Located in the Arabian sea, Lakshadweep Island is the only part of India where nature has been existing in its purest form, with no traces of exploitation.
The archipelago is a collection of 36 islands, of which 10 are inhabited. Located on the southwestern coast of the Indian peninsula the island has just a population of 65,000 people, thus being the smallest among Union Territories(UT).
Amid the beautiful wilderness, harmony among the people, and well-balanced ecology, resentments among the people due to the introduction of new laws have been surfacing lately.
Protests of the hashtag “Save Lakshadweep” are echoing on social media.
A Brief Backdrop:
Lakshadweep politically has no Legislative Assembly or a Chief Minister. The entire administration of the island is divided into 3 levels-
* Lok Sabha has 1 Member of Parliament
* Local self-government: Panchayats
* The President of India appoints an Administrator for governance.
The administrators of Lakshadweep have always been bureaucrats. In 2020, it was Dineshwar Sharma, an IPS officer.
Unfortunately, on 4 December 2020, he passed away.
This was the time when entanglement started in the affairs.
After the death of Dineshwar Sharma, no bureaucrat was appointed as the administrator, rather the strings of the governance were passed to the hands of a politician. This person was Praful Khoda Patel, a right-wing politician of the running Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
Since the new administrator came to the seat, Patel put forward a maverick set of laws without consulting the locally elected representatives of this Muslim-majority island. These laws have shattered the tranquility of the island and immersed it under protests and chaos.
The new algorithm of laws is being widely agitated upon. People claim that these laws endanger their livelihoods, land ownership, culture, and even the biodiversity of the tropical islands.
Typically the administrators of the island maintain their relationships with the local leaders for smooth governance. However, in the past few months, the people have raised voices against this new authoritarian administrator.
The Authoritarian approaches of Praful Khoda Patel:
The administrator Praful Khoda Patel introduced the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021, where the government is empowered to take over the lands from the residents for constructing highways, railways, or infrastructure.
The islanders view this as a land grab by giant corporates. This would also put a huge strain on the ecology and biodiversity of the area.
Weakened the democratic voting rights-
It is an old dream of the Lakshadweep inhabitants to have statehood and a Chief Minister like Goa.
They even do not have the right to elect their administrator.
keeping these besides, the poor islanders just have the shaky right to elect their MP and officials only at the Panchayat level.
Things do not stop here, the new administration under Praful Khoda Patel intruded in the local government and drained powers of the Panchayat from 5 different areas, namely- education, healthcare, agriculture, animal husbandry, and fisheries.
Further, Panchayat election regulation has been introduced declaring people having more than 2 children ineligible to contest elections.
When the country was struggling hard from the Covid spell, Lakshadweep was the only Union Territory to be free of Covid. This was because until December Standard Operating Procedure to prevent COVID-19 was being strictly followed. Under this SOP, people coming from outside were mandated to have a negative RT-PCR test followed by a 14-day quarantine. People supported it and that is why Lakshadweep was Covid free.
Unfortunately, the first Covid case was reported on 18 January, 8 days after the SOP was removed by the new administrator.
The cases skyrocketed due to the island’s small area and dense population along with a not-so-modern healthcare system.
Patel’s Anti-Social Activities Regulation Bill 2021 or Goonda Act further created discontentment among the inhabitants. This act empowers to detain anyone without public disclosure for up to a year.
This law would not be a fight against criminals because Lakshadweep already has the lowest crime rate in India. Rather it is the clear manifestation of authoritarian rule and sharply against the law of natural justice.
The application of this unjust law would be used to brand anyone who protested as a criminal.
The islanders allege that this law would be used by their administrator against those who criticize his decisions and protest his rule.
Liquor permit and beef ban:
Liquor and alcohol were banned in the inhabited resorts of Lakshadweep for a long time due to the Muslim majority and was allowed only at resorts on the uninhabited island. Praful K. Patel reversed the situation. He lifted the ban and permitted opening bars and shops, claiming this will boost tourism on the island.
Lakshadweep Animal Preservation and Regulation 2021 further aggravated people’s anger.
Praful K. Patel imposed a strict ban on the sale, or buy of beef or beef products in any form anywhere in the Muslim-majority islands. Anyone found violating the law would be imprisoned for up to 10 years.
The people of the island are Muslim majority and have a Malayali culture where beef consumption is followed traditionally and imposing something opposite of their culture is an intrusion.
Neighbouring Kerala state’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and KC Venugopal, a Congress member of parliament, have also opposed Patel’s decisions. Vijayan says “Patel’s actions pose a grave threat to the life and culture of the people of Lakshadweep”.