heritage at risk
The NCP MP alleged that Patel signed orders to retrench some 200 contract staff who were working as marine watchers for conserving marine biodiversity. The post was sanctioned by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, for which separate funds have been initiated.
Allowance of Liquor
Because of religious beliefs alcohol is banned on the island & only being served at the resorts of uninhibited Bangaram island. But the Administration has decided to allow Liquor in the inhibited island. Collector S Askar Ali stated, the liquor permits will only be given to resorts for tourists.
The controversial rules of the Patel Administration mention the declaration of ‘planning areas’ for large projects. With this regulation, the Administration can occupy land from anywhere on the island. According to locals, the rule was imposed on them without consultation. They fear infrastructural projects may result in the destabilization of the ecology & removal of small landholdings of Schedule Tribe residents.
The Administration has introduced Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation 2021, which restricts people with more than two children to contest panchayat elections. The draft has drawn severe criticism from various political parties.
Mishandling of COVID-19
During the first phase of covid-19 Lakshadweep was a green zone with zero cases. But the Patel Administration did not take proper measures to prevent COVID-19. The Administration relaxed COVID guidelines for travelers, as a result, infections spiked on the island. The opposition & residents blaming Praful Khoda Administration for these increasing COVID-19 cases. Regarding this mishandling of COVID-19 the Lakshadweep-based actress & filmmaker Aisha Sultana called Praful Khoda as bio-weapon and later she was charged with a sedition case by Lakshadweep Police. Surprisingly 12 BJP leaders & workers have resigned to protest the sedition case against Aisha, according to them this action is “false and unjustified”.
Along with all these unjust regulations Praful Khoda has also instructed port authorities to cut ties with Beypore Port & Cochin Port in Kerala and divert all maritime exchanges to New Mangalore Port.
The dairy farms of the island run by the Animal Husbandry Department were ordered to be shut down. Now dairy products will be imported from Gujrat-based Amul. For which the Administration received massive backlash. The administration has also removed the meat from School Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
(Sub Editor-Himank Journal, Political Analyst )
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