A concerted campaign is being run from Kerala targeting the Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Khoda Patel. Members of Parliament from Kerala Elamaram Kareem, Hibi Eden and K. C. Venugopal have written to the President of India seeking his intervention in the matter. Priyanka Gandhi, Ajay Maken, Kerala’s Chief Minister and many leaders and film stars from Kerala have supported the campaign. The campaign that was started in Kerala by Islamist groups like SDPI, SSF are now resonating even in national politics. While the leaders have been careful with their allegations, social and digital media are replete with false claims and fake news about what the Administrator has done in the Islands. Some major allegations against the Administrator are analysed here.
The administrator is responsible for the Covid-19 surge in the Islands
On March 23rd 2020, the Lakshadweep administration suspended all travel between the Islands and mainland India. In May, 2020 the administration issued an SOP for the return of inhabitants of the Islands who are stranded on the mainland. The SOP prescribed 14 days’ mandatory institutional quarantine at Kochi, at the expense of the administration and thereafter a Covid test followed by another 14 days’ home quarantine after reaching the Island. This SOP was modified in November 2020 reducing the institutional quarantine in the mainland to 10 days.
Thereafter, in December, the SOP was further revised, insisting only for a negative RTPCR report obtained 48 hours before travelling to the Islands. This decision is now being blamed for the spread of the virus in the Islands.
The revised SOP of December, 2020 was challenged before the High Court of Kerala in a batch of Writ Petitions on the ground that the revision was unscientific. The Writ Petitions were dismissed by the High Court by a detailed judgment in January, 2021 holding that the revision of SOP was a policy decision taken to protect the interest of all concerned. The Court found that there was a complete lockdown in the Islands for a period of 9 months from March to December, 2020 and that the developmental activities had come to a stand-still affecting the economy of the Union Territory. The Court noted that several Islanders had become jobless for the last 9 months and that Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed worldwide, stage by stage, to restore normalcy.
The Administration only did what the rest of India did; relaxed the restrictions without foreseeing the 2nd wave. According to the Administration, the rise in Covid-19 cases in the Islands was due to a corresponding rise in cases in Kerala which has the best connectivity with the Islands. It is a fact that the Covid-19 graphs of Lakshadweep and Kerala from January 2020 onwards look similar. However, despite similar relaxation of restrictions in Kerala and a consequent rise in Covid cases, politicians of Kerala are blaming the Administrator for a similar situation in the Islands.
Administrator imposed the Goonda Act in the Islands
In January, 2021, the Lakshadweep administration published a draft bill titled the ‘Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation 2021’, inviting comments from the public. Though the last date for submission of comments was 18th February, the draft remains a draft. This draft bill is being referred to in social media as the Goonda Act that has supposedly been imposed upon the inhabitants of the Islands by the Administrator.
Though the draft bill does not use the term Goonda, it is being called the ‘Goonda’ Act because similar laws in many states in India use that term. The draft bill empowers the Administrator to order preventive detention of a “bootlegger”, a “depredator of environment”, a “drug offender”, a “property grabber”, a “cruel person”etc., if his actions or preparations are likely to affect public order. These terms are defined in the draft law. Unlike what is being said in social media, none of these definitions criminalize any action that is not already an offence under the existing laws. For example, a “cruel person” is defined as a member or leader of a gang that habitually commits or attempts to commit or abets the commission of an offence punishable under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The comments on social media that the term “cruel person” is too vague and wide are obviously made without looking at the definition.
It is important to note that the proposed law is nothing but a preventive detention law, similar to those in force in many states in India. Interestingly, it was the Communist government of Kerala with V. S. Achuthanandan as its chief minister that enacted its own preventive detention law, the ‘Kerala Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 2007’. The Kerala law is broadly similar to the proposed law of Lakshadweep. The Kerala law empowers the state government to order preventive detention of a “bootlegger”, a “depredator of environment”, a “drug offender”, a “property grabber”, a “loan shark”etc., who has been convicted or charged by police in past for any of those offences.
Similarly, Tamil Nadu has the ‘Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Forest-offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-grabbers and Video Pirates Act, 1982’ and Karnataka has the ‘Karnataka Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Gamblers, Goondas, [Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-Grabbers and Video or Audio Pirates] Act, 1985’.
The only argument against the proposed law is that the crime rate of Lakshadweep is very low. Our constitution expressly empowers governments to make preventive detention laws. Entry 9 of the Union List empowers the Union Government to make laws pertaining to “Preventive detention for reasons connected with Defence, Foreign Affairs, or the security of India; persons subjected to such detention”. Entry 3 of the Concurrent list provides for laws relating to “Preventive detention for reasons connected with the security of a State, the maintenance of public order”. Article 22 of the Constitution permits enacting preventive detention laws subject to certain safeguards provided therein. A low crime rate is not a reason not to have a preventive detention law, as much as a low crime rate cannot be a reason to do away with the existing punitive detention laws. Preventive laws and punitive laws are complementary tools for maintaining law and order. A possibility of either type of laws being misused is not a reason not to have them.
Administrator lifted the prohibition on liquor in the Islands
The Lakshadweep Prohibition Regulation 1979 bans liquor in the union territory, except in an uninhabited Island for tourists. The prohibition on alcohol was always seen as a barrier to the growth of tourism sector in the Islands. In 2003, the TATA Economic Consultancy Services prepared a 20 Year Perspective Plan for Tourism Development in Lakshadweep Islands for the Government of India. The said report suggested relaxation of prohibition rules to promote tourism. Due to pressure from the majority Muslim population on religious grounds, no administration has till now shown the courage to bring any change. The present relaxation is said to be limited to supplying liquor to tourists in resorts in the inhabited Islands.
