Covering just 32 sq km in terms of area, Lakshadweep lies in the Arabian Sea and comes under the jurisdiction of Kerala High Court. 93 percent of the population is constituted by Muslims and the inhabitants are ethnically similar to the coastal population of Kerala. With crime rates phenomenally low, Lakshadweep promises peace and harmony to its population. Mr. Praphul Khoda Patel was given the charge of Lakshadweep administration in December, 2020. After serving as the Home Minister in Gujarat under Narendra Modi, he was appointed as the administrator of Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli in a departure from the prevailing practice of appointing senior IAS officers to the post.
Lakshadweep had not reported a single positive case in the first wave of Covid 19. However, Mr. Patel’s administrative policies pulled the island to back foot in resisting the pandemic. He immediately amended the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that evidently put the island in the green zone when the whole country was fighting the first wave. As a result, the mandatory quarantine of 14 days for entering the island has been waived off by the administration. There came a police officer from Diu, following no quarantine and restraints from social gatherings. Finally, he was tested positive for Covid. In the meantime, enough damage was already done by him after coming in contact with many people across the island. The first case was reported in January and the month of February witnessed the first death. The island has 6000+ positive cases and 24 deaths reported so far. With limited hospital accommodation and healthcare facilities, Lakshadweep is now in a fatal battle with the pandemic. Dr. Aslam, a medical practitioner, who insisted for stricter control measures in the island, was responded with a punishment transfer. Amidst of all this, the administrator Mr. Patel has refrained himself from taking a Covid test.
LDAR, the draft in question is underlined by authoritarian and contentious suggestions that could bring unrest and disharmony among the inhabitants. The Anti Social Activities Act introduced in January 2021 gives unquestionable power for the administration to detain people without public disclosure and hold them captive for a year. Introducing this ‘Act’ in a place with “zero crime rating” kept people startled and surprised. Little did they know that this was all a part of a script! Lakshadweep receives vegetables, cereals, pulses and food grains after being shipped from Kerala.
However, when the ship covers all the islands, which takes several days, the vegetables would be on the verge of decay. Besides, fishing becomes a tedious task throughout the year due to the onset of cyclones. The inhabitants of the islands thus rely highly on animal husbandry to meet their domestic needs. However, with the introduction of the Animal Protection Act in the LDAR, beef is no longer a food that can be consumed. The menu of the mid day meal programme has been amended to remove beef as well as other meat products from the list except fish. This could in turn make the implementation of the noon meal programme a difficult and tedious affair.
The Development Authority Regulation could permit the government(administrator) to plan development activities in land zones that can be identified for infrastructure activities and commercial use. In addition to this, an unquestionable power is vested in the administration to forcefully relocate people. To be precise, rhetoric of development can be imposed on people making them landless and homeless as per the prescribed legislation. If the authority is hampered or opposed from carrying out the eviction, the District Magistrate shall intervene to carry out the eviction or ensure secure delivery of possession of the land to the Planning and Development Authority. Besides, the alleged order to widen the roads is ironically implemented at a place with fewer vehicles (mostly two wheelers) and high population density.
The use of alcohol is prohibited in Lakshadweep respecting religious and cultural obligations making it a ‘dry land’. However, this communal sentiment is hurt when the administration gives permission for the construction of bars in four islands of Lakshadweep (promotion of tourism is what the administration reiterates) despite strong resentment from the people. This could ostensibly dismantle the cornerstones of peace and consequently lead to crimes as well. The amendment of Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules states that inhabitants with more than two children are banned from contesting elections to local bodies. This proposal is implemented in a place with the fertility rate touching the 1.6 mark which is well below the upper limit of 2. Besides, the draft carries suggestions for privatisation of ships and tourism, apparently to convert Lakshadweep into a money making entity manoeuvred by corporate monsters. The District Dweep Panchayat led by The President cum Chief Counsellor is the sole elected body in Lakshadweep. Five important departments that used to function more efficiently under the panchayat which include fisheries, animal husbandry, health and education were reclaimed by the Administrator. Under Mr. Patel, about 38 anganwadis have been shut and 190 people were terminated from the Tourism Department and educational institutions. Contract workers could lose their jobs immediately as per the proposed draft. It would also be imperative to question the logic of publishing the suggestions in the Govt. Gazette in English at a place where more than three fourth of the population fail to read and understand English.The administration has also decided that the islanders should rely on Mangalore port instead of Beypore for cargo transit. This could adversely affect the close ties that Lakshadweep enjoyed with Kerala. Now, the islanders should learn Kannada as well so as to coordinate the shipment of freight. Any attempt to impede and rebel against the administrative measures are curtailed via the Anti Social Activities Act introduced initially.
Well this could be read as the replica of an imperialistic force trying to gain monopoly over a relatively smaller group of people. More than being a political or religious strife, we should confront this for larger public good. Being dumb to the invasion of fascist entities is unbecoming for a responsible citizen of this republic, given the fact that we have a government who is absolutely insensitive towards the emotions and sentiments of the common man. Awake your senses, else witness yourself to see ‘democracy’ a distant reality.
- Rasila P.A M.A English JNU
- Sameer Ansari, Ex National Secretary, NSUI
- Hima T Sam, BA Hons. History, Hindu College
- K Krishna Priya, BA Hons. English, Ramjas College