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Lakshadweep | Reforms are not enforced on the people, they are made partners in the process

The people of Lakshadweep are not against change, but are against the mindless and illogical ‘reforms’ which do not sit well with the local needs and reality 

May 26, 2021 / 12:54 PM IST
Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

It is picture postcard memories that one usually has when one thinks about the group of islands that form Lakshadweep, off the Kerala coast in south India. The lagoon, the glass boats, the coral-strewn beach, the tuna fish, and the pious and peace-loving islanders…they all make it a serene and popular tourist destination. I too have fond memories of the Union Territory when I stayed there for months back in the ’80s when my father was working in the secretariat in Kavaratti, the UT’s capital.

However, the peace-loving UT has lately been in the news for the wrong reasons. The problems seem to have started after Praful Khonda Patel was named administrator of the UT following the demise of his predecessor Dineshwar Sharma on December 4.

Patel, who is a Bharatiya Janata Party leader and was a minister in Gujarat when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister, has been accused by the islanders, politicians and celebrities of trying to erase the distinct culture of Lakshadweep under the garb of ‘reforms’.

Politically-active netizens are popularising the hashtag #SaveLakshadweep to draw attention to what they claim is an attempt by the administrator to destroy the lifestyle and ways of the people of the islands.

Of the many reforms Patel has proposed, major opposition is against four: the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, the amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules, and the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation.

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The problems is not so much against change as much as it is against the mindless and illogical ‘reforms’ which do not sit well with the local needs and reality.

The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021, is widely opposed by the residents who feel that this is a ploy to aid real estate groups crave out pristine parts of the UT for private gain, and will lead to forceful evictions and displacement of the islanders. The regulation gives power to the planning and development authorities to evict anyone who ‘illegally’ occupies land when the zones are located and notified. Patel’s reasoning, which is to develop the island “into a smart city in future” is an example of how removed the administrator is from ground reality.

It is feared that the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation will be misused to detain people who oppose the administrator and his ways. According to the UT administration’s website, “The crime rate is also the lowest in the country….Only three murder cases are reported so far, two at Androth and one at Kalpeni respectively.” Given this, what could be the rationale behind this regulation?

On the contrary Patel’s decision to open liquor bars in the UT is generally frowned upon and many islanders believe could lead to an increase in crime. In his letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala Elamaram Kareem has stressed that the ban on use of alcohol must continue.

The amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules 2021 is being opposed for the clause 14, subsection (n) in Chapter 3 where any person who has more than two children cannot contest or be a member of the gram panchayat. This at a time when the total fertility rate in the UT stands at 1.5, which is lower than the national average.

The draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021 goes against the lifestyle and culinary practises of the islanders who are predominantly non-vegetarians. The draft bans the selling and buying of beef or beef products — it must be remembered that beef forms an important part of the local cuisine and dietary protein intake.

There are other allegations as well against Patel and his ways. Take, for example, the COVID-19 situation in the UT. Lakshadweep reported its first COVID-19 case on January 18, two weeks after Patel’s office discontinued the standard operating procedure where anyone coming from the mainland had to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Political leaders from Kerala are seeing red over Patel’s decision to discontinue the decades-old practise of freight ties with Beypore port in north Kerala. Now, instead of Beypore, it will be Mangaluru port. They say that this is an effort to cut Kerala’s ties with the UT — it must be noted here that a majority of the islanders speak Jeseri, which is a dialect of Malayalam.

The archipelago, comprising of 36 islands and India's smallest Union Territory, is an ecologically-sensitive, bio-diverse area which needs to be protected — the mindless ‘reforms’ that State administrations rush into should not destroy what has thus been preserved. Reforms are not imposed on the people; for its success they are made partners in the process. Clearly, Patel has not taken the local administration or people into confidence before going about with his ‘reforms’.

 
Gladwin Emmanuel is a Kerala-based senior journalist. Twitter:@gladwinemmanuel. Views are personal.
first published: May 26, 2021 12:45 pm

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