lakshadweep

Praful Khoda Patel, a BJP leader who formerly served as Home Minister under Narendra Modi during the latter’s term as Gujarat Chief Minister, has had a controversial track record ever since he was appointed the Administrator of Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu in 2016. Allegations against him include an attempt to influence Kannan Gopinathan, the collector for Dadra and Nagar Haveli and other election officials during elections, forcible takeover of seafront owned by adivasi fishing communities, and the abetment of the suicide of tribal rights advocate and Lok Sabha MP Mohanbhai Sanjibhai Delkar in February 2021.

However, his actions following his appointment as Administrator of Union Territory of Lakshadweep.in December last year, can only be described as a full scale assault on the overwhelmingly Muslim population of this Union Territory. In moves resembling actions of a conquering despot or colonial official, Patel has banned meat consumption, made local dairy products unlawful, shut anganwadis, ordered a string of demolitions and invoked harsh laws to stifle opposition and intimidate any opposition.

The controversial new laws include the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) — which allows the administrator authority to forcibly remove or relocate residents from their property for any developmental activity; the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), introduced in January 2021, which allows the authorities detain anyone without public disclosure for up to a year and the draft panchayat notification, where members with more than two children are disqualified.

Particularly alarming is his suspension of Covid protocols in the islands, which according to the locals have led to a sharp rise in Covid cases. The rule that required mandatory quarantine for people from the mainland was removed, and instead only RT-PCR negative reports are required for entry now. As a result, Lakshadweep, which had zero Covid cases in 2020, has seen a sharp spike in cases during the second wave, with a total of 22 deaths reported, while daily cases have surged past 300.

The draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation prohibits the slaughter of cattle and consumption of beef, a staple food of the locals, more than 90% of whom are Muslims, has led to a lot of uproar on the island. The new law allows the authorities to seize beef or beef products, with violators liable to get prison terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to Rs 5 lakh. Even slaughter of other animals will require prior permission, and non-vegetarian food has been removed from school menus as well.

After ordering the closure of local dairy farms, and instructing for the livestock to be auctioned, the Administration has allowed Gujarat-based Amul to open its outlets in the island, starting with its headquarters Kavaratti. Amul, one of the world’s largest dairy cooperatives, is known to be controlled by the RSS-BJP combine in Gujarat. Angry residents, for whom livestock is the second biggest source of income after fishing, have now called for a “#BoycottAmul” campaign to protest the move.

The new draft Panachayat regulations (amendment) act prevents those who have more than two children from contesting panchayat elections. The administration has closed down 38 Anganwadis (child care centres), and also dismissed hundreds of contract and casual workers employed by government offices, and also terminated mid-day meal workers, physical education teachers, Marine Wildlife Protection Watchers etc.

Meanwhile, the norms for serving liquor at the various resorts in the Lakhadweep islands have been diluted. Under the new rules, resorts in all islands will be allowed to supply liquor, whereas earlier, it was only resorts in the uninhabited Bangaram island that were allowed to do so.

Adding to this long list of high-handed and anti-democratic moves, the Coast Guard Act was invoked by the Administration to demolish temporary sheds built by fishermen to store their equipment on the shore, which had been built with official permission. This is a body blow to a community for which fishing is the main source of income. Many homes and public amenities are slated to be demolished for “road widening” in tune with “National Highway standards” in a place where traffic is minimal owing to the low number of vehicles.

The administration has used the Goonda Act to quell opposition to its policies, including people who had erected banners protesting the Centre’s CAA/NRC laws earlier. Lakshadweep has the lowest crime rate in the country (perhaps in the world too), so the people believe that the real purpose is to target those protesting against the Administration and Union government policies.

The Administration has also ordered all freight transit from Lakhadweep through Beypore port in Kerala, severing traditional ties of the Malayalam-speaking island populace with the state. According to Elamaram Kareem, parliamentarian from Kerala, the plan is to sever the island’s historical connection to Kerala and instead all island-related traffic to Mangalore, an RSS stronghold in BJP-ruled Karnataka.

Several members of Parliament from the Left parties as well as the Congress in Kerala, which shares historical ties with the islands, have protested what they have termed the “autocratic” approach of the new administration. Among others, Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal PP, Elamaram Kareem and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that the Administrator’s actions threaten the culture and life of the people of Lakshadweep. “Such acts cannot be accepted. Kerala has long-standing ties with Lakshadweep. There is a bid to destroy that. Persons concerned should keep away from such a narrow-minded approach,’’ Vijayan recently said.

Sajai Jose is the editor of Ecologise.in


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