Lakshadweep, a uni-district Union Territory, comprising of 10 islands and an area of 32 sq km, the capital being the city of Kavaratti, houses a total population of 66 thousand inhabitants. What is a Union Territory? A Union Territory is a type of administrative division in India where, unlike other states, the territory is governed by a federal set up under the central government. These territories do not have their governmental setup and do not have representation in the upper house of the Indian Parliament. And Lakshadweep islands is the territory with the lowest population. But even after such conditions, the inhabitants of the island never felt negative about their own status to much of an extent. In fact, almost all of the inhabitants accept their status and are ..proud of being a part of the mainland while many of their lives are directly related or dependent on the mainland itself. Many move to the mainland to study or simply follow their profession. Understanding or communicating with the native people is truly not difficult and they seem to like seeing new faces and welcome all. But recently, the territory of Lakshadweep is in quite a state of turmoil.
The persisting situation is brought about by Lakshadweep Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel. Administrator Patel has forwarded the draft laws to the Ministry of Home Affairs for ratification and implementation in the Union Territory which he calls an important measure to preserve the life and ecosystem of the islands. What are the given laws in this conversation? The four proposals placed by his administration include Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, and Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation. All these four proposals are seen as a matter of extreme public distress and disagreement by the local population. Recently protests have broken out on the islands and have magnetized themselves enough to attract the eyes of rabid news feeders all across the country.
To understand the protests, we must understand the four proposals placed by Lakshadweep Administrator. So, what do the four proposals actually mean?
The administration has recognized the need to preserve the milch animals on the islands due to their limited ability and rearing and production benefits to locals and proposes a ban on the slaughter of such animals which includes cows, bulls, buffaloes with the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation. This however isn’t an absolute ban. It is further stated that without a certificate from an administration authority, one cannot practice the slaughter of animals. So theoretically speaking, one can obtain permission, and hence it is not an absolute ban. But it is very clear how difficult obtaining permission might be. The rule also specifically prohibits the sale, storage, and transportation of ‘beef’ products and penalties include a jail term of up to one year and a fine of Rs 10,000. There hasn’t been a specific explanation on why this rule is being implemented other than the need to preserve animals on the island. Considering the recent political movements taken under the ruling party, Lakshadweep Administrator has gone on record confirming that this isn’t for a religious-political cause. But it is a fact that 93% of the population in Lakshadweep islands is consisting of Muslims, and most of them belonging to the Shafi School of the Sunni Sect, and this new law would be a direct invasion of the eating habits and culture of the residents. The rule hasn’t been decided with any local bodies and people are seeing this as a negative impact on their lifestyle. This has hence become a major cause of the recent protests. There has been a further emphasis on the fact that fish is an abundantly available food item, given the geographical position, and hence mid-day meals at schools are being reinforced with fish and eggs replacing the meat. Such is seen by the administration as a good encouragement to employ more people as fishermen enhancing overall lifestyle.
In the case of Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, a new two-child policy is being brought over as a step to control population, which is a threat to a remote area such as Lakshadweep. To some extent, limiting life due to the limited resources isn’t a bad way to ensure consumption-production balance. But this law does impose restrictions on the natural flow of life which also may be somewhat unethical to an extent. This policy is under the Draft Panchayat Regulation 2021, with which, the administration bars people with more than 2 children from becoming a member of the gram panchayat. However further clarification says that this law doesn’t bar anyone with more than 2 children who is already a member of the gram panchayat. But further having more children after the law comes into action will result in disqualification. Administrator Patel has also further emphasized the fact that such is the scenario, that the provision for reservation of half of the seats for women is not being brought to the spotlight with equal effort as the preceding news giving the administration a questionable look.
There has been a recent outrage on a provision that allows serving liquor to tourists only in resorts while not being available to the inhabitants and locals. Previously there was a total restriction on liquor other than the Bangaram Island. Further, the new draft of the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation is being brought in to oversee development. This draft introduces a lot of changes in how land is to be acquired. It constitutes a charting of the land available as planning areas where the administration can carry on larger projects. The locals fear that this kind of land use will be a big blow to the lifestyle and present ecology of the islands. It is a fact that the island’s main economic appeal is the extreme marine life, but tourism is what is the main source of sustenance for the inhabitants. This particular law and changes introduced in liquor laws in the territory can clearly be stated as an important decision taken to encourage and flourish tourists and tourism which will be a huge boost to the archipelago’s economy, but the virgin land will develop a permanent scar if such is true. The decision is tough, whether to risk the paradise for bill stacks or to preserve the ecosystem living in the shroud of a distant state from the mainland.
All the above-taken decisions have been brought over into the drafts sent to the President, without consultation with the local bodies. According to the legal status of the islands, no law bounds the administration to consult local bodies for any change. There are different local bodies, but specifically, Lakshadweep is a special case. Despite having a division of the political and administrative system with different levels, they aren’t connected and the major administration still falls under the central government. However, this isn’t a form of tyrant ruling that someone can complain about. Regards can always be conveyed up to the capital with demonstration. This demonstration and conveying of messages itself are the heart of democracy and such is being followed. The population of Lakshadweep has broken into protests. On 7th June, Monday, residents sat on a 12-hour hunger strike protesting against the drafts. These policies have been allegedly called ‘anti-people. unable to question the democratic organ, we should consider the people’s requests as it is their land for which the administration is devising laws. The extent of advantage to be brought in the future must be equated immediately with the alarmingly rising risk of public unrest and the importance of the majority’s demands to check democracy. The republic doesn’t always stand on the side of development but it always stands for the dignity of its citizens. The Administration should consider the protests and act accordingly.