In Lakshadweep, a political administrator courts ecological mayhem

What are Praful Patel’s plans for Lakshadweep?

For a week now, the administrator of this archipelago of 35 atolls and coral reefs in the Arabian sea has been in the news.

Since December 2, 2020, when he took charge of the Union Territory (UT), the one-time BJP MLA from Gujarat has issued a series of extraordinary orders. Among others, folks with more than two children are now ineligible for panchayat positions. Non-vegetarian items have been struck off school menus. Hundreds of casual workers have been laid off. Some protestors against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (CAA/NRC) have been arrested. Fishermen’s sheds have been demolished. Mandatory quarantine, which kept the UT safe from COVID-19 till January, has been done away with.

That is just the start. Under Patel, the Lakshadweep administration has announced a slew of Bills that have the local community panicking about its future. The draft Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021, bans beef. The draft Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021, allows the administrator to unilaterally detain people for up to a year. The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, concentrates planning powers with the administration and empowers it to take any piece of land on the island, irrespective of its ownership, for “development” purposes.

Taken together, these amendments don’t add up. The Goonda Act – Prevention of Anti-Social Activities – could be seen as an attempt to choke protests, especially since Lakshadweep saw anti-CAA/NRC protests. But, if Patel is consolidating planning powers to push economic activity, why is his administration destroying fisherfolks’ sheds?

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