The people of Lakshadweep have recently begun an online campaign #SaveLakshadweep protesting against the new reforms established by the island’s Administrator Praful Patel that are in direct violation of their rights. The protest gained momentum on Monday after prominent personalities like actor Prithviraj, filmmaker Geetu Mohandas, footballer CK Vineeth voiced their solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep.
According to a report by The Week, the natives alleged that Patel was imposing “draconian” legislation on the island and the outrage amplified with the notification of the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR 2021).
What’s happening in Lakshadweep?
Lakshadweep is spread over 32 sq km. It consists of 36 islands, of which 10 are inhabitable. The total population of the territory is 64,429 according to the 2011 census. Most of the people in Lakshadweep are descendants of migrants from the Malabar coast of southwest India and have ethnic similarities with coastal Kerala’s Malayalis. More than 93% of the indigenous population are Muslims. The Union Territory was formed in 1956 and was called Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands before adopting the name Lakshadweep on November 1, 1973.
The people of Lakshadweep have condemned Patel’s reforms such as changes in land acquisition policy as mentioned in the LDAR, implementation of the beef ban and Goonda Act, removal of non-vegetarian food menu in school canteens and many more.
Who is Praful Patel?
Patel is a former BJP leader who took charge as the Administrator of Lakshadweep on December 5, 2020, after the death of former administrator Dineshwar Sharma. He is also the Administrator of the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. Previously, Patel served as the minister of state for home in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister. Patel is the first non-civil servant to be appointed as the administrator of the union territory.
What is the LDAR?
Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 gives the administrator powers to remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity. The report by The Week stated that the LDAR seeks to change the existing land ownership and usage in Lakshadweep by giving sweeping, arbitrary, and unchecked powers to the government (and all its bodies) to directly interfere with an islander’s right to possess and retain their property. Once picked, the land can be used as the government sees fit with no regard for the landowner. It will be land needed for a public purpose.
The draft refers to ‘development’ as activities such as building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under, land, the cutting of a hill or any portion of the making of any material change in any building or land, or in the use of any building or land, and includes sub-division of any land. The draft also stated that a development plan shall not, either before or after it has been approved, be questioned in any manner, in any legal proceedings whatsoever.
The last date to submit suggestions on LDAR 2021 was on May 19.
Imposition of the beef ban, Goonda Act trigger row
Patel introduced a regulation to criminalise the slaughter of cattle and the transportation and trade of beef products. Even slaughter of other animals will require prior permission.
Kerala Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem wrote to President of India Ram Nath Kovind requesting him to immediately call back Patel. Calling it undemocratic and anti-people regulation, Kareem stated that in the name of animal preservation the regulation intends to ban slaughter, transport, selling and buying of beef products.
“This is a blatant onslaught on the people who depend upon dairying and growing of bovine as a means of livelihood,” he said adding that neither the island community nor local bodies were never consulted when the regulation was framed.
After Kashmir Lakshadweep is the new target of Modi Govt. People there are being tortured under the new Administrator’s rule. Everything to destroy their culture & traditions. Wrote to @rashtrapatibhvn to immediately call back the authoritarian Administrator.#SaveLakshadweep pic.twitter.com/rzH43wFil1
— Elamaram Kareem (@ElamaramKareem_) May 24, 2021
According to the Lakshadweep police department, the crime rate is the lowest. However, Patel has imposed Goonda Act under Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA), under which a person can be detained without any public disclosure for up to one year.
Patel accused of diluting Covid-19 protocols leading to a surge in cases
Speaking to Silverscreen India, Lakshadweep District Panchayat Representative Thaha Malika said that Patel’s decision to ease Covid-19 restrictions led to a spike in cases.
“We don’t have advanced health facility in Lakshadweep to handle a pandemic. We need to airlift patients to Kochi for treatment,” he said, adding that till May 24, Lakshadweep reported 6,847 cases and 24 deaths. The total number of active cases stands at 2,162. As of May 18, Lakshadweep’s Covid-19 test positivity stood at 66.7 per cent.
While the island reported no Covid-19 cases in 2020, the first case was reported this year on January 18.
