LAKSHWADEEP CRISIS

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INTRODUCTION

India, in terms of geography, has surely been blessed. From mountains (Kailash, Himalayas) to beaches (Goa) to rivers (Ganga, Yamuna) and islands (Andaman, Lakshadweep), the country has all types of terrain some of which are unique and extremely rare, like the Ram-Setu bridge.

Lakshadweep is an archipelago consisting of thirty-six islands. The name is derived from the Malayalam language, which means ‘One Lakh Islands.’ It is also the most common language used by the natives in the territory. It is the smallest union territory of India, having a total surface area of 32 square kilometers. The capital of the islands is Kavaratti, and the territory comes under Kerala High Court’s jurisdiction. It’s one of the eight Union Territories with a single district, having ten subdivisions which are governed by the administrator who is to be appointed by the President of India under Article 239 of the Indian constitution. The current administrator is Mr. Praful, Khoda Patel.

“Article 239 Administration of Union territories

(1) Save as otherwise provided by Parliament by law, every Union territory shall be administered by the President acting, to such extent as he thinks fit, through an administrator to be appointed by him with such designation as he may specify

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in Part VI, the President may appoint the Governor of a State as the administrator of an adjoining Union territory, and where a Governor is so appointed, he shall exercise his functions as such administrator independently of his Council of Ministers.”[1]

The subdivisions of Agatti and Minicoy are under Deputy collector, whereas when it comes to the other eight islands, their developmental activities are coordinated by Sub Divisional Officers. The District Magistrate, who also has the role of collector cum Development Commissioner looks after the matters which come under the district administration. Such matters mostly include revenue, land settlement, law, and order. The District Magistrate is also assisted by one Additional District Magistrate and Ten Executive Magistrates regarding enforcing law and order within the territory.      

The administrator has also been given the powers of Inspector General of Lakshadweep Police, and in that capacity, he commands as well as controls the Lakshadweep Police.  The Administration Secretariat is located at Kavaratti, and the only one member is elected from the territory of Lakshadweep to Lok Sabha.

Lakshadweep–Maldives–Chagos form the northernmost of the islands, which are the clippings of a massive subaqueous mountain range, the Chagos-Lakshadweep Ridge. Although it had 36 islands, presently only 35 remain, as Paralia is one of the islands submerged in water due to sea erosion. The capital and the principal town of the Union Territory is Kavaratti. Other than this, there is an uninhabited land known as Pitti Island, where there is a bird sanctuary.

Recently, the entire Lakshadweep group of islands has been declared as an organic agricultural area under the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of India. Lakshadweep is also the first Union Territory that has become hundred percent organic by not using artificial fertilizers and pesticides, providing entrance to safer food choices and making agriculture much more sustainable and eco-friendly. The entire 32 square kilometers geographical land area of the union territory was vowed to be organic after receiving essential certifications and pronouncements under the Centre’s Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (organic farming improvement program).

Earlier, the union territory’s administration had imposed a formal uniform ban on the sale, use as well as entry of synthetic chemicals for agriculture purposes from October 2017 onwards to make the islands a chemical-free zone.

As there are no indigenous occupants, different suggestions have been contrived in regards to the island’s history. It has been evident through archaeological reports that the territory has witnessed human settlement since 1500 BCE. Anonymous references in the book ‘Periplus Of The Erythraean’ from the 1st century suggest that the territory was known and was familiar to the sailors back then. It has also found its mention in the Jataka tales in 6th Century BCE (book of Buddhist culture and religion talking about his previous lives).

The entire habitats of the territory are classified as scheduled tribes, and the majority of the native people are followers of Islam, and most of the Muslims follow the Shafi school of the Sunni sect. Islam was introduced in the territory when Muslims arrived in the seventh century. During the medieval period, it was ruled by the Chera dynasty, the Chola dynasty, as well as the Kingdom of Kannur. Although the Portuguese arrived around 1498, they were ejected from the territory in 1545. After which, the natives were under the rule by the Muslim house of Arakkal, who were liegemen to the Kolathiri Rajas of Kannur, followed by Tipu Sultan. After his death in 1799, most of the territory was passed on to the British, and with their repatriation, the Union Territory was established in 1956.

