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New Lakshadweep regulations proposed by its new administrator are attracting opposition from local leaders. The smallest union territory of India (Lakshadweep) is undergoing severe changes for the last few days. The new administrator has introduced 4 new regulations that would alter the culture, livelihood, ecology, and development level of the island.
The draft regulations include the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021; the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA); the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 and Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021. They have attracted criticism from civil society as they place economic development over environmental sustainability. Furthermore, they jeopardize the pristine culture of the indigenous inhabitants.
The Home Ministry is currently scrutinising the draft legislation and would become law after their approval by the President.
Lakshadweep Regulations formulated by the Administrator
- The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021: It calls for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA).
- It will plan the development of any area identified as having a “bad layout or obsolete development”.
- The act defines development as the carrying out of the building, engineering, mining, quarrying, or other operations in, on, over, or under the land. It also includes making any material change in any building or land or in the use of any building or land.
- The authority could acquire any land required for a public purpose.
- It stipulates that islanders must pay a processing fee for zone changes.
- It establishes penalties such as imprisonment for obstructing the development work or workers.
- The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA): It provides for the administrator to order the detention of a person for a period of up to one year.
- It can be ordered if the offender’s actions adversely affect the maintenance of public order.
- Such actions include when a person is a bootlegger, drug offender, immoral traffic offender, property grabber, etc. All these actions deemed to adversely affect the maintenance of public order.
- The Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021: It bans the slaughter of cows, calves, bulls, or bullocks. The slaughter of animals, other than cows or bulls, for religious purposes, will require a certificate from the authorities.
- The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulations, 2021: It disqualifies people with more than two children from becoming gram panchayat members.
- However, the law will not disqualify anyone having more than two children if they have been elected before the regulation has been notified.
- The regulation also provides for the reservation of 50 percent seats in gram panchayats for women.
About the Lakshadweep Island
- It is a group of 36 coral islands in the Arabian Sea totaling 32 square kilometers.
- The name Lakshadweep in Malayalam and Sanskrit means ‘a hundred thousand islands’.
- It is a uni-district Union Territory (UT) and comprises 12 atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks, and ten inhabited islands.
- The natural landscapes, the sandy beaches, the abundance of flora and fauna, and the absence of a rushed lifestyle enhance the mystique of Lakshadweep.
- Muslims constitute more than 93% of the population and the majority of them belong to the Shafi School of the Sunni sect.
- Malayalam is spoken in all the islands except Minicoy where people speak Mahl. The society in all islands is matriarchal.
- The entire indigenous population has been classified as Scheduled Tribes because of their economic and social backwardness.
- Article 239: It states that every UT shall be administered by the President acting through an administrator appointed by him.
- Since December 2020, Mr. Praful Patel is acting as administrator of Lakshadweep.
- Article 240: Under this, the President has the power to make regulations for the peace, progress, and good government of the Union territories. This includes Lakshadweep, Andaman, and the Nicobar Islands, Puducherry, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
- Any regulation made by him/her may repeal or amend any Act made by Parliament which is for the time being applicable to the Union territory.
- Article 241: Parliament may by law constitute a High Court for a UT or declare any other court to be a high court for such UT.
- The High court of Kerala functions as the High Court of Lakshadweep as well.
- Article 243L: It states that the provision of Part 9 (Panchayats) will apply to UTs. However, the application would be subject to exceptions and modifications made by the President through a public notification.
- Lakshadweep consists of 10 Village panchayats whose members are directly elected.
- Article 243ZB: It states that the provision of Part 9A (Municipalities) will apply to UTs. However, an application would be subject to exceptions and modifications made by the President through a public notification
Arguments in favour of new Lakshadweep Regulations
- Firstly, the government has brought new rules for augmenting the development potential of the island. They will ease the procedural and regulatory requirements for land acquisition thereby enabling faster development of infrastructure.
