No people in independent India has faced such blatant and mindless state terror as the people of the Lakshadweep islands have been facing since the arrival of the new Administrator Praful Khoda Patel to the Union Territory in December 2020. The people have been so terrorised that several former administrators of the union territory have compared it to that of the 1975 emergency.
The new administrator has during the last five months taken a series of draconian, illegal and negative measures that the peace and tranquility of the placid waters of the Lakshadweep Islands. have been completely disturbed.
The new administrator has closed anganwadis, sacked dozens of employees who have been working for decades, banned meat from schools, demolished dozens of sheds of fishermen, which were built as per integrated scientific plan prepared by the Supreme Court appointed committee, brought in a Goondas Act in a territory that has not known any crime for the last one century.
Praful Khoda Patel has closed dairy farms, amended Panchyat Raj rules as per his whims and tinkered with PWD contracts. The most disturbing of all are the provisions of the draft Lakshadweep Development Regulations 2021.
Umesh Saighal, who was the Administrator of the Union Territory from 1982 to 1985, and who has directed two documentaries and written a book on the islands, has in a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shaw pointed out that some of the provisions of the draft are laughable and not tailor made for the island territory but straight away picked up from the provisions for a city like Delhi.
“It talks about ‘orderly and progressive development of urban and rural areas. There are no urban areas in the archipelago and the largest island has a population of only 12,000. The draft envisages ‘additional power for acquisition of land’; almost all the ten islands are abadi areas where land cannot be acquired. It talks about development of towns and countryside. Such words can only be used by a person who has never been to the islands, Umesh Saighal had said. There are many more such howlers like “cultivation of soil” when 99 per cent of the islands are formed by sand!
The panchayat notification where a person with more than two children is disqualified from being a member is not only discriminatory but also violative of the 74th amendment to the Constitution of India.
So what exactly is the problem? The basic problem to my mind is that the majority of the tiny population (70,000) of the islands are Muslims (96 percent) who have been leading a very peaceful and fruitful life fighting very severe climate and their lives have to be unsettled.
Otherwise there was no logic whatsoever for the Modi government to appoint a Gujarati politician, who was at one time a Home Minister in the state, as the Administrator of the Lakshadweep island overriding tradition. To hide the real intent of persecuting the Muslim population of the tiny Islands the entire project has been described as a very great enterprise to make the Lakshadweep Islands another Maldives.
Replying to criticism of his negative steps Patel claimed that the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation will usher in development and will go a long way in improving the social and economic indicators of the islands. Patel further said, “These islands are similar to Maldives and we want to develop them on similar lines. We want to develop sustainable infrastructure and promote sustainable tourism.”
Either Patel and the people who advise him are completely ignorant about the Lakshadweep Islands. and its people and their culture or their agenda is very sinister. It is very difficult to believe that Patel who is born and brought up in the coastal state of Gujarat is unaware of the ecosystem of the Lakshadweep Islands.
An average 10th class student who has taken his basic geography lessons will know that the Lakshadweep Islands cannot be compared to the Maldives. Both are in the Arabian Sea and face the prospect of submergence due to rising sea level caused by climate change. And no power on earth can convert the Lakshadweep Islands. into tourist resorts like the Maldives.
The Lakshadweep Islands consist of only 36 islands of which only 10 are populated. The Maldives consists of 1,190 islands of which more than a 1,000 are not populated, and 200 of them are exclusive tourist resorts. The Lakshadweep Islands go through violent monsoons every year while the sea around the Maldives is not so violent. Further, the tourism potential of the Lakshadweep Islands are already saturated, more tourist resorts will only led to environmental degradation.
The new Administrator has grand plans to resettle the people of the Lakshadweep Islands. Lakshadweep today has the highest population density 2,000 per square kilometer in the country. Where will the people be resettled, in the sea?