New Delhi: In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah Saturday, a group of 93 former civil servants raised concerns over a slew of draft legislations brought in by the Lakshadweep administrator P.K. Patel since February this year.
Calling Patel’s decisions as “disturbing”, the body called the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) said each of the new “draft regulations is part of a larger agenda that is against the ethos and interests of the islands and islanders”.
The letter was referring to three draft legislations — Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA Act), and the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation (LAPR) — as well as changes to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Staff Rules over the two-child policy.
Pointing out that these draft laws have been introduced without local consultation, the retired civil servants noted several issues with the provisions of each of these legislations.
The draft laws are currently with the Ministry of Home Affairs for necessary approvals.
The letter, also marked to the Union environment minister, urged for a development model that ensures environmental conservation while improving the living standards of the people on the island.
The CCG also expressed concerns that the recent administrative changes, such as the beef ban and permitting the sale of alcohol, will create discord in communal harmony of the island, which is of vital importance to national security.
It urged PM Modi to discard the proposed measures as they smack “not of development but alien and arbitrary policymaking, in violation of established practices that respect the environment and society of Lakshadweep”.
The body also asked the PM to provide the UT with a “full-time, people-sensitive, and responsive Administrator, who would work in consultation with islanders and provide an appropriate development model with access to safe and secure healthcare, education, just governance, food security and livelihood options linked to the ecosystem”.
Issues with individual laws
The CCG noted the Lakshadweep administrator’s justification for LDAR that there has been no development on the islands for the past 70 years.
“LDAR reflects a model of land and tourism development which includes resorts, hotels, and beach fronts on the ‘Maldives model’ unmindful of the differences between the two island groups in size, population, number of islands and their spread,” it said.
The body also pointed out that the UT administration has already razed beach huts, storing boats, nets, and other fishing equipment of local fishermen, presumably to clear beaches for tourism development.
The administration’s allegation that the fishermen had encroached onto government land, citing violations of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules and the Coast Guard Act, came despite the fact that fishermen were exempt from CRZ rules, said the CCG.
The ex-civil servants body also expressed apprehension that the new legislation vests “arbitrary and draconian powers in the Administrator to acquire, alter, and transfer properties and/or remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity that he decides is necessary, threatening the islanders’ rights to possess and retain their property”.
On the PASA Act, the letter expressed concern saying that in a territory where, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, crime rates are very low compared to the rest of India, the draft law has generated fears that its real purpose is to smother dissent or protests against the policies and actions of the administrator.
The PASA Act enables the administrator to “detain any person for up to a year for common crimes (like anti-social behavior, smuggling contraband drugs, and liquor, involvement in immoral traffic, land grabbing, cyber-crimes, sexual offenses, or damaging the environment)”. National security concerns in a sensitive maritime area, including infiltration of terrorists and arms, have also been cited in support of the law.
The draft laws have attracted widespread criticism from the locals.
On administrator’s Covid performance
The CCG also highlighted that with the arrival of the administrator P.K. Patel, issues relating to Covid have been aggravated on the island.
“Until his appointment in December 2020, Lakshadweep did not report a single case of COVID-19. With his arrival and occasional visits, mandatory quarantine guidelines and SOPs for those arriving from the mainland were done away with, leading to the first reported case of COVID-19 on 18 January 2021, the first Covid death on 24 February 2021, and some 5000 cases, 14 deaths and an alarming test positivity rate of 68%, leading to a total lockdown situation until recently,” it said.
Last month, the Kerala legislative assembly had unanimously passed a resolution demanding the recall of Patel, in an expression of solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep.
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