Opposition parties in Lakshadweep and Kerala are up in arms against various measures initiated by Praful Khoda Patel, the Administrator of the group of islands, terming them as “anti-people" and have sought his recall. Lakshadweep MP, NCP’s Mohammed Faizal and his colleagues from neighbouring Kerala– T N Prathapan (Congress), Elamaram Kareem (CPI-M) and E T Mohammed Basheer (Muslim League) have urged the Centre to recall Patel.
Archaic rules or corrupt practices?
Parties have alleged that Patel unilaterally lifted restrictions on the use of alcohol in the Muslim-majority islands, banned beef products, citing Animal Preservation and demolished fishermen’s sheds built on the coastal areas, saying they violated the Coast Guard Act. The BJP, defending Patel, claimed that the protests were a result of his efforts to end “corrupt practices" involving local politicians prevalent and usher in development there.
Patel, who is the Administrator of the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, was given charge of Lakshadweep following the demise of Dineshwar Sharma in December last year. When contacted, his office said they were not aware of such protests against him.
BJP national Vice President A P Abdullakutty, the party’s prabhari in Lakshadweep, alleged that the opposition MPs were protesting as Patel took certain steps to end the “corrupt practices" of politicians in the islands. Claiming that the local people were happy with the administration, he alleged that an atmosphere of tension has been created through the media and social media by certain fundamentalist groups operating from Kerala.
“Unfortunately, these MPs are playing to the tunes of such outfits without realising the truth," Abdullakutty was quoted by PTI as saying.
‘Anti-people policies amidst a pandemic’
Lakshadweep MP Faizal alleged that the Administrator was coming out with “anti-people" draft notifications at a time when the people were not in a position to even react to it because of the prevailing Covid-19 situation in the islands.
He urged President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to appoint a permanent administrator. “We need a permanent administrator who should be people-friendly and any development activities should be within the ambit of the integrated island management plan that is being framed with the guidance of the Supreme Court," he said.
‘Marine heritage at risk’
The NCP MP alleged that Patel signed orders to retrench some 200 contract staff who were working as marine watchers for conserving marine biodiversity. The post was sanctioned by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, for which separate funds have been earmarked.
Kareem, Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, wrote to Kovind, alleging that all the orders were issued by the Administrator with an ulterior motive to destroy the traditional life and cultural diversity of the people of Lakshadweep. All the regulations were promulgated without an iota of consideration towards the people or their choice of food and livelihood, he alleged.
“The undemocratic and anti-people regulation in the name of Animal Preservation, which intends to ban slaughter, transportation, selling or buying of beef products, is one among such orders. This is a blatant onslaught on the people, who depend upon dairying and growing of bovines as a means of livelihood," Kareem said in the letter.
He alleged that the administration has also decided that the islanders should no longer rely on Beypore port in Kerala for freight transit. “Instead, they should depend on Mangalore port in Karnataka for this purpose. The decision will also adversely affect Beypore, which has been closely associated with the island for decades", he said and alleged that the decision was aimed at cutting Lakshadweep’s ties with Kerala.
The Goonda Act
Muslim League MP from Kerala, Basheer charged the administration with trying to implement the Goondas Act in the islands, “which always has an innocent face." “Attempts have been made to ban meat consumption in the area", Basheer, representing Kerala’s Ponnani seat in the Lok Sabha, claimed. Congress’ Prathapan alleged that the Administrator was trying to demolish the unique culture of Lakshadweep.
Sudden rise in Covid-19 cases
Free from Covid-19 till December 2020, Lakshadweep is witnessing a sudden rise in cases this year due to the wrong policies adopted by the Administrator, Basheer charged. According to officials, Lakshadweep has reported over 6,500 Covid-19 cases - over 10 per cent of its total population - and 24 deaths so far.
Support from across sectors
Film actor Prithviraj Sukumaran said he was receiving “desperate messages" from people he knows in Lakshadweep, pleading with him to draw the attention of the public to the issues there. “How does disrupting the way of life of a centuries-old peaceful settlement become an acceptable means of progress? How will threatening the balance of a very delicate island ecosystem with no regard for the potential consequences pave the way for sustainable development?" he asked in a tweet.
Sukumaran, whose film ‘Anarkali’ was shot in the islands in 2015, appealed to the authorities to listen to the voice of the people of Lakshadweep and trust them to know what is better for their land. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, with even more beautiful people living there," he said.
Abdullakutty alleged that false propaganda was unleashed against Patel by certain fundamental groups in Kerala as he was a former ministerial colleague of Narendra Modi when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. “There is no protest against the administrator in the Islands. All these allegations are baseless", he claimed.
He further said the permission for opening bars in the islands was given during the Congress-led UPA rule. “Such a step was taken to attract foreign tourists. It is allowed in resorts only", he said.
On the charges of the move to impose a beef ban, he said the cow slaughter ban was implemented in 22 states by the then Congress government. “It is not a law made by Patel. It is a law of the land.
It is applicable in Lakshadweep too," he said. “The Goondas Act was enforced against certain miscreants who had destroyed public property and were involved in vandalism. Such people should be jailed. The administrator did no wrong," Abdullakutty said.
Concurring with the demand for a full-time administrator, he said he has taken up the matter with his party leaders.
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