 Certain acts are imposed on the island, which has enraged the natives. There are:

·     THE LAKSHADWEEP ANIMAL PRESERVATION REGULATION, 2021

This regulation came in February 2021, and there are various sections that are highly unnecessary and portray biasness. UnderSec.5, one needs to get a certificate before slaughtering animals, but no such certificate shall be granted if they fall under section 5(2). Sec.8 prohibits selling, keeping, storing, transporting, offering, or exposing to sell or buy beef in any form.

If an offense has been committed under section 5(2), then a person will be punished with imprisonment extending to life but shall not be less than ten years and with a fine extending to 5 lakhs but shall not be less than 1 lakh.

If an offense has been committed against section 8 of the regulation, then a person will be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to 10 years but shall not be less than seven years and with a fine which may be extended to 5 lakhs but shall not be less than 1 lakh.

Issue: The law seems very arbitrary as the degree of punishment is disproportionate to the degree of the offense. Even the maximum punishment for killing a tiger, which is an endangered animal, is seven years. So, the law comes out more as a communal bias than a bona fide law.

Defence: A.P. Abdullakutty, in charge of Lakshadweep, has said that opposition is needlessly giving a communal angle, and it only aims to preserve milch animals.

·       THE PREVENTION OF ANTI-SOCIAL ACTIVITIES REGULATION

This act has been passed in various other states such as Gujarat, Kerala, U.P., etc. These islanders have labelled it as a Goonda act. Section 3 of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation states that the administrator can detain a person to prevent him from acting against the maintenance of public order. One of the most shocking parts is that it allows the competent authority to detain a person without any public disclosure for a period of up to 1 year.

Issue: The crime records of the island are very low, and only 89 cases of crime were filed in 2020; thus, to impose such laws is to suppress any kind of protest against the government.

The law will also give enormous power to the administrator who can detain a person for a full year without valid grounds exploiting its fundamental rights.

Defence: S. Asker Ali, the collector of the Lakshadweep Island, has stated that this law is important when it comes to national security, and one cannot take a chance when it comes to law and justice. Although the crime rate is low, there is no guarantee it will remain the same.

·     THE LAKSHADWEEP PANCHAYAT REGULATION, 2021 

It states that no person would be allowed to contest in the gram panchayat elections if he has more than two children. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc., are states that have already enforced these laws. It has also granted the power to women to contest in the election and has reserved 50% seats for women in the gram panchayat elections.

Issues: Enactment of such a law is not necessary as the population on the island is already less, and it should not disqualify a person from gram panchayat elections on such grounds.

Defense: The collector has said that population density, according to the 2011 Census, was 2,149 people/sq km, much higher than the national average of 382 people/ sq km[2]. The land is highly acute, and one has to develop infrastructure within that limit; therefore, the act has to be enforced. He has also stated that any person having more than two children shall not be disqualified if he has been elected before the regulation has been notified.

–    DRAFT OF LAKSHADWEEP DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY REGULATION, 2021

  • This regulation is considered the heart of all the protests and is being seen as the main issue. This regulation is widely resented by the natives. This regulation allows the governmental body, which in this case is the administrator, to relocate or remove the natives from their home.
  • The constitution of the Lakshadweep Development Authority has authorized the administrator to establish Planning and Development Authorities for the development of areas having an archaic expansion.
  • The authority would be a corporate body constituting a chairman appointed by the government, a town planning officer, three expert’s government candidates as well as two representatives of a local authority.
  • The authorities have to prepare the land, use maps, carry out zonation for the type of land to be used and designate areas for national highways, roads, major streets, railways, tramways, airports, museums, etc. Only cantonment areas are an exception from the planning.

·     It has defined Development “as the carrying out of the 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 the use of any building or land.” the regulation states that:

  1. The development plan would not be questioned after/before its approval and will neither be subjected to legal proceedings.
  2. It allows the administrator to forcefully remove/relocate residents from their property for such purpose. For fees of changing zones, it says that: Islanders will have to pay a processing fee for it.
  3. Indicates that localities would be required to pay fees to gain approval to change zones and also have to give fees for permission to develop their land.

