Law Insider

Legal News, Current Trends and Legal Insight | Supreme Court of India and High Courts

What is the cause of unrest in Lakshadweep Islands?

13 min read

By Aashima Kakkar

Introduction

The Administrator of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, Mr. Praful Patel, has introduced and sought comments on a set of Draft Regulations called the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, that have been widely criticized over the last few months.

This draft is an umbrella draft that various other drafts suggesting changes in different aspects of the Union Territory.

Locals have been protesting the proposed regulations, and some have even claimed cultural ties to Kerala, prompting the Kerala Legislative Assembly to pass a unanimous resolution calling for the Administrator to be recalled and the proposed regulations to be withdrawn.

The regulations cover a variety of topics, including a beef ban, an archaic Goonda Act, a two-child policy for panchayat candidates, and a Development Authority Act that locals were detained after, but were later released due to a Kerala High Court order.

This article will discuss the various provisions of this draft and how it will affect the Islanders.

History of Governance in Lakshadweep Islands

The Lakshadweep islands were separated from Malabar District and organized into a separate union territory for administrative purposes on November 1, 1956, as part of the reorganization of Indian states.

Before being renamed Lakshadweep on November 1, 1973, the new territory was known as Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands.

The new union territory’s headquarters remained in Kozhikode for nearly a decade, until 1964. The administrative seat of the islands was moved to Kavaratti in 1964. An Indian Navy base, INS Dweeprakshak, was commissioned on Kavaratti to protect India’s vital shipping lanes to the Middle East, as well as the islands’ growing importance in security considerations.

Why are the Islanders against the draft legislation?

According to the 2011 census, Lakshadweep Islands have a Muslim majority population with a percentage of 96.58% and Hindus being only 2.77% of the population.[1]

Due to the high population of the Muslim Community, the way of living for the island has been according to their religious rules, which means that alcohol was banned in the Union Territory and beef was openly sold, among other things.

The Islanders claim that the current Administrator Mr. Praful Patel, is a big supporter of the BJP led Central Government and thus is against the Islanders due to them not supporting the new Citizenship rules or the CAA.[2]

Not only this, but there are also various provisions in the draft that suggest various changes that the Islanders are not comfortable with, such as the enactment of the Goonda Act, lifting the Alcohol Ban, etc. that are discussed below:

The Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-social Activities Regulation Goonda Act or – An Act to prevent organized crime in a Union territory having the lowest crime rate in the country?

The Act that was introduced in January 2021 also known as the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (commonly known as the “Goonda Act”), for example, gives the Administrator broad powers, including the ability to detain someone for up to a year with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”.

According to the Section 6 of this Legislation such a detention order will not be invalid even if some grounds are vague, non-existent, non-relevant, non-connected or not proximately connected with such a person or invalid for any other reason whatsoever“.

The Administrator (or an authorized officer) can also order any police officer to enter and search any residence, vehicle, vessel, or animal, and seize anything they suspect “has been, is being, or is about to be used for illegal activities. This is not the first time the Act has been criticized.

According to statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Lakshadweep archipelago has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the country.

According to a 2019 NCRB report, there were no cases of murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery, or dacoity in Lakshadweep.

Which is why, the islanders are protesting and are wary of the proposed prevention of anti-social activities regulation, which would give the administrator broad powers, including the ability to detain someone for up to a year to “prevent him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.”

They are saying that if there are no violent crimes then why is an Act, whose main purpose is to stop violent crimes, is being enacted in the Islands?

The Lakshadweep Animals Preservation Regulation – Stopping Beef Slaughter in Union Territory where Beef is a part of religious beliefs?

Another of these regulations prohibits the slaughter of cows. It has been a contentious legal issue for as long as the constitution has existed, and it is especially so in Lakshadweep, which has a population of over 90% Muslims and 95% Scheduled Tribes.

