The Lakshadweep administration, which has been facing widespread public protests on the islands over some of its policies, has mooted a proposal to shift its legal jurisdiction from the Kerala High Court to the Karnataka High Court, officials said. However, late on Sunday night Lakshadweep district collector S Askar Ali said that there was no such move. Earlier, there was no response either from Ali or from Advisor (chief Secretary) A Anbarasu to emails queries sent to them on June 17 (Thursday) on the move of shifting the jurisdiction.
"There is no proposal of Lakshadweep administration to shift its legal jurisdiction from the Kerala High Court to Karnataka High Court. The news of shifting the jurisdiction of High Court from Kerala to Karnataka is baseless and is devoid of truth," Ali said in a WhatsApp message. The proposal was initiated by the administration in the backdrop of several litigations being moved before the Kerala High Court against the decisions taken by the islands' new administrator Praful Khoda Patel.
These decisions included revising standard operating procedures for COVID-appropriate behaviour, the introduction of the "Goonda Act" and demolishing hutments of fishermen for the widening of roads. Patel, who is the administrator of Daman and Diu, was given the additional charge of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep in the first week of December last year when the former administrator Dineshwar Sharma died after a brief illness.
This year, as many as 23 applications, including 11 writ petitions, have been filed against the administrator of Lakshadweep and also against the alleged high-handedness of either the police or the local government of the islands. However, for reasons best known to the island's administration, which is under the spotlight over its handling of these issues, it has made a proposal for shifting its legal jurisdiction from the High Court of Kerala to Karnataka. The jurisdiction of a High Court can be shifted only through an act of Parliament, according to the law.
"Parliament may by law constitute a High Court for a Union Territory or declare any court in any such territory to be a high court for all or any of the purposes of this Constitution," according to Article 241 of the Constitution. Section 4 of the same article mentions that "nothing in this article derogates from the power of Parliament to extend or exclude the jurisdiction of a High Court for a state to, or from, any Union Territory or part thereof".
Lok Sabha member Mohammed Faizal P P said, "This was his (Patel) first attempt to shift the judicial jurisdiction from Kerala to Karnataka. Why was he so particular to transfer it... it's totally a misappropriation of the post. The mother tongue of the people on these islands is Malayalam."
"One should not forget the name of the High Court is Kerala and Lakshadweep High Court. This proposal was conceived during his first visit to the islands," Faizal said and asked if there a need for this and how would he justify the proposal.
Faizal said there have been 36 administrators before Patel and no one had this kind of an idea. "However, if this proposal will see any light of the day, we will oppose it tooth and nail on the floor of Parliament as well as with the judiciary," the Lok Sabha member from Nationalist Congress Party said.
He said the Save Lakshadweep Front (SLF) has been making appeals to the Centre for changing the administrator at the earliest. "The SLF is a non-violent people's movement which has been requesting the central leadership to change Patel with someone who can be people's administrator," he added.
Legal experts from Lakshadweep said that Malayalam is the spoken as well as the written language both in Kerala and Lakshadweep, and, therefore, the process could be streamlined. Shifting of the jurisdiction of the High Court will change the entire judicial system of the islands as all the judicial officers are sent from the Kerala High Court because of the common language and script.
CN Noorul Hidya, a prominent lawyer from Lakshadweep, said that she had heard about the issue of changing jurisdiction. "But that is not the right move. How can they change the jurisdiction when we share the bond of language and the court documents are accepted in Malayalam language only," Hidya said over the phone from Lakshadweep.
She said that most of the people will be opposing any such move as that would virtually lead them to denial of justice. "One has to understand that the high court in Kerala is just 400 km away whereas that of Karnataka is over 1,000 km with no direct connectivity as well," Hidya said.
Legal experts also opined that changing the High Court would also mean an extra burden on the exchequer as all the cases, at present under trial, would have to be heard afresh.