Lakshadweep encountering dissent, turmoil
Lakshadweep had 0 cases of Covid-19
"Lakshadweep had 0 cases of Covid-19. Now, it is reporting a daily spike of 100 cases. What the Centre has deployed is a bio-weapon. I can say this clearly that the central government has deployed bio-weapon," alleged local actress Aisha Sultana recently.
BJP's Lakshadweep unit president Abdul Khader filed a complaint with the Kavaratti police on June 9, alleging that Sultana's was an anti-national act, which tarnished the "patriotic image" of the central government. These allegations cannot make even the prima facie charge of sedition, as per the definition and judicial interpretation of Section 124A of IPC.
Despite the severe criticism of the Centre for its gross abuse of the draconian British law of sedition, and Supreme Court's admonition, the behaviour of rulers did not change. This case created furore in BJP unit of that UT as the secretary Abdul Hameed Mullipuzha and several other officer bearers resigned from their party positions. In a letter to Abdul Khader, these leaders wrote 'when BJP workers in Lakshadweep have been protesting against undemocratic action of UT administrator how could you file a false and unjustified complaint against Sultana?". Earlier eight BJP leaders left the party protesting the disturbing policies of the Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel.
The peaceful island group Lakshadweep is on boil. Not because of corona pandemic, but of policies worse than pandemic. A former Home Minister of Gujarat, Praful Khoda Patel became new Administrator of the Lakshadweep. His controversial policies aimed at perpetuating the dictatorial policies of Centre have become causes of serious concern. From food to employment to economy every thing is pushed into crisis suddenly, in this group of small islands.
Generally, an eminent statesman is appointed as the Governor of a state and a renowned civil servant with clean record is chosen as administrator and LG of Union Territory. First time a politician and former Home Minister has been appointed as Administrator to Lakshadweep. Once in this high office, the Administrator is expected to function as a matured statesman rather than as a party functionary implementing the orders of high command of party.
The UT is under the administrative control of Union government, which does not mean that it is beyond democratic rule. The rules at the Centre have recently changed the Constitutional provisions for administration of National Capital of Delhi giving all powers to Lieutenant Governor and depriving the elected Assembly of all its powers, in recent session of the Parliament. Though not elected the BJP will be ruling Delhi through the LG because of these changes, which are totally in contrast to the earlier Constitutional scheme and letter and spirit of two recent Supreme Court judgments on Delhi administration. The Centre wants to rule through some UTs and recently Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh are added to the list of Centrally-ruled Union Territories. In non-BJP ruled States, the Centre is empowering the Governors through central bureaucracy and exceptional powers the Centre was given to be used in emergency situations.
Recent policies proposed by Praful Khoda Patel invoked the anger and dissent from BJP functionaries also. In December 2016, Praful Patel, who was a BJP MLA and Minister of State for Home in Gujarat from 2010-12, was appointed as the Administrator for Dadra and Nagar Haveli. In January 2020, he became the first Administrator of the newly formed Union Territory of 'Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu'. He was given additional charge of Lakshadweep in December 2020.
Dadra & Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar (58) committed suicide on February 22, 2021. He left a 15-page suicide note in which he has named administrator Praful Patel and some officers including the Superintendent of Police and Collector of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Maharashtra Home Minister said: "Personally, I don't think that a man of his stature, who has been a seven-time MP and managed to win as an Independent, would commit suicide because of non-cooperation from some government officials. We need to investigate if the Centre was putting pressure on Praful Patel who in turn was pressuring the local administration whose harassment led Delkar to commit suicide." The MP Delkar has mentioned that he is committing suicide in Mumbai as he knows he would get justice in the State. Media reported that this MP has donated a part of his medical college to another college, which is named after Namo.
Then local administration brought bulldozers to demolish his own medical college.They tried to demolish the 'Adiwasi Kalyan Bhawan', which he had constructed. They tried to remove his people from jobs, he was fighting for them during Corona. He was not allowed to work with his own people, for his own people and they kept humiliating him at every given opportunity. It's a serious allegation against the UT Administrator, which needs to be probed. He should have been recalled from this position until the probe is completed. Opposition Congress party says with him as the top of administration, it is almost impossible to investigate. Onlookers certainly examine the Patel's governance of Lakshdweep with this background.
The smallest UT with 36 islands nearer to Kerala, Lakshadweep was once part of Madras Presidency's Malabar district. When Kerala state was formed in 1956, Lakshadweep became UT. It has population around 65,000 and 96 per cent of them are Muslims. The island is ruled by UT administrator from top and dweep panchayat councils at local level. The Congress party has won majority of wards in the district panchayat and dweep panchayat polls.
The administrator draws his power from Article 240(b) of the Constitution which allows the president to promulgate regulations for peace, progress and good governance in UTs, including Lakshadweep. These regulations have the force of an Act of Parliament. The President acts through the administrator in Lakshadweep and the Administrator is the real government of the UT. Can we say that such an executive action could be capable of changing the social, cultural, environmental and economic landscape of the entire UT.
The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 gives enormous powers to Administrator to acquire any land, which the CPIM Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala fears to be used for grabbing land from residents and handed over to big corporates. But the administrator and Collector justify it for the development. Another apprehension is possible destruction of the island's ecology. Govt says it was ill-founded.
Legally speaking, the power to acquire land and other developments are supposed to be with the local civic bodies, whereas this proposal gives entire power to administrator which is in total violation of norms of 74th amendment to the Constitution. But the administration claims that proposed land regulation is common and nothing extra ordinary. There is no disaster resilient, or ecology and climate of the islands was not considered while LDAR are drafted. They did not tap the fishing potential of the island waters. It is estimated that only 10 pc of it was exploited without compromising ecological sanctity. Main criticism is against non-consultation before framing the regulations.
This draft along with three draft legislations like Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, Cow slaughter ban, Panchayat notification are perceived from communal angle. Lifting the restrictions on sale of alcohol and imposing total ban on slaughter of animals is viewed as deliberate assault on the cultural and religious fabric of the local community. It was also questioned as an attempt to severe ties between the Beypore port with Kerala, which has a long history of cultural relationship. Rahul Gandhi, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar wrote to PM on this 'unwarranted and irrational' decisions. Eight members of BJP's youth wing Yuva Morcha from Lakshadweep have resigned from the party alleging the growing unrest caused by Patel. Liquor flows will be unleashed with lifting of restrictions on sale of alcohol.
The Administrator introduced Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act PASA under which any person could be detained without disclosure for a period up to one year, a draconian police power that could be misused. Another notification is a draft Panchayat notification where a member with more than two children is disqualified from being a member. Being a Muslim-majority territory, who generally have more than two children, this regulation will deny almost all from contesting for local body elections.
(The writer is Professor of Law, Bennett University and former Central Information Commissioner)