The Administrator of the Union Territory has completely ignored the people of Lakshadweep’s cultural ties to Kerala. He also switched freight traffic routes to the islands from Kerala’s Beypore to Karnataka’s Mangalore. The majority of Lakshadweep’s population speaks Malayalam, and the Islanders are ethnically and culturally similar to Malayalis.

As a result, beef plays an important role in their diet. The beef-ban debate has been tangled because, despite the fact that the act and the substantive directive principle claim to be based on economic principles, it smells like religious motivations.

The Lakshadweep Animals Preservation Regulation makes it illegal to slaughter any animal without a certificate, as well as to sell or buy beef.

Article 48 of the Constitution states that preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle“.

It was justified by the economic argument of useful cattle, not as a religious right, according to the amendment that proposed it. Currently, anti-cow-slaughter laws exist in about 24 states and Union Territories.

The petitioners in Mohd. Hanif Qureshi Vs. State of Bihar[3], one of the earliest challenges to anti-cow-slaughter laws in India, pleaded for their right to trade and asserted themselves as belonging to “the Quraishi community and generally engaged in the butcher’s trade.”

The Supreme Court ruled that a complete ban would be impossible to implement in the national interest, but it did allow for a partial ban on cow slaughter.

States are empowered to make laws on Preservation, protection, and improvement of stock, and prevention of animal diseases; veterinary training and practice under Entry No. 15 of Article 246, List II.

The logic would suggest that states can independently assess the needs of their own citizens and enact anti-cow-slaughter legislation as a result.

However, as a Union Territory, Lakshadweep is not a state, and “the President may make regulations for the peace, progress, and good government of the Union territory.”

However, it is unclear how prohibiting cow slaughter will benefit Islanders, the majority of whom are Scheduled Tribes and Muslims. The law is clearly unrelated to public benefit, and the indigenous people of Lakshadweep have no economic or cultural use for it.

The Lakshadweep Development Authority Act – For development by the Government whose cost is borne by the Citizen

Another of these proposed regulations, the Lakshadweep Development Authority Act, if passed, would allow the government to evict, alter, and/or occupy any land owned by any common man on the island for “development” purposes.

It calls for the establishment of a Planning and Development Authority, which will draw up a Development Plan. And, if a property is not deemed suitable for the final scheme but the owner continues to live there, Section 72 of the Act outlines the eviction process:

“Any person continuing to occupy any land which he is not entitled to occupy under the final scheme may, regarding alterations to the property will be borne by the owner. Right to Property may only be taken in accordance with the prescribed procedure, be summarily evicted by the Planning and Development Authority or any of its officers authorized in that behalf by that Authority.”

This means that the cost of the redevelopment will be borne by the owner of the property. Right to Property can be taken away by any law, but are these extreme measures necessary?

Anyone who obstructs the development will be punished “with a fine of up to ten thousand rupees or with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months,” according to Section 119 of the Act.

The broad powers of acquisition and alteration of property, as well as the threat of legal action if non-compliance is not met, smacks of arbitrariness.

The Regulation includes provisions for the development of townships, as well as the acquisition, alteration, and transfer of landed properties owned by Lakshadweep residents. In addition, it proposes limiting the use of landed properties in Lakshadweep.

According to Section 5 of the Regulation, the Government may declare any area in Lakshadweep to be a “Planning Area” for the purposes of the Regulation by notification, and the Regulation will apply to that area once declared.

It is worth noting that the “Government” here refers to the President’s appointment of the Administrator of Lakshadweep under Article 239 of the Constitution.

