National Alliance of People’s Movements Strongly Condemns BJP’s Authoritarian Manoeuvres to Destroy Lakshadweep Socially and Ecologically

The Union Government must Recall their Administrator immediately and
Ensure democratic rights to decision-making are held by the Islanders

(Samaj Weekly)- National Alliance of People’s Movements condemns and opposes the recent measures brought in and proposed by the Lakshadweep Union Territory Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel. These will disrupt the local ecological, social and cultural balance of the Lakshadweep Islands and its community of around 65,000 inhabitants, through destructive developmentalism and religious chauvinism. We challenge the implementation of the Constitutionally unsound Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR), Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) and other draconian acts which go against the spirit of a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic India and are actively designed to harm its citizens.

The proposed legislation has been vehemently opposed by the local people, gazetted as Scheduled Tribes, who have a deep cultural and diverse linguistic history now under grave threat by the recent changes to the UT’s administrative control. The majority of the inhabitants are fisher people, who have evolved through centuries as stakeholders of local ecosystems and developed identities fundamentally intertwined with nature. The forced imposition of ‘development’ will cause a social and economic crisis among the community and lead to cultural erasure. This assault by the current regime is also in line with its well-known hatred for Muslim populations.

These plans and regulations, which are designed to enable large-scale corporate entry into the tourism and hospitality sector, are not only anti-people, but also anti-environment. The measures adopted are arguably bad for any society, but especially so for tiny communities which live in the ecologically and environmentally sensitive Lakshadweep UT islands. Each one of the proposals will enhance global warming with rise in sea level, and speed up the climate crisis. This goes against our national policy regarding Climate Change.

The unique biodiversity of the Lakshadweep with precious coral reefs needs to be conserved, in all circumstances. The present plan for ‘Development’ would result in a blatant violation of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 as well as India’s obligations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992. The plans for on-shore and off-shore development of Lakshadweep UT for high-end tourism, and making Kavaratti into a “smart city” are rightly opposed by local people for failing to take into account acute limiting factors like land availability and fresh water scarcity, and functioning according to mainland norms.

The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, concentrates planning powers with the administration, and empowers it to take any piece of land on the islands, irrespective of its ownership, for “development” purposes, to further tourism expansion. It causes justified concern not only regarding the ecological impact, but also when it comes to the impossibility to provide adequate rehabilitation to the population to be displaced, and compensation for the loss of livelihood through fishing.

These laws also include preventing citizens with more than 2 children from contesting Gram Panchayat elections. The draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021, bans beef, including removing it from mid-day meals of a population that is 97% Muslim and for whom the main source of protein is beef and fish, and carries draconian penalty. This is a clear communal attack by the BJP on an island that is predominantly inhabited by a Muslim population.

The draft Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021, allows the Administrator to unilaterally detain people for up to one year without public notice, and has been brought in with no justification as to its necessity. As a matter of fact, contradictorily, alcohol restrictions have been relaxed to support the focus on tourism, in spite of resistance from the community.

These plans and regulations have been introduced without public consultation of the small communities of Lakshadweep, and without regard to their social and religious sensibilities, their ways of life and livelihood, their economic well-being, and their environmental and natural resource situation.

With the arrival of the new administrator, Praful Patel, the hitherto mandatory Covid-quarantine for all visitors to the islands has already been relaxed. Consequently, after more than a year with no Covid cases, the deliberate sabotaging of containment efforts has led to more than 26 deaths, as well as the arbitrary imprisonment of those resisting such overt suppression. This is just the beginning of the series of ‘reforms’ leading to the irrevocable destruction of Lakshadweep.

The measures taken and proposals adopted by the administration are in violation of the constitutional Directive Principles of State Policy. The manner in which these are being forced upon the people of Lakshadweep against their wishes, is blatantly undemocratic and violative of the fundamental rights of the people, and against the public interest. The people of Lakshadweep, with women at the forefront, have been protesting against these regulations, brought in without consultation and in complete disregard of the people’s concerns.

National Alliance of People’s Movements stands in solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep, in their struggle for social justice and ecological rights. We condemn the attempt of Lakshadweep administration to paint the legitimate concerns of the inhabitants of the islands and of those in solidarity, as ‘misleading propaganda’, and demand that:

1. Lakshadweep’s Administrator Praful Khoda Patel, be immediately withdrawn and replaced by an I.A.S cadre officer as previously.

2. The plans for on-shore and off-shore development of Lakshadweep for high-end tourism, and making Kavaratti into a “smart city”, be suspended.

3. No ecologically destructive projects must be imposed on the island, in undemocratic and authoritarian ways. Social and environmental impact assessments of all aspects of the proposed ‘development initiatives’ should be conducted with transparent public hearings and consultations, involving local people as well as those who have been working for conservation of biodiversity in the region.

4. The draft Regulations and also other measures like relaxing alcohol restrictions and relaxing Covid quarantine, be withdrawn in public interest.

5. Draconian legislation like the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021, be scrapped.

6. The UT administration should stop resorting to high-handed treatment and legal action against people rightfully protesting authoritarian measures which will impact their lives.

We all upon all concerned citizens, environmental groups, democratic movements to stand by the people of the Lakshadweep Islands in this moment of brazen attack on their culture, identity, economy and ecology and strengthen their hands to resist the authoritarianism of the Centre.

For any further details, contact: napmindia@gmail.com