The ‘Save Lakshadweep’ movement has gathered traction on numerous social media platforms in recent days, with netizens denouncing a slew of new policies suggested by the islands’ administrator, Praful Khoda Patel.
The policies have been faced with opposition not just from residents and local political workers, but also from politicians, activists, and artists in Kerala.
What Is The Commotion All About?
Praful Patel, the administrator of the union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, was assigned to Lakshadweep after the previous executive Dineshwar Sharma died in December last year.
Since his appointment, he has suggested a number of additional policies that have enraged the islanders, who claim that the new measures would ruin their characteristic way of life.
What Are The Proposed Measures?
1) Introduction of the Anti-Social Activities Regulation Bill, 2021
The government released a draft detention bill for the prevention of anti-social activities, which, if passed, would allow the administration to imprison anybody for up to a year without public notice.
2) Beef Ban
The government has presented the proposed the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021, which, if passed, will prohibit the slaughter of cows, cow calves, bulls, and bullocks.
3) Land Development Initiative
Because Lakshadweep is a union territory without an assembly, the centre has direct jurisdiction over it. The administration proposed the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, which, if passed, would allow the government to seize any piece of property held by a common man on the islands, for “development” purposes.
4) Diversion of all cargo to Mangalore
The administration has put made efforts to redirect all goods to Mangalore. The proposal has been greeted with controversy since, previously, the bulk of local merchants relied on Beypore port in Kerala, a state with which the islanders have close cultural links.
5) Decision to allow Liquor Bars
Lakshadweep is a Muslim-majority territory, where Malayalam is the primary language. The islands are alcohol-free zones. Patel, on the other hand, has given his approval for businesses to build liquor bars on the island, arguing that such a move will boost tourism. Locals have been vocal in their disagreement to the decision.
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How Does Governance In The Union Territory Work?
Every union territory of India is controlled by the President, who appoints an agent for operations. The agent’s designation can be specified by the President as the Lieutenant Governor, Chief Commissioner, or Administrator.
An administrator of a union territory is an agent of the President rather than the head of state, as is a governor. Since 2015, administrators in the union territory have been either IAS or IPS personnel. However, the current leader – Praful Patel – is not qualified for as per civil services.
Why Is It Not So Simple?
The government’s emphasis on infrastructure development in Lakshadweep has grown in response to expanding Chinese interest in the neighbouring countries of Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Lakshadweep is a small Indian territory of enormous strategic significance in the Indian ocean, which has piqued the interest of all major world powers, especially with the growth of Chinese activity in the region. It is for the same reason that India has recently pushed for development projects and tourist marketing in Ladakh and the north-eastern states.
The proposed law aims to meet the government’s need of “carrying out building, engineering, mining, quarrying, or other operations” in Lakshadweep.
Local people and activists are vehemently opposed to this project. Protesters highlight the ecological vulnerability of the islands which are small, fragile, and intensively inhabited.
Androth, the biggest populated island in Lakshadweep, is just 4.9 square kilometres in size and has a population density of 2,312 people per square kilometre. Bitra is the least densely populated island, with 271 people living on 0.10 square kilometres of land. Protesters wonder what type of roadways or mega-infrastructure projects might be developed on such little plots of land.