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Insights into Editorial: A ‘reform wave’ Lakshadweep could do without

 

 

Context:

Praful Khoda Patel, who took additional charge as Administrator, Lakshadweep, in December last year, is in the news for having introduced a slew of draft legislation that will have a wide-ranging impact on the islands:

  1. The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021;
  2. The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA);
  3. The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 and
  4. Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021.

Addressing the media in the face of widespread criticism of these measures, Mr. Patel says he intends to develop Lakshadweep like neighbouring Maldives, “a renowned international tourist destination”.

Adding to this, the Collector of Lakshadweep says, It was only in 2017 that the Centre constituted the Island Development Agency under the Home Minister for the development of the islands.

 

About Lakshadweep Islands:

India’s smallest Union Territory, Lakshadweep is an archipelago consisting of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq km. It is directly under the control of the Centre through an administrator.

The Capital is Kavaratti and it is also the principal town of the UT. Pitti island, which is uninhabited, has a bird sanctuary.

There are three main group of islands:

  1. Amindivi Islands
  2. Laccadive Islands
  3. Minicoy Island.

Amindivi Islands are the northernmost while Minicoy island is the southernmost. All are tiny islands of coral origin (Atoll) and are surrounded by fringing reefs.

 

Lakshadweep society:

  1. The society in all islands is matriarchal. The religion is Islam of the pristine Shafi school of law. When Islam came to the islands is debated.
  2. A paradise set in the Arabian Sea, the archipelago of Lakshadweep also gives India a vast and exclusive economic zone with three distinct ecosystems: land, lagoon and ocean.
  3. Fishery is a primary occupation here. The language, except in Minicoy, is Malayalam; in Minicoy, Mahl is spoken, a language akin to the 17th century Divehi of the Maldives.
  4. Vatteluttu was the earliest script used with its heavy Sanskrit component and this system of autography is in evidence in the sailing manuals of local pilots (malmis), on inscriptions on tombstones and those in some mosques/pallis.
  5. With the introduction of Islam, Arabi-Malayalam, with Malayalam in Arabic script and associated with the literature of the Mappilas that developed on the mainland, also came into use on the islands.

 

Administration and Tourism:

  1. The office of the Administrator, Lakshadweep was also among the first in India to be computerised with a mainframe and fax machine; every island in Lakshadweep had a computer by 1990.
  2. Endorsed with outlays by the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Finance Commissions (1984-2005), this established, in the words of the last of these Commissions “speedy and accurate generation of accounting information that might be needed for purposes of better planning, budgeting and monitoring”.
  3. Admittedly, there is much room for improvement. Today, long lines and refrigeration have aided the expansion of the fishing sector but income disparities have grown.
  4. Indiscriminate trawling endangers the coral, as experienced in the Maldives and now banned there.
  5. Revenue from tourism has declined with the closure of resorts (including at Bangaram) from litigation.

 

Recently introduced Beef Ban and Goonda Act:

  1. The people of Lakshadweep have also opposed the administrator of trying to interfere in the traditional life by introducing a ban on buying or selling beef products.
  2. The Goonda Act being introduced in the island that has negligible crime rate and revoking of restrictions on alcohol for benefit of tourism also have attracted criticism from the islanders.
  3. Some things that were equally non satisfactory were that the island descended from being COVID 19 free region to developing more than 6800 cases in a year.
  4. Also the mandatory quarantine if the island bound travellers was done away with in the leadership of Praful Khoda Patel.
  5. Other initiatives by the administrator include panchayat rules designed to restrict the population growth in a territory where, according to the National Health and Family Survey-5 (2019-20), the total fertility rate is 1.4 (which is far behind the national average of 2.2) and relaxing prohibition, extant in the Union Territory because of public demand.
  6. Worse still is the relaxation of quarantine restrictions for travel which have introduced the novel coronavirus into a pandemic-free archipelago.

 

Critics argued: A ‘no’ to the Maldives model:

  1. Deliberations of the IDA wanted that Lakshadweep, with its land ownership constitutionally protected, be opened to international tourism not as a means of generating wealth for investors from the mainland but to bring prosperity to the islanders.
  2. Specifically rejecting the Maldives model, the plan for Lakshadweep required that the industry had to be people-centric and enrich the fragile coral ecology.
  3. Lakshadweep today has rainwater harvesting facilities, first introduced in government buildings on every island and now accessible in every home.
  4. Solar power, which covers 10% of lighting needs, makes Lakshadweep a pioneer in India’s present flagship initiative.
  5. All islands have been connected by helicopter service since 1986, and high-speed passenger boats were purchased in the 1990s by an international tender.
  6. A study by the National Institute of Oceanography found practical applications, helping a redesign of the tripods reinforcing the beaches against sea erosion, and ensuring piped water supply especially designed to draw from the fresh water lens that, in every coral island, floats on the saline underground seawater at the core of every coral island, so as not to disturb the slim lens.
  7. The islands boast total literacy. Minicoy had among the country’s first Navodaya Vidyalayas.
  8. Vernacular building traditions are the theme of all government housing projects undertaken in the islands in the 1980s, with leading architects providing the designs.
  9. Kavaratti has a desalination wind-powered plant gifted by the Danish government.
  10. And although the poverty line in terms of GDP is only slightly higher than the World Bank’s poverty threshold, Lakshadweep today has no poor people; they have a high calorific consumption from plentiful foods harvested from the lagoons and islands.

 

Conclusion:

A clear policy must include conservation and natural resource management arrived at after wide consultation, eminently possible within the existing infrastructure of the Union Territory, and also taking into account climatic compulsions.

Maldives is hardly a suitable model. Water bungalows — an expensive concept and also hazardous to the coral favoured by the NITI Aayog, would collapse in Lakshadweep’s turbulent monsoon.

The Government should recognise the need to develop policies for enhancing employment opportunities, environment-friendly management of fisheries, sanitation, waste disposal and widening access to drinking water, with the youth, having acquired a modern education, preferring salaried jobs over pursuing traditional occupations.