Issues:

a)   People are suspicious that such laws are being imposed for real estate interests, and the government’s plans to bring concepts like transferable development rights have raised fear and suspicion of mass forced migration among the natives.

b)   It has been given so much power, which can be considered arbitrary as it can forcefully evict an owner and relocate them irrespective or regardless of their will.

c)   Their community is a close-knit group, so by relocating them, they are also destroying their long-practiced culture.

d)   They are not only facing forceful eviction but also heavy penalization if they don’t surrender to such eviction.

e)   The practice is considered neither ecologically sustainable nor socially practical.

f)   The regulation also was never consulted by people, which contradicts the Land Acquisition Act which says that the local government must be consulted.

g)   The regulation, although it aims to expand highways, roads and build trams, canals but lack of ships to adjoin the island to the mainland is a major issue and needs to be dealt with first.

Defence: The administrator has said that such development is necessary as it dreams of making Lakshadweep as prosperous as the Maldives.

 AFTER EFFECTS:

1.     PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION: A PIL was filed by K P Noushad Ali, who is a Congress leader.

  • He has contended that the new draft regulation guarantees wide, arbitrary, and unconstrained powers to the island administration and would rescind the unique culture as well as the traditions of the Lakshadweep island.
  • The rules would also affect the ownership and custody of property by the island residents.
  • While the counsel for the petitioner asserted for a temporary stay on regulations, a division bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and M R Anitha observed that it was a policy matter and all the people involved in the matter should be able to share their views with the court.
  • The court has also sent notifications to the Union government and island administration and has posted the hearing after two weeks.
  • Praful Khoda Patel’s contentious reforms have attracted widespread antipathy among the natives, with many being certain that these changes are being introduced with the aim to make the island a tourist destination, and for this, it is trying to destroy the unique culture and tradition of the islands. Many M.P.s, including Mohammed Faizal, who represents the island, sent letters to the President seeking Patel’s immediate recall.
  • However, The Kerala High Court, on May 28,21, refused to stay the enactment of the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021 and sought after the response of the Centre and Lakshadweep administration in two weeks on public interest litigation (PIL) against it.

2.   OTHER ORDERS

  • On June 22, 2021, the Kerala High Court stayed the operation of two controversial orders passed by the Lakshadweep administration under its new administrator Praful Khoda Patel.
  • The first order was that of shutting down dairy farms run by the administration on the island. The second order was regarding the change in diet for school children by abstracting chicken and other meat from their mid-day meal. However, the order was put at stay by a division bench consisting of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly.
  • Advocate Peeyus Kottam (who appeared for petitioner) confirmed that the orders had stayed by the Hon’ble court. However, a copy of the order is awaited.
  • A time period of two weeks has been given to the island administration by the Hon’ble Bench to respond to the PIL.
  • The bench passed the following orders:

·       (i) Until further orders, dairy farms shall be operational.

·       (ii) Food, including meat, chicken, fish, egg, and other items, prepared and served to the school-going children of Lakshadweep, as done in the past, should be continued until further orders. To make it clear, the earlier system should continue.

·       (iii) Respondents are instructed to file their counter along with supporting documents.”

