“The actions and far-reaching proposals of the Administrator, without due consultation with the islanders, constitute an onslaught on the very fabric of Lakshadweep society, economy and landscape as if the islands were just a piece of real estate for tourists and tourism investors from the outside world,” wrote a group of 93 former civil servants as they expressed their “deep concern” over the “disturbing developments" in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep in the name of "development". The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Union and state governments, highlighted their concerns in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 5.
The officials have urged the Prime Minister to ensure an appropriate development model that is in consultation with the islanders, with emphasis on access to safe and secure healthcare, education and just governance, among others. Asserting that Lakshadweep occupies a unique place in India's geographic and cultural diversity, the group highlighted drafts of three regulations introduced by Praful Khoda Patel after assuming additional charge of Administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020. Patel is also the Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
Since taking charge, he has introduced drafts of the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (commonly known as PASA or the Goonda Act elsewhere), and the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation (LAPR), as well as an amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulations. These proposed regulations have generated widespread anxiety on the island and the nation at large, they have said in the letter.
"These drafts have been introduced without local consultation and are presently with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the government of India for necessary approvals," said the letter. A copy of the letter has been shared with Home Minister Amit Shah and Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Prakash Javadekar. Former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, ex-Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, former Adviser to prime minister T K A Nair and former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah are among the 93 signatories.
“Claiming that there has been no development in Lakshadweep for the past 70 years, the LDAR reflects a model of land and tourism development that includes resorts, hotels and beachfronts on the "Maldives model," unmindful of the differences between the two island groups in size, population, number of islands and their spread,” the officials highlighted.
Lakshadweep is an ecologically sensitive coral archipelago located off the Malabar coast consisting of 36 islands (of which 10 are inhabited and one developed as a tourist resort) spread out over 32 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean, with a Muslim majority population of around 65,000 that is matrilineal, largely egalitarian, and ethnically close to Kerala, from where it was ruled through much of its history, it said.
Concerns over dispossession of land, predatory corporate development and destruction of the environment have been compounded by the draft PASA, a preventive detention regulation that enables the Administrator to detain any person for up to a year for common crimes (like anti-social behaviour, smuggling contraband drugs and liquor, involvement in immoral traffic, land grabbing, cyber-crimes, sexual offences or damaging the environment), the group said.
Other regulations proposed by the Administrator target food and dietary habits and religious injunctions of the local islanders, 96.5% of whom are Muslims, it said.
The LAPR will, if passed into law, effectively ban the killing of bovine animals and prohibit the consumption, storage, transport or sale of cattle meat in an island environment where there are inherent limits to livestock development, the letter said. No such prohibitions apply to several states in the North-East and even the state of Kerala next door, it said.
A ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in keeping with the religious sensitivities of the overwhelmingly Muslim population has been lifted, once again ostensibly to promote tourism, giving both the beef ban and lifting of the prohibition on alcohol an avoidable communal colour in a sensitive maritime region where communal disharmony could harm national security, the letter said.
The changes being proposed by the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 for elections to gram panchayats that will disqualify candidates with more than two children from contesting seats for the gram panchayat too have been proposed without any local consultation or taking into account local sensitivities, it said.
They also highlighted how the arrival of the administrator aggravated problems relating to COVID-19 in the union territory. "Until his appointment in December 2020, Lakshadweep did not report a single case of COVID-19. With his arrival and occasional visits, mandatory quarantine guidelines and SOPs for those arriving from the mainland have been relaxed, leading to the first reported case of COVID-19 on 18 January 2021, the first COVID-19 death on February 24, 2021, 8,479 cumulative cases and 35 deaths as of date, leading to a total lockdown situation until recently," it read.
“Each of these measures smacks not of development but of alien and arbitrary policymaking, in violation of established practices that respect the environment and society of Lakshadweep,” the letter said.
“We urge that these measures be withdrawn forthwith, the union territory be provided with a full-time, people-sensitive and responsive Administrator, and that an appropriate development model that emphasises access to safe and secure healthcare, education, just governance, food security and livelihood options linked to the ecosystem, in consultation with islanders, be put in place, building on the achievements thus far,” the group said.
Read the full letter here.