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Lakshadweep: The soothing island is seething with anger, Here’s why

For a week now, the administrator of Lakshadweep, the archipelago of 35 atolls and coral reefs in the Arabian sea has been in the news and #SaveLakshadweep trending on Twitter highlights the ongoing crisis in the island territory.

The soothing island is seething with anger. Resentment is brewing beneath the calm, verdurous neighbourhoods of the Lakshadweep group of islands. Over a slew of regulations are introduced by the new administrator, Praful Khoda Patel in the last five months of his rule ever since he assumed the office.

Lakshadweep has the lowest population ranking in India. It has just about 65,000 people inhabiting 10 of its 36 islands. Its decadal population growth rate of 6.23 per cent is far below the same at the national level at 17.70 per cent. The Andrott Island, the largest in the archipelago, has a maximum width of slightly more than a kilometre. The surface area of the entire 36 islands that make up the archipelago is only 32 square kilometres.

The archipelago did not report a single case of COVID-19 in 2020. The UT has since registered 6,847 cases until May 24. But the major turmoil in the Union Territory is related to the new regulations.

The new set of regulations introduced by the administrator of the Lakshadweep islands, Praful Khoda Patel, is being widely condemned by the island territory’s people.

What is the Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA )regulation?

The regulation empowers the ‘administrator’ of the islands to constitute Planning and Development Authorities, the Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA), under it and develop projects in any area identified as having “bad layout or obsolete development”. Only cantonment areas are exempted from this. An authority thus created would be a body corporate with a government-appointed chairman, a town planning officer and three ‘expert’ government nominees besides two local authority representatives.

The draft regulation defines development as the “carrying out of building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under land, the cutting of a hill or any portion thereof or the making of any material change in any building or land or in the use of any building or land…” These authorities are to prepare land use maps, carry out zonation for type of land use and indicate areas for proposed national highways, arterial roads, rings roads, major streets…. railways, tramways, airports… theatres, museums….playgrounds, stadia…”

Furthermore, the draft regulation imposes a severe punishment such as imprisonment by virtue of section 119 for causing obstruction of work or workers under the Development Plan.

Anoop V Nair, counsel for the petitioner submitted that “with a very fragile environment, traditional society and marginal economy and almost entirely dependent on the mainland, the regulation will destroy the way of life practised by them for generations. Even though it was published with a public notice calling for objections, the same will be implemented soon without any further notice and if implemented it will highly affect the residents of Lakshadweep Islands and nobody will be able to question the same.”

Sections 92 and 93 of the draft Regulations mandates levying development charges and processing fee for change of zones from the islanders. This means that the islanders have to make payments to obtain permissions for change of zones in accordance with the Development Plan and are also liable to pay for permission to develop their own land,” the petitioner said.

Here are the proposed laws in chronological order:

Furthermore, the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), which is also known as the “Goonda Act” was hastily implemented in January 2021, under which a person can be detained without any trial for a period of up to one year.

As per this proposed law, a “cruel person” and a “dangerous person” can be taken into custody on the grounds which appear satisfactory to the authority under the Administrator. Section 2 of the draft law defines “cruel person” as one who violates or intends to violate the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960’.

A dangerous person is defined as one who commits a range of offences such as theft, unlawful assembly, mischief, criminal intimidation, breach of trust, criminal trespass and misconduct by a drunken person in public. In addition, the proposed Goonda Act creates a new category of offence as ‘property grabber’. Section 2(O) of the draft law defines ‘property grabber’ as one who illegally takes possession of land belonging to the government or local authorities.

Lakshadweep Town & Country Planning Regulation 2021 (April 28, 2021): The law proposes the formation of a development authority which is to be empowered to notify any area of land classified into any of the four categories as ‘residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial’.

In the guise of development, the authority is empowered to acquire any land notified under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. Under this law, the government is entitled to declare any land as a planning area by notification.

Notification for the transfer of powers from the PRIs to the Administrator (May 5, 2021): Many states that the notification has close links to the proposed law for creating an authority to have the powers to take over the land. The notification transfers the entire establishments of agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry, health and education with immediate effect to the hands of the Administrator. The order explains 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’ which is cited as the reason for this current decision.

The proposed beef ban, exclusion of meat from the noon meal and the lifting of liquor ban in the name of tourism are widely criticized as provocative steps challenging their culture, tradition and religious practices.

Lost jobs

There are limited jobs in the private-sector jobs in Lakshadweep; the people are mainly depending on the government for employment. Since January, close to 300 people have lost their jobs. 

  • The administration had annulled jobs for physical education teachers and mid-day meal cooks. 
  • Many were dismissed from the Department of Animal Welfare and the Department of Agriculture. 
  • The Administration has also allegedly closed down all dairy farms operated by the Animal Husbandry Department. Island residents were wiped out from the administrative systems. 
  • The Administration has allegedly demolished the sheds used by fishermen for keeping nets and other equipment on the grounds saying that they violated Coast Guards Acts.

The Administration has also restricted the movement of the islanders to Beypore (Kerala) for freight transmits. Instead, they should depend on Mangalore Port (Karnataka) for this purpose. This decision will gravely affect Beypore, which has been closely linked with the island for decades. 

The aforementioned issues have caused great concern to the islanders during the already pressing times of the pandemic.

Against this backdrop, a movement has begun on social media with “#SaveLakshadweep” and with a myriad of people tweeting to highlight an ongoing crisis in the island territory — from politicians to sports personalities and actors and spread the issue to the larger audience. 

Elamaram Kareem alleged that the orders issued by the Lakshadweep administration under the current administrator were directed at destroying the traditional life and cultural diversity of the people of Lakshadweep. He further points out that casual and contract labourers had lost their jobs.

Hyderabad MP and AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi said that the Modi-led central government is causing irreversible destruction to the island and its people. He asked to withdraw all the anti-islander laws from Lakshadweep and replace Patel as the administrator.

He is not alone. Recently, many well-known personalities have highlighted the situation in Lakshadweep, requesting for action against the administration.

“How does disrupting the way of life of a centuries-old peaceful settlement become an acceptable means of progress? How will threatening the balance of a very delicate island ecosystem with no regard for the potential consequences pave the way for sustainable development?” asked actor Prithviraj Sukumaran, noting that no islander that he had spoken to was “happy with what’s happening”.

In a long thread on Twitter, footballer CK Vineeth called out “administrative injustices” in the Lakshadweep, stating that it had been “one problem after another for the people of Lakshadweep” ever since a new Administrator was appointed.

How does Governance in the Union Territory work?

All union territories are administered by the President’s agent. The President can specify the designation of the agent, which may be Lieutenant Governor or Chief Commissioner or Administrator.

An administrator of a union territory, however, is an agent of the President and not the head of state like a governor. Since 2015 administrators in the Union Territory were officers from either the IAS or IPS. However, the present leader Mr Praful Patel belongs to neither group is a BJP Gujarat’s politician.

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