Over the last few weeks, public anger has been simmering in the Lakshadweep islands over a number of controversial proposals floated by the Union Territory Administrator, Praful K Patel. Also the Administrator of the UT of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Patel was given additional charge of Lakshadweep following the death of Dineshwar Sharma last December.
While the UT Administration has said Patel’s proposals are aimed at ensuring safety and well-being of residents along with promoting the islands as a tourist destination on par with the Maldives, residents view them as ripping the social and cultural fabric of the islands.
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Some of the proposals include:
PROPOSAL: An order from the Administration seeks to ban the slaughter of cow, calf, bull and buffalo without a certificate from a competent authority. It prohibits the sale, transport and storage of beef and beef products. Penalties include a jail term up to one year and a fine of Rs 10,000. The Administration has not provided an explanation on why the rule was brought in.
PROTEST: Residents view the rule as a direct infringement on their culture and eating habits. They allege the rule was decided without consultation with local bodies.
PROPOSAL: Under the Draft Panchayat Regulation 2021, the Administration aims to bar people with more than two children from becoming a member of the gram panchayat. For those who already have more than two children, the regulation does not disqualify them provided they do not have further children after the date on which the rule comes into effect.
PROTEST: Locals have questioned the motive. The NCP and the Congress too have opposed the move.
PROPOSAL: The Administration has decided to allow liquor to be served at resorts on inhabited islands. Currently, prohibition is in place on all inhabited islands, with liquor served only at resorts on the uninhabited Bangaram island. Collector S Asker Ali clarified that liquor permits would be given only to resorts for tourists, not for locals.
PROTEST: Residents have allegedthat the move will lead to a proliferation of liquor sales on the island, which had been observing near-prohibition until now.
PROPOSAL: The Administration brought in a draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) to oversee development of towns on the islands, with sweeping changes in the way land can be acquired and utilised. It talks of declaration of ‘planning areas’ and constitution of ‘planning and development authorities’ for preparing a land use map and register, ostensibly for large projects.
PROTEST: Residents have protested against the way it was prepared and pushed through without consultation. They fear large infrastructure and tourism projects can destabilise the ecology, and that the notification gives powers to the Administration to remove small landholdings of ST residents.
PROPOSAL: The draft Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation provides for powers to detain a person for up to one year to prevent him from “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. It allows for detention for anti-social activities from six months to a year without legal representation. The Collector said while the island remains peaceful, there have been reports of drugs being found along with weapons and live ammunition. He said the regulation is required to keep the “youth from getting misguided by illegal businesses”.
PROTEST: Residents are sceptical of the need for such a stringent law in a UT with one of the lowest crime rates in the country. They allege it has been brought in to arrest those opposed to the Administration.
PROPOSAL: For a year, Lakshadweep did not record any case of Covid-19 , thanks to stringent quarantine protocols and testing of inbound travellers. Last December, Covid-19 SOPs were diluted by doing away with mandatory quarantine for travellers at Kochi and Kavaratti. Instead, anyone with a negative RT-PCR certificate issued in the previous 48 hours could travel to Lakshadweep. The Administration said the SOPs were changed in accordance with Home Ministry rules and to allow for reopening of the economy.
PROTEST: The change led to the island losing its ‘green zone’ tag and a spurt in infections in subsequent months. As of May 28, the Union Territory has reported over 7,300 cases and 28 deaths. Islanders blame the Administration for mismanagement in handling of the pandemic.
GEOGRAPHY: 36 islands across 12 atolls, closest to Kerala, on which it depends for essential supplies. Only 10 of the islands are inhabited. Once a part of Malabar district of the Madras Presidency, Lakshadweep was given Union Territory status following Kerala state’s formation in 1956.
DEMOGRAPHY: With a population of 65,000 (2011 Census), Lakshadweep is India’s smallest Union Territory. It has the highest population share of Muslims (96%) and Scheduled Tribes (94.8%) among the UTs. Residents speak Malayalam and Dhivehi.
POLITICS: The UT is served by a Lok Sabha MP, currently Mohd Faizal P P (NCP) since 2014. The NCP and the Congress are the dominant parties; the BJP and Communist parties too have units. P M Sayeed won 10 consecutive terms during 1967-2004, eight of these on a Congress ticket. His son Muhammed Hamdulla Sayeed was MP between 2009 and 2014.
Apart from the UT Administration, there are dweep panchayat councils. In 2017, the Congress won a majority of wards in the district panchayat and dweep panchayats.