Lakshadweep, the archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea is witnessing a different kind of turmoil for days as the people have been protesting against the new set of reforms that were introduced by the Island’s Administrator. BJP Administrator Praful Patel, who was given the charge of Lakshadweep, after the demise of Dineshwar Sharma in December 2020, introduced these sweeping changes which created an unrest amongst the locals.
The New Administrator in-charge
Praful Patel, the BJP leader was appointed as the new administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020. He was also the former home minister of Gujarat and confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Within 6 months of taking charge of the island, Praful’s actions as an administrator has caused the leaders of Congress, BJP and other political parties to unitedly protest against him. The decisions taken by Patel caused disruptions of communal harmony in India’s islands of peace. He also brought an end to the travel restrictions, allowing anyone with a RT-PCR negative report to enter the islands.
This lifting off of travel restrictions led to a rise in covid cases in the islands. However, the administration defended itself by stating that the surge in Covid cases was due to the virulent SARS-CoV-2 strain along with the resumption of economic activities and the increase in cases in Kerala which links the islands with mainland India.
What triggered the Agitation?
Praful Patel stated that they unilaterally lifted the restrictions on the use of alcohol in the Muslim majority islands, banned beef products, disqualified panchayat poll aspirants with more than two children. As a part of this new reform, the administrator has already dismissed hundreds of contracts and casual workers who were employed in the government offices and terminated mid-day meal works and physical education teachers.
The administrator also mentioned that the islanders should not depend in Beypore in Kerala, anymore, for freight transit and should use Mangalore in Karnataka for this purpose. He also ordered the closure of all dairy farms in the island and allowed the Gujarat-based diary company Amul to sell its milk products there.
The locals have alleged that due to the change in the SOP by the administrator, there has been a spike in COVID-19 cases in the island. Although the locals have been protesting for days now, the agitation gained attention as they stated receiving support from the mainland like Kerala who share the language and culture with the island. Over the past few days, many people including actors, social activists and politicians have come in support to help the people of the island. Congress leader and Kerala MP Hibi Eden wrote to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to the Home Minister Amit Shah, urging them to protect the interest and the culture if the people of the island.
The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation
Popularly known as the Goonda Act, the introduction of this regulation has raised the hackles of the locals of the island as well as the opposition politicians, who have termed this as “draconian”. Section 3 of PASA states that the administrator, with a view to prevent someone from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order, may issue an order directing the person should be detained. The regulation also specifies as to what amounts to “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. If a person is engaged as a bootlegger, drug offender, immoral trafficking, property grabber, cyber offender, sexual offender, then the administrator can order to detain that person.
However, the need for implementation of such a regulation was question by politicians from opposition parties, as the crime rate on the islands are very low compared to the rest of the country. According to the statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau, there were only 121 crimes recorded in 2017, 86 recorded in 2018, 186 crimes recorded in 2019 and only 89 in 2020.
The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021
About 96.5% of Lakshadweep’s population of 70,000 people is Muslim. Hence, this regulation, which banned cow slaughter in the island had caused uproar with the opposition parties who alleged that BJP’s communal politics is the reason for such a decision by the administrator. The regulation not only bans cow slaughter, it also puts a ban on buying, selling transportation or even storing beef or beef products in any form. Any person found violating this law will be punished with imprisonment for a prison of 10 years and fine of up to Rs 5 Lakhs.
It states that the law provides for the preservation of the animals suitable for breeding or other agricultural purposes and any slaughter of animals, other than cows will require a certificate from the authorities.
The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021
The draft panchayat lays down the rules for getting elected in the gram panchayats. This new law disqualifies those aspirants with more than two children from getting elected to the panchayat. However, the same aspirants will not be disqualified if they have already been elected before the introduction of the regulation. States like Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra have already enacted such laws which disqualify people having more than two children from being a candidate in the panchayat elections.
The regulation also has provisions which reserve 50% seats in the panchayats for women. When asked the reason behind implementation of such a law, the collector said that according to the 2011 census, Lakshadweep’s population density was 2149 people/sq. km. which was much higher than the national average of 382 people/sq. km. He also stated that they have a limited land mass and have to develop infrastructures and resources within than limited land area.
Kerala’s anger against these changes is a sign of universal support for a resolution against the reforms. The ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front have decided to send their MPs to the islands to study the situation. This comes in as a support towards the locals, a major section who have been voicing against these changes over the past few months. Apart from the state's leaders, oppositions have also come from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who have also demanded to recall Praful Patel as the administrator and sought Narendra Modi’s intervention to bring an end to the agitation.