Over 90 retired bureaucrats have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking the immediate withdrawal of the overbearing reforms in Lakshadweep and the appointment of a “full-time, people-sensitive and responsible administrator”.
In a long memorandum, the retired bureaucrats from the Constitutional Conduct Group on Saturday registered their concern at the disturbing developments in the isles off the Kerala coast.
Referring to the slew of draft laws brought after Praful Khoda Patel, the administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, took additional charge of Lakshadweep, the memorandum noted they were all part of a “larger agenda”.
“It is clear that each of these draft regulations is part of a larger agenda that is against the ethos and interests of the islands and islanders,” the 93 signatories stated.
“Taken together, the actions and far-reaching proposals of the administrator, without due consultation with the islanders, constitute an onslaught on the very fabric of Lakshadweep society, economy and landscape as if the islands were just a piece of real estate for tourists and tourism investors from the outside world.”
Among the signatories are former foreign secretary and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, former adviser to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair, former Bengal special secretary Gopalan Balagopal, former cabinet secretariat special secretaries Vappala Balachandran and Rana Banerji, and retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro.
Among the contentious decisions of Patel are a move to ban beef, a crackdown on dissent, a two-child norm for panchayat poll contestants, a drive against non-vegetarianism and destruction of the fishing infrastructure — all of which have sparked fears of Lakshadweep being turned into “another Kashmir” through repression and intimidation.
The retired bureaucrats cited the draft laws that are pending with the Centre, such as the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (or Goonda Act) and the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation (LAPR). They have also referred to the amendment to the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation.
The administration has already removed beef from school mid-day meals, brought draft laws to take over any resident’s land for development projects and closed down two dairy farms. The Goonda Act empowers police to detain anyone for a year without trial.
The administration has claimed it is only trying to usher in more tourism by modelling the isles on the Maldives.
“Claiming that there has been no development in Lakshadweep for the past 70 years, the LDAR reflects a model of land and tourism development which includes resorts, hotels and beachfronts on the ‘Maldives model’ unmindful of the differences between the two island groups in size, population, number of islands and their spread,” the Constitutional Conduct letter said.
Pointing out that the crime rate in Lakshadweep was very low, they came down heavily on the Goonda Act and stated that it had “generated fears that the real purpose of the regulation is to smother dissent or protests against the policies and actions of the administrator or on any other issue”.
“Other regulations proposed by the administrator target food and dietary habits and religious injunctions of the local islanders, 96.5 per cent of whom are Muslims,” the letter added.
“Each of these measures smacks not of development but of alien and arbitrary policy making, in violation of established practices that respect the environment and society of Lakshadweep,” the signatories alleged.
The Lakshadweep administration has ordered that all fishing boats have a government official on board to monitor their crew and gather intelligence.
The department of ports, shipping and aviation of the Lakshadweep administration issued the new guidelines on Wednesday.
“This is a baffling decision. I am unable to see any logic in ordering that each fishing vessel have a government official on board,” Lakshadweep district panchayat member Thaha Malika of the Congress, who is also the chairman of the local body’s standing committee on fisheries, told The Telegraph on Saturday.
“Fishing boats set sail between 3am and 5am and return only around 5pm. I wonder how government servants would be able to board them so early in the day when their duty hours begin at 10am,” Malika said.
Kavaratti district panchayat member Asif Ali of the Nationalist Congress Party said the authorities were “trying to portray us as terrorists and give an impression to the outside world that something very dangerous is going on here”.