New Delhi: A slew of draft legislation, brought in by Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel since February this year, have sparked a massive uproar.
Much of the anger appears to be directed at three of the draft laws — the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA), the Animal Preservation Regulation, and the Panchayat Regulation. The union home ministry is currently scrutinising these three laws. This is apart from the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 — another draft law that has led to a furore — which allows the administrator to acquire any land required for a public purpose.
While PASA provides for the administrator to order the detention of a person for a period of upto one year if the offender’s actions “adversely affects the maintenance of public order”, the Animal Preservation Regulation bans slaughter of cows, calves, bulls or bullocks. The Panchayat Regulations disqualifies those with more than two children from becoming gram panchayat members.
“We have sent the three regulations to the home ministry and they are scrutinising it. They have asked for some more information from us, which we have sent,” S. Asker Ali, the Lakshadweep Collector, told ThePrint.
Ali said that once the home ministry clears the regulations, they will be taken up by the Union cabinet. “Once cabinet approves, they will be sent to the President for his assent. Once the presidential assent comes, only then will the regulations be notified.”
ThePrint takes a look at the three regulations, and explains what they are all about and why they are generating so much controversy.
The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA)
More popularly known as the Goonda Act, the regulation has raised the hackles of the local population of the island as well as opposition politicians, who have called it “draconian”.
Section 3 of PASA states that “the administrator may if satisfied with respect to any person that with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order, it is necessary to do so, make an order directing that the person should be detained”.
The regulation further specifies that a person shall be deemed to be acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order when he is engaged as a bootlegger or cruel person or dangerous person, or drug offender or immoral traffic offender or property grabber or cyber offender or money lending offender or depredator of environment or sexual offender.
The PASA, however, isn’t unique to Lakshadweep. Several states, including Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have similar regulations.
Politicians from opposition parties, including the Congress, NCP and CPI(M), have, however, questioned the need for PASA considering the crime rate on the islands is very low as compared to the rest of India.
The opposition’s contention is not wrong.
According to National Crime Records Bureau data, only 121 cases of crime were registered on the islands in 2017, 86 in 2018, 186 in 2019 and 89 in 2020.
“Through this law they (authorities) basically want to suppress any form of protest or agitation. The regulation will give power to the administrator to order detention of any individual for an year without any valid grounds,” Elamaram Kareem, the CPI(M)’s Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, told ThePrint over the phone.
Kareem has written to President Ram Nath Kovind demanding Patel’s removal as the island’s administrator.
Lakshadweep Collector S. Asker Ali, however, said that the public outcry is completely uncalled for.
“I agree that in Lakshadweep, the crime rate is low. But what is the guarantee it will always remain like this?” he asked. “We are developing the island as a tourist hub. Shouldn’t we be prepared to tackle any law and order problem arising because of growing tourism numbers?”
Ali said the law was important from a national security perspective. “We can’t take a chance on the law and order front. The island is on the international sea route,” he said.
Giving an example, the collector said that in March, about 300 kg of heroin and five AK 47 rifles and 1,000 live rounds were confiscated in Lakshadweep. The coast guard had intercepted the consignment and registered a case.
“Shouldn’t we have provisions to deal with such crime? Many cases of illegal smuggling of marijuana and liquor and POCSO have also been reported here,” he said. “Keeping this in mind, strict and stringent laws are needed so that the youth here are not misguided.”
Opposition leaders, however, point out that the administration had, in fact, recently lifted the ban on alcohol in the archipelago.
The CPI(M) MP from Kerala, A.M Arif, had earlier this week, even written to President Ram Nath Kovind that the decision to issue liquor licenses under the guise of promoting tourism has led to resentment among the common people.
“As you are aware, over 96 per cent of the inhabitants in Lakshadweep are Muslims and in accordance with the religious and cultural beliefs of the community, the consumption of alcohol was banned in the islands,” states Arif’s letter, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint.
The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021
This law, which bans cow slaughter, has also caused a lot of uproar with opposition parties alleging that the BJP’s communal politics is behind the administrator’s decision.
Around 96.5 per cent of Lakshadweep’s population of approximately 70,000 people is Muslim.
The new regulation not only bans cow slaughter, it also prohibits buying, selling, transportation or storing beef or beef products in any form. Violation will invite a maximum jail term of 10 years and fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
The regulation states that it provides for the preservation of animals suitable for milch, breeding or for agricultural purposes. For this purpose, no certificate will be given to slaughter cows, calves, bull ir bullocks in the island.
According to the regulation, the slaughter of animals, other than cows or bulls, for religious purposes will require a certificate from the authorities.
The authorities, it adds, will not grant certificates for slaughtering animals other than cows and bulls if they are found useful for agricultural work or for the purpose of breeding.
The law also prohibits transportation of cows and bulls for slaughter.
While a number of Indian states, including Congress-ruled ones, have cow slaughter bills in place, the BJP has taken a different stand on the issue in other states where it is in power or looking to expand its footprint.
In Northeastern states such as Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya, where the party is in power in some form, there is no ban on consumption of beef. BJP national secretary Sunil Deodhar had even in 2018 said that there won’t be a ban on beef in the Northeast where it is widely consumed.
The party was also silent on banning cow slaughter in Kerala ahead of the recent assembly elections.
BJP’s national vice-president A.P. Abdullakutty, who is in-charge of Lakshadweep, however, told ThePrint that the opposition is unnecessarily giving a communal angle to the animal preservation regulation.
“We want to preserve milch animals. It has nothing to do with Lakshadweep being a Muslim-majority island and their religious beliefs,” he said. “This is mischievous propaganda being spread by the Congress.”
This view was seconded by Ali, who said that it is a policy decision.
“We want to preserve milch cows. Only those associated with its illegal business and those who have personal interests are propagating against this legislation,” he told ThePrint.
The Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021
The draft panchayat regulation specifies rules for getting elected to gram panchayats.
The law disqualifies those with more than two children from getting elected to the gram panchayat. However, the law will not disqualify anyone having more than two children if they have been elected before the regulation has been notified.
Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, and Karnataka have already enacted laws disqualifying a person having more than two children from contesting panchayat elections.
The regulation also provides for reservation of 50 per cent seats in gram panchayats for women.
“Not less than one-half of the total number of offices of sarpanch in the gram panchayats for women: Provided that offices reserved under this subsection shall be allotted by the Election Commission by rotation to different Gram Panchayats in such manner as may be prescribed,” the regulation states.
Ali said that there is misleading propaganda that a person with more than two children cannot be a candidate in the election. “The provisions will only apply to the parents of infants born after the due date of notification,” he said.
Talking to ThePrint, Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel said, “Why is no one talking about the progressive provisions in the panchayat regulation? It will pave the way for upliftment and empowerment of women.”
Ali said that with this provision, women here will also be able to plan the development of Lakshadweep and can take over the reins of its future. “In a state where women are empowered, the future development of the whole society is bright,” he said.
Asked for the reason behind the two-child norms, the collector said Lakshadweep’s population density, according to the 2011 Census, was 2,149 people/sq km, much higher than the national average of 382 people/ sq km. “We have a limited land mass and have to develop resources and infrastructure within that area,” he said.