- Secondly, the new provisions would boost the tourism potential of the island. The government intends to develop Lakshadweep into “a renowned international tourist destination” like the Maldives.
- Thirdly, the government believes that new rules will help in realizing the objectives of the Holistic Development of Islands Program.
- The program focuses on the creation of jobs for the islanders through tourism promotion as well as the export of seafood and coconut-based products made in the Islands.
- The Island Development Agency(IDA) was constituted in 2017 under the aegis of the Home Ministry to look into the holistic development of islands.
- Fourthly, regulations like the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA) are essential for augmenting the security situation in the UT.
- In March, about 300 kg of heroin and five AK 47 rifles, and 1,000 live rounds were confiscated in Lakshadweep. The coast guard had intercepted the consignment and registered a case.
- Several states, including Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh have similar regulations.
- Fifthly, the Panchayat regulations will pave the way for the upliftment and empowerment of women. The reservation would generate more women representatives who would create gender-sensitive policies.
Arguments against the new Lakshadweep Regulations
- Firstly, they seem to fulfill the interest of commercial developers rather than the indigenous islanders. The developmental plan can be used to vacate land which may later be sold to outsiders.
- Secondly, the powers bestowed on Land development authorities are very wide. It can prepare comprehensive development plans for any area and relocate people regardless of their will.
- Further, the new rules put the onus on the owner to develop his holding as per the development plan or bear a heavy penalty in case of non-compliance. This may increase forcible eviction and relocation of masses.
- Thirdly, the new rules may hamper the cultural milieu of the region. They allow for the intrusion of outsiders in the region which may destroy the way of life practiced by indigenous people for generations.
- Further, the cow slaughter ban and allowance of alcohol consumption go against the cultural practice of the 96% Muslim population of the region.
- Fourthly, the ease in approvals may hamper the pristine ecological environment of the region. The tourism infrastructure will adversely impact the fragile coastal ecosystem of the region.
- Fifthly, it is difficult to understand the rationale behind PASA as UT possesses one of the lowest crime rates in the country. According to NCRB data, only 121 cases of crime registered on the islands in 2017, 86 in 2018, 186 in 2019, and 89 in 2020.
- It may be misused to curtail free speech and the right to protest of the masses.
- Sixthly, the two children cap for panchayat elections seems unjust in a UT with a very low fertility rate. According to the National Health and Family Survey-5 (2019-20), the total fertility rate is 1.4 (which is far behind the national average of 2.2).
- Seventhly, the UT has developed quite well over the years and doesn’t require such radical reforms.
- The island has a robust infrastructure to support rainwater harvesting and solar power generation.
- All islands have been connected by helicopter service since 1986, and high-speed passenger boats were purchased in the 1990s to improve connectivity.
- The literacy rate of UT is over 90% and the poverty line in terms of GDP is only slightly higher than the World Bank’s poverty threshold.
- It also has a desalination wind-powered plant gifted by the Danish government.
- The new laws should be discussed with the concerned stakeholders including the local fisherman and civil society. Their grievances should be heard and rectified for ensuring greater acceptability.
- The focus should be placed on addressing the real problems of the Island. This includes:
- Focusing on addressing the rising income disparities in the region
- Restricting Indiscriminate trawling as it endangers the coral landscape. The Maldives had already banned trawling activities after witnessing excessive exploitation.
- Restraining from relaxing the quarantine norms as the UT is witnessing a Covid -19 surge
- The President must refrain from giving assent to the new laws and should send them back for due reconsideration.
- The issue also provides the Parliament an opportunity to draft a reasonable law that can prevent a single individual (the nominated administrator) from undermining people’s will.
- A blind copy of the Maldives model should be avoided. For instance, the expensive Water bungalows are hazardous to the corals. Also, they would collapse in Lakshadweep’s turbulent monsoon.
There is a need to redesign new laws to reflect a people-centric approach. The current situation warrants due consultation with the concerned stakeholders so as to fix the lacunas and strive towards attaining sustainable development.