Unrest in Lakshadweep over new administrator’s moves

A proposed cow slaughter ban, execution of the Prevention of Antisocial Activities Act (PASA) and introduction of a contentious land regulation draft. These are among a slew of initiatives by Lakshadweep’s new Administrator Praful Khoda Patel that have triggered a political storm and loud protests across the otherwise peaceful Arabian Sea archipelago.

Patel, who is also the Administrator of the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu and a former Gujarat home minister under Narendra Modi, took charge as the Lakshadweep Administrator last December.

The post of Lakshadweep administrator was commonly held by IAS or retired IPS officers like Patel’s predecessor Dineshwar Sharma, a former Intelligence Bureau director. He died in December, following which the post was given to Patel.

In Lakshadweep, usually the administrator works in liaison with the local Member of Parliament. At present, the local MP is Mohammed Faizal of the Nationalist Congress Party.

Patel’s decisions have led to protests on the streets and social media since January. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including its national vice-president and Lakshadweep in-charge A.P. Abdullakutty, are accusing the Congress and CPI (M) leaders of spreading “misinformation” about the new proposals in the UT.

What are the New Administrative Reforms?

Soon after his appointment last December, Patel relaxed the standard operating procedure for the COVID-19-induced lockdown in the island that many felt increased the number of patients. Lakshadweep didn’t record a single COVID case in 2020. It started registering infections in February 2021 and it recorded a total of 7,364 cases and 28 deaths till May 26, according to the latest government data.

The administration, however, has blamed increased movement of people for economic activity and high transmissibility of new coronavirus variants for the fresh COVID cases.

However, the major trigger for protests was the introduction of some contentious regulations like the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, which gives the administrator powers to remove or relocate the local people from their properties for town planning or other developmental activities.

According to the draft document, the developmental works will include “building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under land, the cutting of a hill or any portion thereof.”

Congress leader M.H. Sayeed said there are provisions in the regulation that mandate a land owner has to renew the permission for its use every three years, failing which a penalty of Rs. 2 lakh would be imposed, followed by Rs 10,000 for every additional day of delay, the Scroll reported.

Defending Patel, Abdullakutty said this proposal would be implemented only after reaching a consensus with the citizens and all political parties.

Patel also drew flak for the Draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021, put out for public response on February 25, besides his decision to ban meat, including beef and chicken, in mid-day meals in schools.

The regulation mandates that the fitness of the animal, meant for slaughter, has to be certified. As per Section 5 (2) of the draft regulation, a cow and its calf, bull, bullock and other animals, useful for agricultural work, breeding or giving milk and bearing offspring, will not be certified for slaughter. Vehicles transporting beef are also liable to be confiscated.

The proposed legislation mandates a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment for slaughtering a cow, which may extend up to a life term, and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. Those violating the beef ban will face a jail term of a minimum of seven years.

Another draft regulation for panchayats includes a provision that people with more than two children will be disqualified from holding the panchayat posts.

Another issue is the execution of the PASA, under which a person can be detained without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year.

There is another allegation against the administrator that he is trying to open the Muslim-dominated isles for liquor sales.

Opposition on Social Media

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members of the Congress and the CPI (M) — arch rivals in Kerala, a state which has close cultural and lingual ties with Lakshadweep — have joined hands, knocking at President Ramnath Kovind’s doors, seeking his intervention to recall Patel.

The hashtag #SaveLakshadweep has been trending on social media for the last few days with thousands registering their protest against the initiatives that they believe will fundamentally change the culture and environment of the Lakshadweep islands.

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,” CPI(M)’s Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem tweeted on May 24, with #SaveLakshadweep and pictures of his two-page letter to the President.

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