  • The Director, Department of Animal Husbandry, passed the controversial order on closing down of dairy farms on May 21. The order passed by the Director directed to immediately close down all the dairy farms run by the Animal Husbandry Department, and also led the veterinary units to set out the acquired animals like bulls and calves by auction, after giving wide publication and other formalities.
    • It was alleged by the petitioner that the Director passed this order with a malicious intention so that the food habits of the island inhabitants could get changed. According to the petitioner, this was a prelude to implementing the proposed Animal Preservation (Regulation),2021, which seeks to ban cattle slaughter and consumption of beef and beef products.
      • The petitioner also put up an ulterior motive of banning local dairy farms so that the dairy products of a manufacturer from Gujarat could be promoted. Also, to alter the children’s food habits on the island, chicken and other meats were removed from the mid-day meals. The petitioner alleged that this was done without any advice or conversations with the stakeholders. It was also alleged that this came as a part of the decision to entrust the Mid Day Meal program to a Bangalore-based NGO called “Akshaya Patra.” However, this submission was denied by the Lakshadweep administration, whose standing counsel told the bench that there is no proposal to entrust the work relating to the preparation of Mid Day Meals to the said NGO. Therefore, the court noted that it is not necessary to address this issue at present.
      • The petitioner challenged these decisions as “arbitrary and discriminatory,” violating Article 14 of the Constitution. It was also argued that these decisions interfered with the people’s traditional culture and food habits and violated their right to choose and preserve culture. Thus, the orders were violative of the right to privacy and right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Inhabitants of Lakshadweep are engaged incipiently in government activities to gain their livelihood, argued Advocate Peeyus A. Kottam (appeared on behalf of the petitioner). Therefore, the administrator’s direction to immediately close down all the dairy farms run by the Department of Animal Husbandry and holding auctions for this regard was contended to bring grave consequences to the people on the islands.
    • Besides this, it was also deferred by the petitioner that abstraction of chicken and meat from the menu as per the order was antithetical to the National Programme of Mid Day Meal in Schools and Annual Budget for 2020-21, whereas there is a provision given in National Programme of Mid-day Meal to provide chicken and meat to the children in the schools of Lakshadweep.
  • Courts Observations: The Court said that it was unable to understand why the Lakshadweep administration changed the food menu of school children by removing chicken and meat from mid-day meals.
    • Since decisions taken after the present administration assumed office have primarily affected people’s interest, the petition wanted directions from the court to the concerned authorities to abstain from enforcing such reforms, asserting that they go against the ethnic culture, heritage, and food habits of inhabitants of Lakshadweep Island.

·     The bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly observed that the menu for the mid-day meal had been fixed and followed for several years, ever since its inception. A perusal of the National Programme also indicated that meat should be served to children.

·     The court failed to understand how such a sudden change could be brought to the menu for children considering the vital aspect of health. The meeting minutes also disclosed an attendee physician’s opinion that non-vegetarian food is essential for children’s growth and for a healthy balanced diet, which the administrator has not considered.

·     Since there was no prima facie reason pressing for excluding meat and chicken from the menu, the bench issued an interim order directing the respondents to provide food as before, including beef and chicken, to the schools’ children in Lakshadweep.

·     “Prima facie, we find no reason for the change of food items, with the exclusion of meat and chicken. Therefore, we are inclined to pass an interim order directing the respondents to provide food, as done before, by including meat and chicken, to the children of the schools in Lakshadweep”, the bench observed.

·     Concerning the shutdown of dairy farms, the Division Bench said that although the administration pleads that it is important to avoid financial loss to the administration, the mail provided did not designate anything to that effect. Therefore, the court asserted that the farms should be permitted until further orders are given.

·     As such, the bench stayed the operation of the said orders pending disposal of the writ petition.

Conclusion:

Both parties are at the neck of each other and blame each other for not getting their reasons for enacting or revolting against the drafted laws. The issue is not how the government has introduced the regulations or how the islanders have reacted to it but rather the lack of comprehension between them. It is difficult to make changes in any social situation, and the government must understand that it should have slowly and steadily introduced economic growth, which won’t be disrupted by socio-political disputes. In addition to this, they should have also kept the islander’s needs, habits, and culture in mind first. The natives of Lakshadweep should also understand that change is the only constant in this world, and allowing the government to develop the island will only lead to their development. In addition to this, others too will admire the beautiful abode which they call their home. Therefore, the government and the natives should work together for the island’s prosperity and harmony. Ruling with the iron fist and any violent solutions will not work as both want the best for their homeland; therefore, things should be handled with utmost sensitivity to ensure harmony.


[1] https://www.aaptaxlaw.com/constitution-of-india/article-239-239a-constitution-administration-union-territories-creation-local-legislatures-council-of-ministers-for-union-territories-article-239-239a-of-constitution-of-india-1949.html

[2] https://theprint.in/india/these-are-the-3-lakshadweep-draft-laws-that-have-triggered-controversy/667336/

Author: Aishwarya Dubey, AMITY LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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