In his letter to Kovind, Kareem stated that Patel had unilaterally changed the standard operating procedure in force on the island to prevent the spread of the pandemic. “According to the people of the island, the unplanned and unscientific altering of SOP has led to the current surge in Covid cases in Lakshadweep, where not even a single case was reported in the year 2020,” he added.
Thaha alleged that fishing sheds and nets set up by the fishing community on the island were destroyed. “In a meeting with the district administration, it was decided that the fishing equipment will be destroyed after providing an alternative facility to the fishermen. However, the fishing sheds and equipment were demolished using JCB overnight without providing time for the fishermen to vacate the place. In fact, there is a curfew in Lakshadweep so people were also unable to venture out,” he added.
“Also, as part of the development project, the roads near the settlement area is being expanded. It will create difficulty for the residents as their house will be demolished while expanding the road. That apart, another major concern is they have excluded the non-vegetarian food menu in Lakshadweep’s school canteens while the natives staple food is non vegetarian,” Thaha added.
Thaha also noted that the Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 notifies that individuals with more than two children will be ineligible to contest in panchayat elections.
3. Enact a Goonda Act when Lakshadweep has the lowest crime rate in the country. The people believe this is to target those protesting against union government policies.
4. Remove non-vegetarian items from the school food menu. 3/nhttps://t.co/TKKBQpnJfr.
— Azhar (@lonelyredcurl) May 23, 2021
5. Promulgate a regulation criminalizing slaughter of cattle and transportation and trade of beef products. Even slaughter of other animals will require prior permission.
6. Introduce a draft law to disqualify panchayat members with more than 2 kids. 4/nhttps://t.co/IJHnnUiC2M
— Azhar (@lonelyredcurl) May 23, 2021
10. Citing the Coast Guard Act and demolishing the temporary sheds built by fishermen to store their nets and equipments, with permission from the previous administration. This in a place where fishing is the main source of income.
11. Lift restrictions on sale of alcohol. 6/n
— Azhar (@lonelyredcurl) May 23, 2021
Celebrities express solidarity with people of Lakshadweep
Reminiscing his memories while shooting Anarkali and Lucifer in Lakshadweep, Prithviraj Sukumaran on Monday in a social media post wrote that he had been receiving desperate messages from people of the islands pleading for him to bring public attention to what’s going on in Lakshadweep.
“I strongly believe that any law, reform or amendment should never be for the land, but the people of the land. It’s never the geographical or political boundary that makes a country, state or union territory but the people who live there. How does disrupting the way of life of a centuries-old peaceful settlement become an acceptable means of progress? How will threatening the balance of a very delicate island ecosystem with no regard for the potential consequences pave the way for sustainable development?” the actor said.
Footballer CK Vineeth on Twitter highlighted the reforms brought by Patel and how they affected the islanders. “What are we going to do about this? Do we turn a blind eye? Or do we step back and take notice. Of all the places I’ve traveled to, Lakshadweep has some of the nicest people I’ve met. They do not deserve this,” he said.
Does anyone really know about everything that’s going on in Lakshadweep now? The little island off the coast is one of the most beautiful places I have been to, but administrative injustices have served the citizens a taste of bad fortune. A thread. #SaveLakshadweep pic.twitter.com/nXwE1zZdLy
— CK Vineeth (@ckvineeth) May 24, 2021
Filmmaker Geetu Mohandas who shot Moothon in Lakshadweep, in a social media post said that it was one of the most magical places with the “most beautiful people I have ever met in my life”.
“My heart goes out to each and everyone who reached out to me. Their cries were desperate, real. There is not much we can do apart from voicing our opinion collectively. Please do not disturb their peace, disrupt their ecosystem, their innocence. Not in the name of development. I hope it reaches the right ears,” she said.
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— Nikhila Vimal (@Nikhilavimal1) May 25, 2021
Praful Patel’s response
In an interview with The Print, Patel said that his only agenda was the “development of Lakshadweep”. He mentioned that the LDAR was introduced for the development and urban growth of the union territory.
“Why is it that people are waiting to go to Maldives, but are not even willing to come to Lakshadweep? It is to develop tourism and for long term benefits that we are introducing the LDAR,” he said.