New Delhi: Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Khoda Patel is facing opposition from the people of the union territory and politicians — both from within Lakshadweep and neighbouring Kerala — over policies introduced by him since his appointment in December 2020.
The contentious regulations include the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) — which gives the administrator powers to remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity; the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), introduced in January 2021, under which a person can be detained without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year and the draft panchayat notification, where a member with more than two children is disqualified from being a member.
While Kerala MP Elamaram Kareem wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind Sunday complaining about about the “authoritarian rule of the administrator in Lakshadweep”, local MP Mohammad Faisal has also hit out at Patel for his policies, claiming that “since January, close to 300 people have lost their jobs” because of Patel.
The public discontent against the administrator spilled on to the social media Sunday, with the people of the island taking to Twitter to call out Patel.
What probably also prompted the public outrage against Patel was that regulations like the LDAR have come at a time when the island is battling its first Covid wave.
Lakshadweep, which has a population of just over 70,000, reported its first Covid case in January. The number has since crossed 6,000, with the UT also recording 24 deaths so far.
Patel, meanwhile, told ThePrint that his only agenda was “development of Lakshadweep”.
‘Only focussing on development of Lakshadweep’
Patel was made administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020, after the death of former administrator Dineshwar Sharma. A former BJP leader, Patel was the minister of state for home in Gujarat, when Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister.
In addition to Lakshadweep, Patel also has the charge of Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. In 2016, Patel was appointed the administrator of both union territories by the NDA government, in a departure from the earlier practice of appointing only IAS officers to the post.
The position of administration, appointed by the President of India, is important for any union territory, because the person becomes in charge of all functions in the area and acts on behalf of the President.
Speaking to ThePrint about the draft LDAR, Patel explained that the regulation was being introduced for the development of the UT and for urban growth. Terming public worry about their land being taken for developmental work as “misplaced and other people’s agenda”, Patel said “nothing like this will happen”. “My only agenda is the development of Lakshadweep,” he said.
Comparing the islands’ tourism potential to that of Maldives, Patel asked: “Why is it that people are waiting to go to Maldives, but are not even willing to come to Lakshadweep? It is to develop tourism and for long term benefits that we are introducing the LDAR.”
The Lakshadweep administrator also asserted that if people had not done anything wrong then they should not be concerned about the PASA, which was introduced in January this year. “Only those who have committed a crime will be penalised, for the others it should not be an issue. In the rest of the country, under the Indian Penal Code there is Section 302 for a reason.”
Patel also said he was setting up three new hospitals in the UT.
He said he would look into the issue of the termination of the services of contractual and casual labourers — brought up by Faisal — and added that it was probably an administrative procedure. Patel, however, denied knowledge of Kareem’s letter to the President and refused to be drawn into the matter.
“My message for everyone is to work together for the development of Lakshadweep. I am only focussing on my work,” he said.
Meanwhile, #SaveLakshadweep was trending on Twitter Sunday — mostly demanding the revocation of the LDAR, the draft notification of which states the government has powers “to acquire, hold, manage and dispose of property, movable or immovable, as it may deem necessary”.
It had been placed in the public domain for comments and suggestions since 28 April. The last day to respond to the draft notification was 19 May.
“We the people of Lakshadweep islands are deeply in need of help..Our own lands are going to be taken away from us in the name of development..please help us raise our voice against this injustice.#RevokeLDAR #SaveLakshadweep,” tweeted one user.
Another user, who claimed to be a local resident, wrote: “I am from Lakshadweep islands. The administrator of our island is destroying the island . Onetime Lakshadweep was green zone from covid . But in these days the situation is more difficult to survive . Please #savelakshadweep. I need everyones support .#revokeLDAR”
Complaints against Patel
The Lakshadweep administrator is no stranger to controversy.
In February, Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar committed suicide, with his suicide note naming Patel among others as responsible for his death.
Delkar’s son Abhinav, in a complaint to the police, had alleged that his father was being “harassed” by Patel to pay Rs 25 crore or face a false charge under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act.
Following this, the Mumbai Police had registered an FIR against Patel in March and the Maharashtra government had also set up a special investigation team to look into the suicide. There have been no updates on the findings since.
CPI(M) MP from Kerala, Kareem, wrote to President Kovind Sunday alleging “authoritarian rule of the administrator in Lakshadweep”.
He alleged that it was changes made by Patel in the quarantine policies that led to a surge in the Covid cases in the islands.
His letter listed many other complaints, including a move to “destroy traditional and cultural diversity” of the people of Lakshadweep, termination of the jobs of contractual and casual labourers in the UT, demolition of sheds for fishermen, and the lifting of restrictions on use of alcohol.
Kareem requested the President to initiate a review of all the “unilateral” policies introduced.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kareem alleged that Patel had a “record of a communal background and immediately after taking charge started ugly political games”.
He said he felt compelled to take up the issue, even though he was not from Lakshadweep, because “Lakshadweep people have close connection with Kerala, as Kochi is the main port in mainland India for the union territory”.
“Now he (Patel) is trying to move everything to Mangalore, which is in Karnataka, and is a BJP-ruled state. He is trying to cancel all contact and relations with Kerala. We cannot keep quiet right now,” he added.
Lakshadweep’s two-term Congress MP Mohammad Faisal also hit out at Patel while talking to ThePrint over the phone, and complained about the latter’s “misplaced priorities”.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic and the administration is speaking about PASA – Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, which is also known as the Goonda Act. Lakshadweep has one of the lowest crime rates,” said Faisal.
He also criticised Patel for introducing the Animals Preservation Act, which he said focussed more on cows and bulls, rather than preserving marine biology.
“The Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation speaks about National Highways. In Lakshadweep. Our total land share is 36 square km, and in some islands it is less than five sq km.”
Blaming Patel for the loss of jobs in the islands, Faisal said in Lakshadweep opportunities in the private sector were limited, and people depended on the government for employment. “Since January, close to 300 people have lost their jobs. He has terminated jobs for physical education teachers, mid-day meal cooks in schools,” he said.
“What we need is an administrator who is permanently based in Lakshadweep. Mr. Patel also has additional charge of Daman and Diu and mostly stays there. He has limited accessibility. He either needs to be called back or told to consult the public before taking any steps,” said Faisal, adding, “If people are not taken into consideration, then who is he working for?”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)