According to the Government, this regulation will enhance the Development of the Islands in the following ways:

  • Tourism Development: According to the Lakshadweep Administration, the LDAR is required for the islands to develop into a bustling tourism hub.
  • Strategic Importance: The development of the territory is extremely strategic in the Indian Ocean, especially in light of rising Chinese inroads into neighbouring Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
  • Income and Employment Generation: The Lakshadweep administration and the NITI Aayog’s “Holistic Development of Identified Islands” aims to generate income and employment for the islanders. The projected Budget Estimates of 266.70 crore and additional private sector investment of 788 crore were committed to sustainable development.[4]

The Regulation gives the Government and the Planning and Development Authority it established manifestly arbitrary powers to acquire, alter, and transfer property owned by Lakshadweep residents. It would infringe on the residents of Lakshadweep’s fundamental rights, as guaranteed by Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

Lakshadweep is made up of numerous small islands with a high population density. There are few landed properties in the area. Due to the lack of land, the unique geography, and the community life of Lakshadweep, it would be extremely difficult for a resident of Lakshadweep to obtain a suitable property in the event of the acquisition of his landed properties.

Not only this, but the new regulation will also harm the tourism and the ecology of the Island.

The people fear that:

  • The regulation calls for the construction and expansion of “existing and proposed national highways, major streets, ring roads, railways, tramways, airports, and canals,” ignoring the region’s geographic realities and long-standing demands. For example, transportation connectivity between the islands and the Indian mainland is a major concern for the islanders.
  • More ships and boats, as well as better facility management, are required, rather than trains and trams.
  • The LDAR is said to have stoked fears among the local population that it is designed to facilitate the entry of capital from outside the islands in order to purchase land.
  • Many islanders believe that the LDAR was issued in order to obtain real estate interests in order to usurp small parcels of land owned by islanders.
  • The Scheduled Tribes account for the majority of them (94.8% according to the 2011 census).
  • Proposals to introduce real estate development concepts such as “transferable development rights” to the island have sparked fears of mass migration.
  • Concerns about forcible eviction have been raised by provisions of LDAR that give the authority unrestricted power to relocate people for development plans.
  • The LDAR also places the burden of proof on the landowner to develop his property in accordance with the authority’s plan, as well as imposing severe penalties in the event of non-compliance.

As a result, no amount of compensation would be sufficient to compensate a person owning property in Lakshadweep, for the loss he would incur as a result of such a forced acquisition. In this regard, the Supreme Court’s decision in Olga Tellis and Others Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation and Others[5], which held that the Right to Life under Article 21 includes the right to livelihood, is significant. A place to live and a source of income are both necessary for survival.

The procedure established by law may impose limitations on the same. The legal procedure, on the other hand, should be just, fair, and reasonable.

Furthermore, Article 300A of the Constitution states that no one’s property can be taken away from them unless they have legal authority to do so.

The Supreme Court held in Ramana Dayaram Shetty Vs. The International Airport Authority of India and Others[6] that the principle of reasonableness and rationality, which is legally as well as philosophically an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness, is projected by Article 14 of the Constitution.

The Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulations, 2021 – A two Child Policy to contest Panchayat Elections?

The Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 lays out the procedures for electing Gram Panchayats.

Those with more than two children are ineligible to be elected to the gramme panchayat, according to the law. The law, on the other hand, will not disqualify anyone who has more than two children if they were elected before the regulation was made public.

Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, and Karnataka have already passed laws making it illegal to run for panchayat elections if you have more than two children.

In addition, the regulation mandates that women be given 50% of the seats in Gram Panchayats.

“Not less than one-half of the total number of offices of sarpanch in the gram panchayats for women: Provided that offices reserved under this subsection shall be allotted by the Election Commission by rotation to different Gram Panchayats in such manner as may be prescribed,” the regulation states.

According to S. Askar Ali, the Collector of Lakshadweep Islands, there is false propaganda that a person with more than two children is ineligible to run for office. “The provisions will only apply to parents of infants born after the notification deadline,” he explained.

“Why isn’t anyone talking about the progressive provisions in the panchayat regulation? It will pave the way for women’s empowerment and uplift.” Was what the Administrator told the Press when asked about this rule.