It is an irony that the CPIM leaders, who are responsible for reversing the liquor prohibition policy of the preceding Congress government in Kerala, are now counting the benefits of prohibition.
Administrator banned beef in the Islands
Just like the draft preventive detention law, the Administration has published the draft ‘Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021’ calling for comments from the public. Like the other draft, though the last date for submission of comments was 28th March, the law has not been enacted. The proposed law prohibits slaughter of cows, calves and bulls. Male or female buffalos can be slaughtered with a certificate regarding fitness from the authority. There is no restriction on slaughter of any other animal. In addition, the draft law proposes a ban on the sale and purchase of beef in the Islands. Buffalo meat has been excluded from the definition of beef. Even though keeping and transporting beef is proposed to be prohibited, the intention appears to be to ban keeping or transporting beef for the purpose of sale. Hence, possessing or consuming beef purchased from the mainland is not proposed to be prohibited.
If the proposed ban on sale of beef is implemented, its fate will depend on the outcome of the case before the Supreme Court relating to the 2015 Maharashtra law banning beef in the state. The Maharashtra law banned possession of beef obtained by slaughter within the state in violation of the law and separately banned possession of beef from slaughter outside the state. The Bombay High Court had upheld the ban on beef from illegal slaughter within the state while striking down the ban on beef obtained from slaughter outside the state. The appeal against the said Judgment of the Bombay High Court is pending before the Supreme Court.
As per a study done in 2017, 99.38% of India’s population lives in areas under Cow Protection laws. Such prohibitions are in place in Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu and in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. In the state of Kerala, a cow can be slaughtered only after obtaining a certificate that it is over ten years of age or unfit for work or breeding or is permanently incapacitated for work or breeding due to injury or deformity. Courts have upheld such restrictions or prohibition on slaughter of cows, not due to any religious reason but for economic reasons relating to agriculture and animal husbandry. Supreme Court has held that slaughtering of cows is not an essential part of Islam. Courts have also held that such restrictions are reasonable restrictions on the fundamental right to practice any profession, trade or business relating to slaughter. The Animal Husbandry department of Lakshadweep Administration claims to have implemented schemes to boost up production of high yielding livestock and to increase production of milk. The ban on slaughter of cows appears to be in tune with the said policy.
Administrator imposed the two-child policy
Yet another draft law proposed by the Administration is the ‘Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021’ inviting public comments. Here again, no action has been taken even though the last date for submission of comments was in March, 2021. As per the draft proposal, no person who has more than two children can be a member of a Gram Panchayat. Relaxation is given to persons having more than two children on the date of commencement of the regulation so long as the number of children does not increase thereafter and to persons to whom more than one child is born in a single delivery within one year from the date of commencement.
Two-child policy is in force in many states in India like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana. The population density of Lakshadweep is higher than any of those states. In fact, it is higher than any other state in the country. Lakshadweep has a population density of 2149/km2 as per the census of 2011. There is a serious threat to the carrying capacity of the Islands due to the increasing population. That is one of the reasons why outsiders are not allowed to settle in the Islands. Hence the proposed two-child policy cannot be considered faulty.
Administrator destroyed sheds of fisherman
Very little information is available in public domain regarding what appears to be a demolition drive conducted by the Administration. From videos circulating on social media, it is seen that some structures by the beach have been demolished. Even going by the letters written by the Members of Parliament to the President, the structures were demolished by the Administration alleging violation of the CRZ laws and Cost Guard Act, 1978.
Administrator is preferring Mangalore port over Beypore port of Kerala
This according to some is the real reason behind the campaign against the Administrator. CPIM Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem, who was first among the politicians to raise the issue, has in past represented the Beypore constituency in the state assembly. Beypore city has 51.78% population of Muslims whereas Mangalore is a Hindu majority city in a BJP ruled state.
Interestingly, the Member of Parliament representing Lakshadweep, from the NCP, Mohammed Faizal P. P, has told in an interview that the allegation that Beypore has been completely excluded is false and that the Kerala state government has not done enough to remedy the lack of infrastructure at the Beypore port despite requests from the Administration. He has said that the lack of facilities at Beypore port is an issue that is being highlighted for a long time.
Administrator trying to destroy ‘unique culture’ of Islanders
This allegation finds a prominent place in the campaign against the Administrator. CPIM MP Elamaram Kareem wrote in his letter to the President that the Administrator is trying to “completely destroy the traditional life of the people of Lakshadweep”. Congress MP requested the President to intervene to protect the “culture of Islanders”. Congress MP K. C. Venugopal notes in his letter to the President that the decisions of the Administrator would lead to destruction of the “unique culture of Lakshadweep”. As per the 2011 census, 96.58% of the population of the Islands are Muslims. None of the actions or proposals of the Administrator, except probably the proposal to ban the sale of beef, is capable of having any impact on the culture or traditional life of the Islanders. The attempt is to insinuate that Muslim inhabitants are being targeted by the BJP government at centre because of their religion.
As per reports, per capita expenditure incurred by the government is highest in Lakshadweep. The share of revenue receipts from the Islands in total expenditure is minuscule. Hence the developmental problems of the Islands impact the citizens in mainland India also.
Tourism is a promising avenue that has not been fully explored due to the hesitation of the previous administrations to implement drastic changes. Administrator Praful Khoda Patel has already said that the archipelago has the potential to compete with Maldives in tourism. Hopefully, the Central Government and the BJP leadership will see through the fakery of the opposition and remain steadfast in its developmental agenda for Lakshadweep.