The Lakshadweep administration accorded the deputy collector’s powers to the block development officer of Kavaratti hours after Kerala High Court stayed the notice issued by the BDO for demolition of several houses on the island.
The court had on Tuesday stayed the demolition of houses until further notice citing the “lack of authority of the 4th respondent (block development officer) in issuing such a notice”.
Director of services S. Asker Ali, who is also the district collector, has issued the order stating that the BDO would hold the charge of deputy collector until further orders as the deputy collector was on leave.
The islanders see this as a way to override the court order by empowering the BDO with the authority to demolish houses.
Two islanders had on Monday moved the court seeking relief from the showcause notice through which the administration planned to demolish over 70 houses in Kavaratti and several other structures after the deadline of June 30. Issued by the BDO, the notice had cited violation of Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands Land Revenue and Tenancy Regulation, 1965, and the Integrated Island Management Plan.
The notice cited the regulation to claim that the landowners did not possess diversion certificates to claim full ownership of the land. The notice also alleged that the buildings flouted the Integrated Island Management Plan that had declared all constructions within 20 metres of the high tide line as a “no development zone”.
But the petitioners had argued that the BDO did not have the jurisdiction to issue such a notice, and that the regulation contained provisions against demolishing dwellings belonging to the islanders as they were classified as Scheduled Tribes.
Lakshadweep district panchayat member Asif Ali of the Nationalist Congress Party said the administration was bent on carrying out its plans. “The collector issued the order giving the jurisdiction to the BDO within hours after the high court stayed the demolition,” Ali told The Telegraph on Wednesday.
While the majority of the houses in the isles are on properties owned by their occupants, there are vast tracts of land along the shore that come under a different ownership system. Once ruled by the Arakkal kingdom of Kannur — Kerala’s only Muslim kingdom — Lakshadweep was later ruled by the British until Independence.
“Since the shoreline usually changes its width depending on the tide, the 20-metre margin from the high tide line cannot be maintained all the time. So we are careful enough not to build our homes close to the shore,” Ali said.
Only temporary sheds to park fishing boats and coconuts are built closer to the shore.
Advocate R. Rohith, who appeared for the petitioners, said it won’t be easy for the administration to demolish the houses by empowering the BDO. “The same set of arguments that we made before the high court would still be valid to protect these houses. The fight is for clear ownership of these properties to their respective occupants.”
Even an amendment made to the regulation provided only for “possession” and not ownership. While the regulation was published in the official gazette in March 2020, it is yet to be notified in Lakshadweep.