According to the Collector, with this provision, women in Lakshadweep will be able to plan the development of the island and take control of its future. When asked why the two-child rule exists, the Collector stated that Lakshadweep’s population density, according to the 2011 Census, was 2,149 people per square kilometer, significantly higher than the national average of 382 people per square kilometer.

Even though experts claim that the population is within ideal limits and that the proposed norm may have a negative impact on the sex ratio, the Administrator of Lakshadweep has proposed a draught Panchayat Regulation, 2021 with a two-child norm for aspirants in panchayat elections.

The opposition to the Administrator of Lakshadweep’s proposed draught regulations is unsurprising. The Lakshadweep Administration stated in a recent hearing before the Kerala High Court that it had received 593 comments, suggestions, and objections regarding the draught regulations.

View of Kerala High Court and Political Parties in Kerala

While hearing a Public Interest Litigation over the actions of Lakshadweep’s new administration, which have caused an uproar not only there but also in Kerala, the Kerala High Court stated that the Court was aware of the events taking place on the island.

Recently, the division bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and MR Anitha, after declining to stay the operation of the draft, granted a period of 2 weeks to Lakshadweep Administration to respond to a PIL criticizing the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021(LDAR).

They are aware of what has been going on there, according to Justice Vinod Chandran, and they do not need to rely on social media or news reports to keep up with events.

Apart from the BJP, all the major political parties in Kerala are enraged by the way things are going under the new administrator of the Union Territory, Praful Patel, a former Gujarat Home Minister. Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s two-time Chief Minister, claimed that Patel’s arrival destroyed the UT’s peace and tranquilly.

“All along the administration was done by an IAS officer and things changed for the worse with the arrival of Patel. The introduction of the Goonda Act at a place like the island, where the crime rate is relatively low and harassing people by using it to take action against those people who protested during the CAA and NRC. Also, the way the quarantine rules was imposed there also led to spread of Covid. Also, the act of deleting beef from the menu and the revoking of prohibition rules have all caused unrest and these things should not happen,” said the former CM.[7]

After declining to stay the draft’s implementation, a division bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and MR Anitha granted the Lakshadweep Administration a two-week period to respond to a PIL criticizing the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021. (LDAR).

The decision comes after KP Noushad Ali, a Congress leader, challenged the LDAR and Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) on the island of Lakshadweep.

While petitioner’s counsel, Advocate Anoop Nair, argued for a stay of the regulation’s implementation, the Court gave Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj two weeks to respond before declining the stay.

Conclusion

The Draft Legislation put up by the Administrator is arbitrary and unconstitutional. The President should not ascend to the line of the thought that the Administrator has, which is against the wishes of the people living on the Islands. The Centre must warn the administrator of Lakshadweep against imposing a dubious agenda in the name of the islands’ development.

The disparity between residents’ needs and the administration’s vision should be bridged through participatory development rather than a heavy-handed, top-down approach that ignores local concerns and needs.

The government could take the first step toward this by withdrawing the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), which is at the heart of the insecurity. The Center should also begin a conversation with the island’s residents, who are the primary stakeholders in the island’s development.

References:

  1. Lakshadweep District Religion Census 2011 available at: census2011(Last visited on June 7th 2021)
  2. Hannah Ellis-Peterson and Aakash Hassan “Trouble and Paradise: Indian islands face ‘Brazen’ new rules and Covid Crisis” available at: census2011.co.in(Last visited on June 7th, 2021)
  3. Mohd. Hanif Qureshi Vs. State of Bihar 1958 AIR 731; 1959 SCR 629
  4. Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR): New Rules by Praful Khoda Patel available at: journalsofindia.com/ (Last visited on June 7th, 2021)
  5. Olga Tellis and Others Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation and Others 1985 (3) SCC 545
  6. Ramana Dayaram Shetty Vs. The International Airport Authority of India and Others 1979 (3) SCC 489
  7. Deepali Kalia, “Kerala HC: We are aware of what is happening in Lakshadweep” available at: .lawinsider.in (Last visited on June 7th, 2021)