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(This story was first published on 4 June 2021 and is being republished from The Quint's archives in the light of Collector Askher Ali inviting tenders for the construction of over 370 beach villas in three islands of Lakshadweep.)
The dissent around Praful Khoda Patel’s new regulations for Lakshadweep has been gaining momentum, even as Home Minister Amit Shah has given reassurance that no steps will be taken without consulting the people of the archipelago.
Since his appointment as the Administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020, Patel has brought about some drastic regulations in the Union Territory, like the Goonda Act, the two-child policy for Panchayat poll aspirants, and a beef ban.
Additionally, the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 intends to carry out development work in the island, such as mining and the expansion of tourism.
The Quint spoke to Wajahat Habibullah, the former administrator of the Union Territory and the first Chief Information Commissioner of India, to understand how the regulations could be detrimental to Lakshadweep’s ecology and its inhabitants.
“The development plans for Lakshadweep has been very carefully charted out in the highest levels. After it was set by Rajiv Gandhi, the Island Development Authority came to the conclusion that island territories, like Lakshadweep and Andaman, need separate development plans because of the ecology…but the recent land development acquisitions are really unsustainable and not only that, they will be very damaging. Instead of bringing development, they’ll bring destruction. The regulation, which also talks about mining and exploration of mineral resources, is highly dangerous.”Wajahat Habibullah, Former Lakshadweep Administrator
‘Praful Patel’s Actions Show Ignorance’
Despite facing a lot of criticism, Patel has indicated there are no intentions to roll back any of the regulations. He has claimed that the people in the island live in a “pitiful” state and that his administration intends to develop the archipelago as Maldives.
“If Praful Patel has pity on the islanders...in that case, he should have talked to them. The problem with the regulations is that none of them really are of any consequence to the people there,” Habibullah says.
“It is obviously a demonstration that they know nothing about Lakshadweep when they pass regulations which are not even applicable to the area. For example, a beef ban in a place that has no cows. If you look at the website of the Lakshadweep administration, not a single senior officer belongs to Lakshadweep,” he adds.
The accusation against Patel has been that the decisions regarding the new policies were taken unilaterally.
“You have the Panchayati Raj established there. That is the agency that should be consulted and in this case, they haven’t been consulted at all. Particularly regarding development programme, particularly regarding the law; it maybe that the Panchayat doesn’t have the authority to pass laws. But surely for such a popular representation, there has to be a certain meaning. And the meaning is that they should be kept informed of every aspect of the governance of their territory.”Wajahat Habibullah, Former Lakshadweep Administrator
‘Amit Shah’s Response Reassuring’
As the protests against the regulations gained attention, Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal said that Amit Shah has assured a BJP delegation and that no “changes will happen without taken people into confidence”.
Mr Habibullah says that since the sanction of the regulations comes under the Home Minister, he considers Shah’s reassurance as “authentic”, but he also believes that it is the duty of the government to clarify that there aren’t any intentions to impose Hindutva ideologies.
“I don’t see the beef ban or a vegetarian diet in mid-day meals promoting Hindutva. But there have been suspicions regarding why this matter has been taken up. We should we careful about accepting such charges against the government, and they should also clarify their position.”