#SaveLakshadweep has been doing the rounds on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram since 17 May 2020. Lakshadweep is a group of 36 islands, renowned for its beaches and lush green landscape. According to the census 2011, 64,473 people reside on the island. Lakshadweep has a literacy rate of 91.85%. It is India’s smallest Union Territory with an area of 32 square km.
For the past few days, Indian citizens have been asking for the removal of Lakshadweep’s administrator Mr Praful Khoda Patel. Patel, the former Home Minister of Gujarat, who has been facing a backlash for a series of controversial reforms implemented ever since he took charge in December 2020.
Since the Island’s population is 97% Muslim, the contentious reforms introduced by the Patel administration is seen by some as a deliberate attempt to interfere with he community’s way of life.
The ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Lakshadweep unit president, Mohammad Kasim, has opposed the new regulations. “It seems some of the grievances of the island people are genuine. It is always good to seek the opinion of people and their elected representatives before making decisions. I have written to both PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, about this.”, he said, earlier this week.
Cause of protest
The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021, drafted by the Lakshadweep administration, is the document at the heart of the ongoing controversy. The draft gives additional powers to the administrator, who can displace or remove an islander at his discretion, citing developmental activities. This gives the administration unchecked powers and liberty to directly interfere with an islander’s right to possess and retain their property. The draft has also mentioned that the administrator is also allowed to undertake activities like building, mining and engineering on ecologically rich and sensitive islands.
In order to reduce crime rates in the Island, Praful Khoda Patel also introduced Gujarat’s Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) or the Goonda Act in January 2021. This gives the government or administration, the authority to detain anyone without any public disclosure for a duration of up to a year.
The new changes also bring in Panchayat regulations that state anyone with more than two children will not be eligible to be a member of the Gram Panchayat. Island residents have questioned the need for such a law when the total fertility rate of Lakshadweep is only 1.6%.
The proposed animal preservation rules that intend on banning slaughter, transportation, selling and buying of beef products are seen as an interference in the dietary routine of the Muslim community.
Praful Patel also intends on stopping schools from consuming non-vegetarian food, destroying sheds of fishermen and closing angan-wadis without a notice or warning. These buildings were earlier constructed under an exemption provided to the fisherfolk. Till now, 38 angan-wadis have been closed and 190 people have been terminated from the Tourism Department along with several educational institution staff. Local MP Mohammad Faizal said that opportunities in the private sector were limited and islanders depended on the administration for employment.
The administration also plans to build broader roads in the island but this development comes at a price. Lakshadweep’s National Congress Party has reflected their concerns saying the roads will be widened by destroying the small houses on either side of the road.
These contentious reforms have intensified the protests in the union Territory over the last few days. All these reforms have invited resistance from the locals who have termed these debatable changes as anti-people. Orders passed by the Lakshadweep administration are considered to be destroying the traditional and cultural solidarity of the people who live on the island.
Lakshadweep, the land of crystal waters, was one of the very few places to not have reported a single case of the novel coronavirus in 2020. The Union-territory was praised for its management of the crisis. However, things changed this year. The island reported its first case in January 2021. Since then, Lakshadweep has registered almost 7,229 cases with 26 deaths and an active caseload being around 2,247 at present.
The Islanders say that Covid protocols went for a toss this year, as Patel diluted the existing norms for managing the spread of the virus. Earlier, the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of the island required people to stay in a strict quarantine of fourteen days before entering the island. A revised SOP was issued by the administration with effect from 28th December 2020. The new SOP said that an RT-PCR negative report was enough to make an arrival in the Union Territory.
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Opposition parties in Kerala have stepped up their demands asking for the removal of Lakshadweep’s administrator Praful Patel over his “anti-people” measures. Kerala MP Elamaram Kareem, in his letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, stated that many labourers have lost their jobs because of the new reforms.
While speaking with The News Minute, Syed Mohammad Annes, President of the Lakshadweep Student Association said that every day, hundreds of contract labourers working under several departments have lost their jobs. The administration often issues orders to oust other casual and contractual staff working in government offices.
The #SaveLakshadweep campaign gained national attention after celebrities such as actor Prithviraj Sukumaran and footballer C.K. Vineeth took to Twitter to voice their support for the islanders’ concerns.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also reflected on the ongoing issue and termed the new reforms as a serious threat to life and culture of islanders. He also said that Lakshadweep and Kerala are dependent on each other for education, employment, medical treatment and trade.