Administrative change or an attack on Lakshadweep’s culture and biodiversity?

July 1, 2021

Submitted by APNED member, Renuka Kad of Vikas Adhyayan Kendra; Feature Image CTTO

The #Save Lakshadweep campaign has been gaining momentum on social media for the past few days. The reason behind this is the dissatisfaction among the local people about the policy decision of Praful Patel, the administrator appointed by the central government in Lakshadweep.

The #save Lakshadweep campaign is pushing for the perpetuation of the traditional life and cultural diversity of the people of Lakshadweep. It is supported by Kerala’s sports persons,¬†artists, political leaders and student organizations. In this connection, let’s find out exactly what #save Lakshadweep is?

In December 2020, Prime Minister Modi appointed Praful Patel as Lakshadweep’s administrator. Patel was the Home Minister of Gujarat when Modi was the Chief Minister. When he took over as administrator, he set out to change Lakshadweep’s pre-existing policy. Patel’s policy has been opposed by locals. Some Kerala MPs and artists have written to President Ramnath Kovind asking him to withdraw Praful Patel’s appointment as administrator. They also said that Patel’s decisions and policies were destroying the traditional life and cultural diversity of the local people.

What exactly is going on?

The first reason for the locals to oppose Praful Patel is said to be the changes he has made to the rules regarding corona. The SOP was set up in Lakshadweep to control corona infection. According to the SOP, people coming to Lakshadweep from Kochi had to be quarantined as per the rules.  However, Praful Patel amended the rule to allow only those who have an RTPCR negative test report within the past 48 hours to enter Lakshadweep. 

In this regard, on May 23, MP Elamaran Karim wrote a letter to President Ramnath Kovind informing him that the increase in corona cases was due to unplanned and unscientific changes in the SOP for the people of Lakshadweep.

In fact, when there was a corona infection in the whole country, there were no corona positive cases in Lakshadweep, but the first case was detected on January 18, 2021 and the whole situation in Lakshadweep changed. As on May 23, 6000 cases have been detected in Lakshadweep. Of these, 1200 are active corona cases.

Opposition to Patel is not limited to Corona policy, but Patel has banned people from eating beef and lifted the existing ban on alcohol. He did not stop at the ban on beef banned, but under the Animal Preservation Regulation Act 2021, the purchase, sale and transport of beef in Lakshadweep is also banned since February 25th.

Complaint to the President.

Patel’s new changes and actions have been strongly opposed by locals. In this regard, MP Binoy Vishwam has written a letter to the President on May 24 stating that no government body will ever accept the contempt of the people living under its jurisdiction, the violation of their fundamental rights and the continuous damage. 

In this context, MP Karim said that anti-democratic restrictions and anti-people rules in the name of animal protection cannot be imposed on people’s lives and their favourite food and drink. The local people here are very upset about the rules made under the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021.

These rules not only restrict food and drink but also deprive people of their livelihood. No local person was taken along or included in discussions while making all these rules. Surprisingly, alcohol is allowed and beef is banned.

Most of the people who live here depend on sea fishing and tourism for their livelihood. As of 2021, 96% of the population living in the area is Muslim.

These new regulations empower the administrators to take away property, acquire property in the name of town planning or development. The draft gives the government the exclusive right to hold or manage movable and immovable property. The Lakshadweep Student Association has launched an extensive campaign to repeal the regulation.

Why this Gunda Act?

Patel has planned to make a number of changes as soon as he takes charge. Despite Lakshadweep having the lowest crime rate in the country, Patel introduced the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) for Lakshadweep in January.

This law is also known as the Gunda Act. According to the provisions of this act, any person can be kept in jail for up to one year without giving any information in public. The motive behind Patel’s appointment in Lakshadweep can be seen from the current situation.

The locals demand that the government needs to know the background of Lakshadweep before the government intends to impose all these changes on the people against the public interest and by misusing power.

The history of Lakshadweep dates back to the 7th century. Looking back at the pre-independence period, the British came to India and took a number of political decisions to establish their dominance. Its effects are still being felt today.

After the British went to Lakshadweep, they politically altered the maritime islands in the area. The decision was taken from the point of view of what is in the interest of the British government, putting the public interest aside. The British did not take responsibility for the island but focused on the profits from it.

The British exploited the local people for profit. Their profiteering was an important reason for the breakdown of traditional life in Lakshadweep. The British later introduced the Lakshadweep Regulation 1912, which limited the island’s powers to judicial and magisterial law. It also imposed restrictions on outsiders entering the island. This is what the central government is trying to do again.

Attack on biodiversity:

One of the biggest threats posed by Patel’s administrative change is the fear of loss of biodiversity. It is important to understand Lakshadweep and its biodiversity. In the name of development, the government has slapped destructive projects on the people that would endanger the environment. Lakshadweep in Kerala is a land of natural beauty. The place is rich in sea islands and marine resources.

The flora of the islands include Banana, Vazha, (Musaparadisiaca), Colocassia, Chambu (Colocassia antiquarum), Drumstic moringakkai (Moringa Oleifera), Bread Fruit, Chakka (Artocarpus incisa), wild almond (Terminalia Catappa) which are grown extensively. Some of the shrub jungles plant like Kanni (Scaevolakeeningil), Punna, (Calaphylluminophyllum), Chavok(Casurina equisetifolia), Cheerani (Thespesia Populnea) are unevenly grown throughout the island. Coconut, Thenga (Cacos nucifera) is the only crop of economic importance in Lakshadweep. These are found in different varieties such as Laccadive micro, Laccadive ordinary, green dwarf etc. Two different varieties of sea grass are seen adjacent to the beaches. They are known as Thalassia hemprichin and Cymodocea isoetifolia. They prevent sea erosion and movement of the beach sediments.

The marine life of the sea is quite elaborate and difficult to condense. The commonly seen vertebrates are cattle and poultry. Oceanic birds generally found in Lakshadweep are Tharathasi (Sterna fuscata) and Karifetu (Anous solidus). They are generally found in one of the uninhabited islands known as PITTI. This island has been declared as a bird sanctuary.

Molluscan forms are also important from the economic point of the islands. The money cowrie (cypraea monita) are also found in abundance in the shallow lagoons and reefs of the islands. Other cypraeds found here are cypraca talpa and cyprea maculiferra. Among crabs, the hermit crab is the most common. Colorful coral fish such as parrot fish (Callyedon sordidus), Butterfly fish (Chaetodon auriga), Surgeon fish (Acanthurus lineotus) are also found in plenty.

Employment Endangered 

From financial angle, forms of molescan are also important. In the shallow lakes and reefs on these islands sipriya monita are found in large numbers. Other syprads found here are syprakatalpa and sypriya makliflora. Among crabs hermit crab is normally found. Kaliden sardidus, butterfly fish, surgeon fish are colourful coral fish varieties found here. The region is rich in such biodiversity. 

The fishing community in Lakshdweep does traditional fishing for livelihood. 

Due to Patel’s policy, the fishing community here is also facing huge difficulties. It is learned that fishermen’s huts that stood for years along the coast have been demolished following the rules of the Coastal Regulation Zone and the Coast Guard Act.

In addition, the dairy run by the Animal Husbandry Department has been closed. The government had ordered all dairies to be closed till May 21. All the animals will be auctioned till May 31. 

In this context, the people of Lakshadweep have appealed to Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General and the groups working on the problems of the Indigenous Peoples in the UN, against the new administrative officer’s policy.

With reference to Lakshdweep what development do the policies of the BJP government at the center indicate? This raises questions as to what development will be achieved?