The Lakshadweep Administration has notified many new regulations over the last few months against which the residents have been protesting. Their efforts came to light after the social media campaign ‘#SaveLakshadweep.’ In this article, the authors will discuss the new regulations brought in by the newly-appointed Administration.
The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (“Regulation”) is widely resented by the archipelago residents as socially, politically unsustainable. The Kerala High Court refused to stay the reforms stating it to be a policy issue. The Rawther Federation filed a petition in the Kerala HC saying that the government has resorted to the publication of notices in a namesake manner without giving it the much-needed publicity and violating the Guidelines on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice in 2013, and prayed for the extension of the deadline to allow the citizens of Lakshadweep to express their opinions on new regulations. It is pertinent to understand the controversy surrounding these regulations to make sense of the public campaign.
The Regulation is to be enacted by the President through exercising powers conferred by Article 240(b) of the Constitution for the peace, progress, and good governance of the Union Territory. Section 5 of the Regulation empowers the Government (i.e., the Administrator appointed by the President under Article 239) to declare any area in Lakshadweep to be a "Planning Area" through notification. The Planning and Development Authority shall submit a Development Plan to the government after considering objections. Acquisition under Sections 22 and 24 of the Regulation is contrary to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency objectives under Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act, 2013. No particulars mention the public purpose involved. Social impact assessment, rehabilitation, and resettlement schemes must be published by the development authority under the Development Plan while acquiring the land under the LDAR. According to the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, these particulars must be present whenever a development plan is published.
Moreover, Section 26 of the Regulation prevents the questioning of the development plan in any manner, in any legal proceedings except when they are against any requirement under the Regulation, within the powers conferred by law. Punishments are also prescribed for the contravention of various provisions of the Regulation, which can extend up to a fine of two lakh rupees. Many provisions of the Regulation give the Administrator powers to remove or relocate the islanders from their property, regardless of their will. Sections 61(1) and 72 provide the forcible eviction putting the onus on the owner to develop their holding as per the plan prepared by the authority.
Since Lakshadweep islands are small, when people are displaced for developmental activities, it may adversely impact the livelihood of the fishing communities near the coast. Apart from this, the Justice Raveendran Committee in 2014 recommended firm limits on development to protect the ecological and marine ecosystems of Lakshadweep. Hence, this must also be kept in mind while going ahead with any developmental plan.
The whole controversy exists in Section 5 of the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021; slaughtering of any animal is not possible unless the Competent Authority issues a written certificate, and no such certificate will be granted in the case of a cow, calf, bull, or bullock. Moreover, under Section 8, it is prohibited to directly or indirectly sell, keep, store, transport, offer, or expose for sale or buy beef or beef products in any form. These restrictions are against the right to livelihood protected by Article 21. In Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court has held that “a total ban [on cattle slaughter] was not permissible if, under economic conditions, keeping useless bulls or bullocks be a burden on the society and therefore not in the public interest.”
Moreover, every citizen has a right to choose their own or take up any trade or calling (Article 19) as per Saghir Ahmed v. The State of UP. These islands are overwhelmingly Muslim societies, their interests have to be considered, and Directive Principles (Article 48, Prohibition of Cow Slaughter) must be harmoniously constructed with the Fundamental Rights. The Apex Court in Hashumatullah v. State of Madhya Pradesh held that a blanket ban on cattle slaughter does not necessitate compliance with Article 48, a balance between the right of the butchers to carry on their trade, and public interest must be struck.
The Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021 under Section 14 and Section 58 disqualifies a member with more than two children from Gram Panchayat and District Panchayat. However, a person having more than two children on the commencement date of the Regulation shall not be disqualified. Hence, the controversy surrounding the panchayat regulation restricting the Muslim individuals’ rights to contest elections is baseless. In Javed v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of an election law disqualifying a person having more than two living children from holding certain public offices in the Panchayat. Many States like Telangana, AP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Karnataka have already enacted such laws. Such a rule is excellent and has been implemented in different parts of the nation.
Section 6(a) of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Act, 2021 states that no detention order is considered invalid or inoperative merely because one or some grounds are vague, non-existent, non-relevant, not connected, or not proximately connected with such a person. This is against Article 22(5), which states that detention must have a rational connection to the object which the detenu is prevented from attaining. Even in preventive detention laws, the maximum period where one can be detained is three months [Section22 (4)], but under Section 13, a person can be arrested for a period of up to one year. While in Section 8, the grounds of the detention shall be informed within seven days, the exception is when the authorities are satisfied that there is a public interest, then the reasons may not be disclosed. These unfettered powers, if used arbitrarily, may violate the liberty of individuals under Article 22, which gives safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. The primary issue in the cases of preventive detention is that it is highly unlikely to check whether the cause of detention is just and reasonable until it is presented to the advisory board. Moreover, the lack of judicial involvement violates the rights of detenu to appear before an "independent and impartial tribunal,” which is in direct contravention of human rights (Article 14 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 10). Nonetheless, checks and balances in the form of an advisory board under Section 9 consist of retired or present High Court Judges.
While the crime rate is very low in these islands, some argue that the crimes are seldom reported. In 2019, intelligence reports were received concerning the movement of 15 ISIS terrorists from Sri Lanka towards Lakshadweep. The coast guard seized Rs 3000 crores worth of drugs off Minicoy Island, and 300kgs of heroin and 5 AK-47 rifles with 1000 live rounds were recovered. About 18 raids were conducted across the UT to fight the drug menace. Hence, the PASA Act, 2021 was imposed with the motto of completely shutting down the smuggling and distribution of drugs. Lakshadweep is not just a tourist destination but is also highly significant because of its strategic location. So, even though the intent behind the Regulation is adequate, public trust is missing.
When the administration proposes sweeping reforms, an impression of impositions will make reformation difficult. Including islanders in the decision-making process of the LDAR and making them stakeholders to this development is the way forward. Standing in the way of cultural habits and creating a sense of fear amongst the people always seed suspicion, especially with the Hindutva earmark that the administration carries around even if unwanted.