The idyllic islands of Lakshadweep have become the focus of a new controversy after the appointment of a former BJP leader Praful Koda Bhai Patel as administrator, as natives alleged implementation of "draconian" legislation violating their rights.
Patel, who assumed charge on December 5 2020, has been accused of changing legislation and amending existing laws without consulting the local elected representatives, including acquiring private property for development as well as enforcing bans on the sale and trade of beef. Islanders also claim that Patel's handling of COVID-19 measures has also been lacklustre and unscientific, leading to an explosion of cases in the island which had contained infections last year.
The first law reform of the administrator since taking office was the implementation of the Goonda Act. Islanders allege that the goons' act was undemocratic on an island where no crime was reported and prisons are almost empty all the time.
Protests have also been stoked against the proposed implementation of the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR 2021). Social media users have termed the move as undemocratic as the regulations say that no legal proceedings can be maintained against the Government, Planning and Development Authority or any of its officers or persons duly appointed or authorized by it under the provisions of LDAR 2021.
Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem has written to President Ram Nath Kovind requesting him to urgently call back the administrator, alleging that his anti-people policies have led to widespread protests.
In the letter, posted publicly to his social media profiles, Kareem accuses administrator Patel of making undemocratic changes to regulations including the "Animal Preservation Act", which he said was used to stop all slaughter and processing of beef on the islands. In addition to this, the restrictions on alcohol in the islands had been lifted despite it being against the cultural and religious sentiments of the mainly Muslim islanders, Kareem said.
"…As soon as he assumed office, he unilaterally changed the standard operating procedure which was in force in the island for preventing the spread of the pandemic," said Kareem. "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 also said that sheds, where fishermen used to keep their nets and other equipment, were demolished by the new administration on the grounds that they violated the Coast Guard Act, an act which was causing much suffering to the islanders who rely primarily on fishing for a living. In addition to this, many islanders had lost their jobs in government offices like tourism and agriculture while 38 anganwadis were closed down. This has caused "great suffering among the islanders during the time of the pandemic" the letter said.
The Let India Breathe page published a protest against LDAR 2021 on social media, highlighting the provisions of the act which also allows officials to search any of the homes on the island without a warrant or reason.
"It has stringent provisions that empower the Government (i.e the Administrator) to earmark any land for Development Activities provided under this regulations. And once the land is so declared, the development and usage of the said land will be completely in accordance with the whims and fancies of the Government," the post reads.
Section 92 and Section 93 provide for a provision to levy development charges and levy processing fee/fees for change of zones from the islanders. This means that islanders have to make payments to obtain permissions for change of zones in accordance with the Development Plan and are also liable to pay for permission to develop their own land.
"The Draft lacks any reason, merit or logic and is a mindless piece of regulation that aims to arbitrarily control the ownership of private landholdings. In our tiny islands where the total area is less than 5 sq. km these kind of activities are impractical and frivolous. And it can have devastating effects on the extremely fragile ecosystem of the Islands, its people, their lands and livelihoods," tweeted Twitter user and island native Faseela Ibrahim.
The draft regulation further goes down to the extent of imposing severe punishment such as imprisonment by virtue of Section 119 for causing obstruction of work or workers under the Development Plan.
"The Centre is so hellbent on sowing division among cohesive Lakshadweep community. Weird new measures are being enacted by the current Praful Patel administration to the detriment of the predominantly Muslim indigenous population. This is a blatant misuse of power and must not be allowed," said Kerala Lok Sabha MP E.T Mohammed Basheer.
Basheer also alleged that Patel who was appointed as the Lakshadweep Administrator was given the task of "communalizing the island as soon as possible", further condemning the purported ban on beef in Lakshadweep.
Praful Khoda Bhai Patel is a former BJP leader with close ties to the RSS, who is also currently being investigated in connection with the suicide of Maharashtra independent MP Mohan Delkar. The Mumbai Police on Tuesday registered an FIR against Patel, the former Gujarat home minister and the administrator of both the union territories of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu after Mohan Delkar's 15-page suicide note was found mentioning Patel amongst others.