Kozhikode: The effects of draft regulations proposed by Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel are becoming evident in the islands, as per the reports from native journalists and others. It includes major fluctuations in the food market economy, damages to animal livestock due to scarcity of food and medicine, internet detachment, load shedding, opening up of new poultry farms, improper shifting of COVID patients to first-line treatment centres etc.
Worries over not getting textbooks for school students as the online classes started, along with the internet detachment have triggered widespread anxiety. The islanders are going to begin a twelve hours hunger strike sit-in protest from June 7th demanding repeal of the draft regulations.
Former administrator of Lakshadweep islands Wajahat Habibullah shared his major concerns around the new draft regulations in the islands in an Open Forum on Development of Lakshadweep, organized by MSF (Muslim Student Federation) National Committee on June 3. He served as an administrator of Lakshadweep from 1987 to 1990. Habibullah explained what development means to Lakshadweep.
Welcoming Wajahat Habibullah, Muslim League MP ET Muhammed Basheer said that being Chairperson of National Commission for Minorities, Habibullah had accomplished a difficult task. "There are some persons who are not at all prepared to compromise on principles. Persons like Wajahat Habibulla stands for the principle. He was assigned as the first Information Commissioner of India. As a commissioner, he paved way for the smooth, purposeful and meaningful functioning of the commission."
"But the Modi government is crippling the wings of the Information Commission. Now we know it is in a bad shape. The present Lakshadweep administrator and his team are shedding crocodile tears saying Lakshadweep is backward. They say people are leading hellish life there all kinds of fabricated stories are spread by them. As an administrator, Habibullah believed that development should be people-centric and eco-centric. Unfortunately, the rulers are not bothered about that," Basheer added.
"The Lakshadweep development bears the imprints of Rajiv Gandhi who visited the island in 1988. Rajiv Gandhi had a vision, Habibullah was certain that how to implement that. I've been to Lakshadweep. As far as electricity, road connectivity and people's relationships are concerned the islands are marvellous contradictory to the RSS campaigns," the MP said.
"Lakshadweep has a very distinct civilization heritage. They are the indigenous people, they are not settlers. They have their own language and culture, they can't be sent away. What will happen if you take away their land? You'll be depriving an indigenous population. Lakshadweep is the symbol of excellence in environmental conservation and an ideal for the entire country," Wajahat Habibullah said. In a few articles written in various newspapers, Habibullah locates Lakshadweep's development concerns with an input of his experience. He traces the recent developments to the NITI Ayog report, which he refers to as a report where no single Lakshadweep native has a representation.
"What do you mean by development? Improving the quality of people's lives. Development means exploitation. Now in the national statistics of crime rates, Lakshadweep has the lower number of crimes, but during my administrative period, there was no crime at all. In a place where there are no crimes, why are you bringing Goonda act?" he asked.
"The greatest security guarantee of those islands is its people. If you try to replace those people with people who don't know the area, somebody can intrude." In response to the national security concerns raised by the media, Habibullah explained that there is no security breach surrounding Lakshadweep. "There is no naval base, there is only naval presence. I've been close to the Navy there. The Navy just patrol through that area. Now there are cost guards, nothing else because there is no security problem at all! These islands are heavily populated. They are a closely-knit tribal community it is not easy to land in there and plan some terrorist attack," he said.
"Coral reefs are an increasingly rare geographical feature, all over the world. They are very rare. How are we planning to develop this land? It talks about acquiring land for mineral exploration, for mining. What are you going to mine out? You are not going to develop land, you are going to extract. The water villas which are going to be built in the islands as mentioned in the NITI Ayog report will be destructive to the coral reefs," he stressed. The idea of development as a whole, as proposed by the BJP government in the islands, following the lines of what is already implemented in Maldives and Andaman Nikobar islands is fragile and is an assault on Lakshadweep, according to Wajahat Habibullah.
"People in the mainland have a very passé understanding of Lakshadweep which is why I'm speaking at as many venues I can. Nobody can pass such regulations without the consent of the people of the land," he added.
In the NITI Ayog report named 'Transforming the Islands through Creativity and Innovation', published in May 2019, the chief executive officer Amitabh Kant marked five islands in Lakshadweep for tourism development, farm produce and deep-sea mining. The developmental plans including calculating the carrying capacity and environmental zoning were carried out in 2019, according to the officer. This is aimed to be brought in by the role of private hands.
The 'water villas planned in Kadamat, Suheli and Minicoy islands is in addition to various other land-based projects. In an advertisement published in The Hindu newspaper on May 29th, the Lakshadweep administration notified that the work on these water villas will begin by August 2021.
Farisha, a native of the islands said that the issues began with the appointment of the new administrator in December 2020. "As the new draft regulations are put forward, the people of Lakshadweep are in trouble since there is a triple lockdown in effect and they can't move out. But still, they are protesting. The administrator is implementing these agendas to destroy the culture and legacy of Lakshadweep people," seeking the solidarity of people's protest against the recent developments, she said.
"Given the track record of the administrator Praful Khoda Patel, the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation would lead to land grabbing with immense effects", said advocate Haris Beeran. "By putting the islanders in lockdown and implementing these draft regulations was a means to defeat the islanders. This is unconstitutional and beyond the administrative powers. The draft regulations are published in English, this has to be in Malayalam as well. When the administrator has both the legislative and executive capacities, it has to be a person of impeccable integrity," he noted.
"The present administrator is focusing on the development of the property. The best way to develop a community is to educate them. With regard to higher education, Lakshadweep is highly ignored. In the late 1980s, there were two colleges, Jawaharlal Nehru College and Mahatma Gandhi College, affiliated with the University of Calicut. When pre-degree was delinked, these colleges were closed and no degree or PG college started instead of it. Many times the University of Calicut submitted detailed project reports for full-fledged UG and PG colleges even with research programs, but such proposals are kept in cold storage" former vice-chancellor of University of Calicut Dr Muhammed Basheer said.
Recent developments: In Minicoy, several COVID patients were shifted to a first-line treatment centre as per the order followed by the district collector on Wednesday night. The Minicoy CI Ali Akbar said such an incident didn't happen, even when medical officers testify this to the media. Administrative representatives continue to face the protest and boycott of people's representatives.