“Celebrating World Environment Day by looking inward at Lakshadweep”

Gayatri Kasibhatta

June 5th is celebrated globally as world environment day and today is also national black bear day, celebrated annually on first Saturday of June. Environment is the silent heart beat under every public issue. This has become more pertinent as we battle a devastating global pandemic in the background of growing outrage among Lakshadweep islanders towards legislations introduced and administrative measures taken by their Hon'ble Administrator Shri. Praful Patel, appointed on December 2020. Lakshadweep comprises of 36 islands of which 10 are inhabited with a population of 64,473.[1] The islanders are majorly Malayali Muslims and some have ethnic links to Maldives.

Islanders have been upset, outraged even, with Administrator Praful Patel’s rule. One of many infamous administrative measures include, striking down 7-day mandatory quarantine rule for anyone entering or leaving the archipelago,[2] which turned the previously only untouched territory by the pandemic into have a huge spike of coronavirus cases with total 8,568 cases and 36 deaths in just five months.[3]

The contested legislations are the following draft laws — the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA), the Animal Preservation Regulation, and the Panchayat Regulation.[4] The union home ministry is currently scrutinizing these three laws.[5] This is apart from the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021[6] which allows the administrator to acquire any land required for a public purpose if the administration categorizes it as “bad layout” and can compel individuals to develop the land as per administration’s orders defying which will attract penalties. The land acquisition by the government cannot be challenged in any court.

PASA allows any person to be detained for maximum twelve months[7] and section 6 reads that an order can’t be challenged on grounds that it is “vague” or “not connected or not proximately connected with such person” as long as Administrator or officers making the order are satisfied that the criteria set in section 3 is met.[8] The grounds on which an order for detention can be drawn in itself is vague. The section 3(1) reads: The administrator may if satisfied with respect to any person that with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order, it is necessary so to do, make an order directing that such person be detained (my emphasis). The person detained will be informed, as mandated under section 8(1), on what grounds they are detained within seven days of their detention allowing them to challenge the order in court however the subsequent section 8(2) reads: nothing in subsection (1) shall require the authority to disclose facts which it considers to be against the public interest to disclose (my emphasis). The vague language of the Act with a clear aim to authorize administrator with more power has alarmed the islanders.

The PASA isn’t unique to Lakshadweep. Several states, including Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have similar regulations. The low crime rate of the island group, however, raises questions for the need of this law.

The Animal Preservation Regulation bans slaughter of cows, calves, bulls or bullocks under section 5(2). Schools have been ordered to serve vegetarian meals as part of mid-day meal scheme. Islanders are protesting that this is an attempt to control their dietary habits and their culture.

The Panchayat Regulations disqualifies those with more than two children from becoming gram panchayat members under section 14(n) which some argue infringes 73rd amendment and fundamental rights of the Constitution.[9] Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, and Karnataka have already enacted laws disqualifying a person having more than two children from contesting panchayat elections. The administration argues that this clause is to control population growth when the island already has the lowest growth rate in the country. The regulation also provides for reservation of 50 per cent seats in gram panchayats for women.

These laws have been introduced with an aim to develop Lakshadweep into a tourist hub. S Asker Ali, District Collector, argues that like its neighbor Maldives (with similar topography), Lakshadweep should develop its islands to be an attractive tourist option for attracting huge income and “the proposed development will be implemented with minimum impact on the island ecosystem which is considered an ecologically protected area. It will be in consonance with the larger vision statement of sustainable development and the approved Integrated Island Management Plan (IIMP) of the various islands of Lakshadweep”.[10] The lack of participation of primary stakeholders- the islanders rings alarm bells considering that the archipelago is a protected ecological territory. No one can enter the territory without permission from the administration, such a rule is in place to protect the indigenous culture of the populace, most of whom are scheduled tribes.

While Maldives, a Sunni Islamic island-nation, is a prime example of government succeeding in preserving the indigenous culture while promoting tourism, it is naïve to think India can replicate that with little to no participation from the people of the island. It is especially unsustainable procedure of development if it is achieved with vague, and undemocratic laws.

Development versus ecological balance is a recurring theme in policy debates. However, the two are not as mutually exclusive as they seem. Ecological development is a viable option. The administration of Lakshadweep asserts that what is aims to achieve is just that. Whether it can implement its policies and succeed, is up for debate.

[1] Source: https://lakshadweep.gov.in/. [2] Krishnan, Revathi; “Zero cases in 2020 to nearly 5,000 now — how Covid-free Lakshadweep got infected by virus”, The Print, accessed on 5th June 2021, https://theprint.in/india/zero-cases-in-2020-to-nearly-5000-now-how-covid-free-lakshadweep-got-infected-by-virus/660366/. [3] Source: John Hopkins University. [4] Das Gupta, Moushumi, “These are the 3 Lakshadweep draft laws that have triggered controversy”, The Print, accessed on 5th June 2021, https://theprint.in/india/these-are-the-3-lakshadweep-draft-laws-that-have-triggered-controversy/667336/. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] § 15(2): Provided that in a case no fresh facts have arisen after expiry of revocation of earlier detention order made against such person, maximum period for which such person may be detained in pursuance of the subsequent detention order shall in no case extend beyond the expiry of a period of 12 months from the date of detention under earlier detention order. [8] §6(1): Where a person has been detained in pursuance of an order of detention under section 3 which has been made on two or more grounds, such order of detention shall be deemed to have been made separately on each ground and accordingly- (a) such order shall not be deemed to be invalid or inoperative merely because one or some of the grounds is or are- (i) vague, (ii) non-existent, (iii) non-relevant, (iv) not connected or not proximately connected with such person, or, (v) invalid for any other reason whatsoever, and it is not, therefore, possible to hold that the Administration or the officer making such order would have been satisfied as provided in section 3 with reference to the remaining ground or grounds and made the order of detention. (b) the Administrator or the officer making the order of detention shall be deemed to have been made the order of detention under the said section after being satisfied as provided in that section with reference to the remaining ground or grounds.

[9] Odivalukanjarugothi, Faseela, “Face off: Times Face-off: What's at stake for Lakshadweep?”, The Times of India, accessed on 5th June, < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/times-face-off-whats-at-stake-for-lakshadweep/articleshowprint/83216599.cms>.

[10] S Ali, Asker, “Face off: Times Face-off: What's at stake for Lakshadweep?”, The Times of India, accessed on 5th June, < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/times-face-off-whats-at-stake-for-lakshadweep/articleshowprint/83216599.cms>.

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