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Why Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel is target of public outcry

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Why Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel is target of public outcry

Mismanaging COVID, anti-culture reforms: Why Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel is target of public outcry

IndiaTimes Now DigitalUpdated May 26, 2021 | 11:52 IST

Patel has drafted a series of reforms that have caused widespread resentment among the islands’ constituents.

The idyllic islands of Lakshadweep.The idyllic islands of Lakshadweep.  |  Photo Credit: Twitter

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • At the heart of this resentment is the new Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) which, observers note, grants the administrator sweeping powers relating to land appropriation
  • Then there is the draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021 – which will, reportedly, outrightly ban the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks – a violation of which could attract a penalty of seven years in prison
  • The Goonda Act (Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation), observers note, may also allow authorities to unilaterally detain protestors without offering a reason for up to a year, while also curbing freedom of expression

The idyllic islands that make up Lakshadweep, home to roughly 70,000 residents who take deep pride in maintaining their culture, have threatened to become a theatre of conflict borne out of a sweeping set of reforms, allegedly enforced unilaterally, by its administrator, Praful Khoda Patel.

Patel, a former MLA from Gujarat who also served as Home Minister in the northern state during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure as its chief minister, took charge as administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020, following the passing of his predecessor Dineshwar Sharma.

Since then, Patel has drafted a series of reforms that have caused widespread resentment among the islands’ constituents who claim they jeopardise the ecologically fragile constitution of the territory while destroying the unique cultural fabric that Lakshadweep has come to be known for.

Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021

At the heart of this resentment is the new Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) which, observers note, grants the administrator sweeping powers relating to land appropriation under a contentious definition of ‘development.’ 

Once in effect, it would permit the “orderly and progressive development of land in both urban and rural areas and to preserve and improve the amenities thereof; for the grant of permission to develop land and for the other powers of control over the use of land; to confer additional powers in respect of the acquisition and development of land for planning.” 

Critics of the draft legislation have claimed that it would allow for unrestricted building, mining and quarrying on sensitive island territory. The law also vests into the administrator, the authority to earmark special zones for residential, industrial and commercial use – a move that residents fear will lead to forced eviction or ceding possession of land to the Planning and Developing Authority without any room for legal recourse. 

Patel has allegedly already issued orders to raze houses to supposedly, widen roads – something that has puzzled residents of a community that boasts hardly any vehicles, most of which are two-wheelers. 

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Other controversial reforms

Then there is the draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021 – which will, reportedly, outrightly ban the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks – a violation of which could attract a penalty of seven years in prison. It is worth noting that over 99 per cent of Lakshadweep’s population is Muslim. 

Patel’s proposition to ban non-veg in schoolchildren’s midday meals has also been repudiated by the island’s residents, many of whom claim that the lack of fresh vegetable supplies from the mainland necessitates the consumption of non-vegetarian food. His relaxation of alcohol licensing, supposedly to spur tourism, has also drawn the ire of local communities. 

Another one of Patel’s troublesome proposals involves banning candidates with two or more children to participate in panchayat elections. Many have claimed that the law amounts to gross political overreach with the administrator blatantly seeking to weaken prominent members of the opposition. 

The Goonda Act (Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation), observers note, may also allow authorities to unilaterally detain protestors without offering a reason for up to a year, while also curbing freedom of expression. Lakshadweep, it is worth noting, has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Patel, it is alleged, has also already destroyed temporary sheds and net-drying facilities of the local fishing community citing violations of the Coast Guard Act. 

These moves, his critics have pointed out, have all arrived following a change in COVID-19 management protocols on the island that has backfired hugely. Lakshadweep, until January 2020, had been one of the few safe havens in the country, having failed to register even a single COVID-19 case. 

A 14-day quarantine period, seven days of which were to be spent in Kochi, was believed to be key to Lakshadweep’s success. However, a change in SOP, that waived the quarantine period and now only requires travellers to present a negative RT-PCR test, has seen cases in the island territory swell remarkably, with some noting that the positivity rate could now be beyond 60 per cent. 

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