A contentious draft legislation has put Lakshadweep’s administrator Praful Khoda Patel under the line of fire of a massive uproar. The ‘anti-people' policies have been opposed by the inhabitants of the islands, opposing parties, and the citizens of the mainland alike.
The son of an RSS leader, Praful Patel once served as the Home Minister under Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. He is currently the Administrator of Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu and Union Territory of Lakshadweep. This is not the first time that he has been embroiled in controversy. In 2019, he was issued a notice and reprimanded for the coercion of an election officer. The same year, he was involved in the demolition of indigenous people’s homes in Daman. More recently, in February 2021 his name appeared in the suicide note of tribal activist and Lok Sabha MP Mohanbhai Sanjibhai Delkar, for having a hand in the "injustice", "insult" and "bias" meted out to him.
Another thought-provoking fact to note is that - according to the home ministry, the administrator of the Union Territories - Lakshadweep and Dadra & Nagar Haveli is conventionally an IAS officer, rather than a politician.
Rahul Gandhi wrote to PM Modi asking him to withdraw the administration’s orders saying that Praful Patel “has unilaterally proposed sweeping changes without duly consulting elected representatives or the public. The people of Lakshadweep are protesting against these arbitrary actions”.
In light of the proposed changes, the Kerala assembly passed a resolution demanding the removal of Patel from his position as an administrator. The resolution was moved by the Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan. “The people of Lakshadweep are undergoing a difficult situation,” the resolution said. “Their culture and tradition are under threat following dictatorial measures being taken by the administrator ignoring local protests. Even their food habits and livelihood are under threat.” Vijayan is alleging that this is a ‘Sangh Parivar' agenda and has implied that saffronisation of the UT is taking place.
Upon informing him of the widespread protests, Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal was assured by Amit Shah that the laws under consideration are currently being scrutinised by the union home ministry and will not be passed without the consultation of local representatives.
Four major policies have garnered the most attention.
1. Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation [PASA]
More popularly referred to as the ‘Goonda act’ states that “the administrator may if satisfied with respect to any person that with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order, it is necessary to do so, make an order directing that the person should be detained”.
The word ‘preventing’ here implies that a person may be detained if they are even suspected of potentially being harmful. The power to detain people without any valid grounds alludes to the possibility of an agenda to suppress and scare dissenting voices and protestors under the guise of protection.
While PASA is not a distinctive act of the archipelago and is present in several states, such as Kerala, UP, and Tamil Nadu - it seems needless, owing to the low crime rate of the islands.
2. The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021
With a population of 70,000, out of which approximately 96.5% are Muslim, there is bound to be an outcry when BJP’s communal ‘beef ban’ is put in place.
The policy not only prohibits the slaughter of cows but also buying, selling, transportation, or storing beef or beef products in any form. Violation of the law is likely to be met with a maximum jail term of 10 years or a fine of ₹5 Lakhs.
BJP national Vice - President A.P. Abdullakutty, [who is in charge of Lakshadweep] and Collector S. Asker Ali have reiterated that the only goal is to preserve milch cows and that only those involved in illegal activities must fear this reform. In light of this, no certificates will be provided for the butchering of cows, calves, bulls, and bullocks on the islands.
Additionally, slaughtering animals, with the exception of cows and bulls for religious sacrifice will require a certificate from the authorities. Furthermore, this certificate may not be provided if it is realised that said animals are useful for agricultural or breeding purposes.
3. The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021
This law disqualifies any person who has three children or more from winning an election. The provisions of this regulation apply only to those families in which infants are born after the due date of the notification.
Lakshadweep PCC president Hamdullah Sayeed has said: "Those who have more than two children are disqualified from contesting panchayat elections. With this democracy has become meaningless."
The regulation also provides for a 50% reservation in gram panchayat seats for women.
4. The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation [LDAR]
Perhaps the most controversial of all, this regulation provides the administrator with the power to seize land for public purposes. It has been staunchly defended by the administrator who claims that he aims to develop the islands into a tourist hub, like the Maldives. “The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation will usher in development and go a long way in improving the social and economic indicators on the islands, which have so far lagged despite having the potential,” He said.
Apart from these, other draft laws which could be labeled ‘draconian’ are Lakshadweep Town & Country Planning Regulation, 2021 and the Notification for the transfer of powers from the PRIs to the Administrator. The former requires owners of certain notified land to seek the approval of any change being made to the land - including alteration of the exterior of their houses - in a way, taking away the right people have over their land. The latter claims that the transfer of powers to the PRIs in 2012 ‘had overburdened the PRIs which caused an adverse impact upon the efficiency of the execution of schemes’, due to which entire establishments are falling under the hands of the administrator.
The residents of the archipelago, rightfully fear the nature and implication of this draft legislation. The administrator has a past of pushing personal agenda over the needs of his people and this could taint what is an integral part of their land and democracy - their culture and rights.
Press Trust of India. (2021, May 31). Lakshadweep MP Says Amit Shah Assured No Laws Without Consulting With Locals. NDTV.Com. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/lakshadweep-mp-says-amit-shah-assured-no-laws-without-consulting-with-locals-2453351
Staff, S. (2021, May 31). Lakshadweep: Kerala Assembly passes resolution urging Centre to call back administrator Praful Patel. Scroll.In. https://scroll.in/latest/996268/lakshadweep-kerala-assembly-passes-resolution-urging-centre-to-call-back-administrator-praful-patel
Gupta, M. D. (2021, May 28). These are the 3 Lakshadweep draft laws that have triggered controversy. ThePrint. https://theprint.in/india/these-are-the-3-lakshadweep-draft-laws-that-have-triggered-controversy/667336/
Saxena, P. (2021, May 26). Administrator’s laws put Lakshadweep in the middle of nowhere. The Federal. https://thefederal.com/analysis/administrators-laws-put-lakshadweep-in-the-middle-of-nowhere/
Gupta, M. D. (2021b, May 28). ‘Want to develop Lakshadweep like Maldives’ — Administrator Praful Patel defends draft land law. ThePrint. https://theprint.in/india/want-to-develop-lakshadweep-like-maldives-administrator-praful-patel-defends-draft-land-law/666684/
Image Sources -
Praful K Patel via Twitter.
An Island in Lakshadweep via adventuresome.in