Seven Kerala MPs who had applied for entry permits to visit Lakshadweep have been asked to produce a sponsor’s declaration vouching for their good conduct and signed before a magistrate or notary.
The unusual condition set by the Lakshadweep administration is based on a rule meant solely for migrant labourers who come to work in the archipelago, and has been condemned by the MPs as “illogical” and a “breach of privilege”.
“I have never come across this kind of illogical stipulation. As we have already written to the Lok Sabha Speaker, this is a breach of privilege of a people’s representative,” A.M. Ariff, a CPM member and one of the seven MPs, told The Telegraph on Saturday.
Earlier, the seven Left MPs — who have been trying to visit Lakshadweep since May on a fact-finding trip amid allegations of “anti-people” decisions by new administrator Praful Khoda Patel — had been denied permission on the ground of the Covid situation.
The MPs had seen this too as a breach of privilege and given a notice to the Lok Sabha Speaker last month, while demanding an explanation from Patel.
Last week, they approached Kerala High Court seeking a direction to the Lakshadweep administration to issue the entry permits to the Union Territory, designated a restricted area.
The notice seeking the good conduct declaration came after that. Served by the additional district magistrate of Lakshadweep, it also asks the MPs to fill in the prescribed application form and furnish address proof and a receipt proving they have paid the Rs 50 entry permit fee.
While ordinary visitors have to fill in the form and pay the fee, lawmakers never had to do that before, Ariff said.
The notice sought “an undertaking from the sponsor that he shall take responsibility for the good conduct and behaviour of the applicant during his stay in the island, signed before the Notary Public/ Magistrate/ Oath Commissioner”, citing a 2014 order by number.
However, the 2014 order’s title, “Procedure for issuing entry permit to contractors and labourers for the departmental/ civil work of LPWD (Lakshadweep PWD)”, makes it clear who it’s intended for.
Mohammed Salih PM, an advocate from Amini Island which is part of Lakshadweep, said the 2014 order was meant to ensure that labourers entering the islands maintained a certain etiquette.
“This order from 2014 is meant to hold contractors responsible for the good conduct of the labourers they brought in. It’s strange that this order has been applied to lawmakers,” Salih told this newspaper.
Ariff said: “I had visited Lakshadweep earlier as an MLA and never faced these kinds of obstacles. But we are confident of getting justice from the high court.”
The notice was addressed to Lok Sabha members Ariff and Thomas Chazhikadan, and Rajya Sabha members K. Somaprasad, V. Sivadasan, John Brittas, Binoy Viswam and M.V. Shreyams Kumar.
They want to visit Lakshadweep to prepare a fact-finding report amid allegations that Patel’s controversial orders and draft legislations are aimed at imposing a “saffron agenda” on the Muslim-majority Union Territory. The MPs plan to submit the report to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Patel, a former Gujarat home minister, is believed to be close to Modi. He took over as administrator in December.
Ariff recalled how easy it had been to visit Lakshadweep as an MLA ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when he went there as part of a team from the public accounts committee (PAC) of the Kerala Assembly. “We went there and met local people,” he said.
A. Pradeep Kumar, a Kerala CPM state committee member and then MLA who too was part of the PAC visit to Lakshadweep, said: “We visited the islands with all the privileges of MLAs. Now they are denying permission to MPs. At this rate they will stop even ministers.”
Calls to Lakshadweep administration officials’ numbers did not go through.
While Lakshadweep has its own MP, visits by lawmakers from Kerala are common because the islands’ population has strong cultural and historical links with the state.