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Lakshadweep Re-modelling: An answer to social, economic, ecological and constitutional perspectives involved

Human’s growing population as well as aspirations are never-ending. Both these factors tend to make already threatened natural resources even further scarce.

With bleak future ahead, man tends to fight and find conflicts amongst each other as development for one may not be development for the other.

Governments may find themselves stuck in between the need for development as populist measure to stay in power while balancing the evangelical spirit of nature for local communities.

Similar is the conundrum around Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) formulated recently by the administrator Praful Patel of Union territory of Lakshadweep.

What is the epic legislation: Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021?

credits: roundglass

The proposal of LDAR is to alter the existing land ownership mechanism on the island as it aims to modify the Lakshadweep into a tourist hub, with numerous options of economic prosperity.

This will be done by providing all-encompassing, arbitrary and unchecked powers to the government. This consequently will interfere with the islander’s right to possess and retain their respective properties.

The Regulation also gives the powers to the Government to choose any land for “development” activities that have been provided under its regulation.

The provision is that once the land is picked under the pretext of ‘planning areas’ and constitution of ‘planning and development authorities’ for preparing a land use map and register, it could be used as the government deems it fit.

This definitely means that the owner will have no definite control over the land whatsoever as the land ought to be offered for a “public purpose”.

The draft report consistently raises eyebrows of several Environmentalists and Human rights activists as this development would mean undertaking the activities like “building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under, land, the cutting of a hill or any portion or the making of any material change in any building or land, or in the use of any building or land, and includes sub-division of any land,” which may prove detrimental to the fragile Island in the long run.

And this holds an intimidating clause for anyone who questions the plan on any ground, be it in any legal proceedings too.

Geography-demography and the way it affects things:

It is a beautiful archipelago consisting of twelve atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks, and a total of about thirty-nine islands and islets known for its sun-kissed beaches and lush green landscape. Only 10 of these are inhabited.

Lakshadweep is a pearl in the Indian ocean existing about 220 to 440 km away from the coastal city of Kochi, Kerala. Therefore, the island is well connected and has its fair share of rainfall each year.

Lakshadweep is India’s smallest Union Territory with a population of 65,000 (2011 census). It has the highest population share of Muslims (96%) and Scheduled Tribes (94.8%) among the UTs.

What’s so fussy about the law?

There are several provisions in the law those are being opposed by locals and people across the country. Every part of the legislation has a positive and negative perspective to it, its one’s discretion and inclination to choose from.

Let’s uncover the reasons for prevailing discontent and the Government’s rhetoric for the same:

Constitutional and humanitarian crisis?

The way the law has been brought into force. The island first was tagged “green zone” as it did not record any case for a year but nothing lasts forever and a Home Ministry ruling to open up Lakshadweep’s land and economy for anyone with a negative RT-PCR certificate issued in the previous 48 hours changed it all.

UT reported over 7,300 cases and 28 deaths. Amidst the 2 months lockdown, this controversial legislation was mobilized. Consequently, residents have termed it an “exploitation” as the lands will supposedly be snatched out of tribals’ hands.

UTs are completely under the control of Central government through Administrator. So, any legislation under force is well within the “procedure established by law”.

The regulation is suspected of unchecked power to the Government and it’s bodies to interfere with the rights of the indigenous ST people against property.

Limiting the Election contest:

In the draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021, provided is the ban on contesting elections of the Panchayat in case anyone has more than 2 children, when the case is not so anywhere in India.

However, the government has attempted to clarify that it’s effect may not be retrospective in nature and will take effect from the day of operations.

Preventive detentions or anti-goonda regulation: call it what you like

A suspected person can be detained to prevent him from “acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order” from six months to a year without legal representation or any reason being stated for the alleged arrest.

The proponents argue that the regulation is required to keep the “youth from getting misguided by illegal businesses”. Although the island remains peaceful and lowest crime rates, yet there have been reports circulating of drugs being found along with weapons and live ammunitions.

Hence a threat to National security. But the public outcries allege it to arrest those opposed to the Administration. Even 560 tribal officials have been removed from the Public Works Department since the new Administrator joined office.

There is notable infringement on local cultural and social habits like beef ban or the liquor permissions on the island.

A bigger question: Do developmental needs precede the fragility of ecological needs?

LDAR oversees the development of tourism on these lesser touched islands. Therefore, sweeping changes are made in the way land can be acquired, utilized or the visa provisions to be less stringent.

Kavaratti is to be made into a smart city, large ports are to be introduced but Town planning is a jurisdiction of local civic bodies, requiring participation by all stakeholders.

Fishing and agriculture are the main engagement of the islanders but the sectors remain underdeveloped. According to an official: “There is not much economic activity around. Within the framework of the draft regulation, the authorities will have to come up with ways to boost economic activity.” 

Factually, Lakshadweep has the capability to exploit just 10 per cent of its entire fishing potential. “Fishing practices are still traditional, which does not improve their income. Modern ways and technologies need to be developed. Similarly, there are 10 lakh coconut trees on the island but earning from coconut cultivation continues to be low.” 

Residents, however, fear large infrastructure and tourism projects to destabilize the ecology and corals in its vicinity. Also, it is believed that local communities can better serve their surroundings as they revere it more than anyone coming from outside.

2 islands lie on either side of India but only one offers as travelers’ den. Mr. Patel asks: “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 (Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation).

But we shall wait here to ponder over the difference that lies between these two souls of Indian ocean.  

Islands of Lakshadweep own much smaller land than those of Andaman and Nicobar (ANI). The biggest islands of this archipelago, are no more than 4.5 km across and their highest elevations being no more than 3 m above sea level with most of them stand no more than 0.5 m higher.

Despite heavy rainfall, both of these islands face significant water stress. A tourism boost can further push these islands in sustainability crisis.

Coral reefs, diminishing lagoons and destroying livelihoods

India being vulnerable, has propensity for its reefs getting bleached due to warming seas and acidification. “Given repeated climate change events, these reefs are eroding rather than accreting. The only place where corals are recovering is in the lagoons (the shallower stretch between the reefs and the islands)” explains an Environmentalist.

credits: roundglass

The lagoons having sea grass meadows provide shelter to juvenile fish that can hide and further grow. This can in turn flourish future stocks for the local fisherfolk.

Niti Aayog has even proposed floating villas with solar panels powering up these floats but with floating villas and panels, the quantum of sunlight exposing onto the lagoon might fall and the effects like pollution may eliminate any bleak possibility of the atolls to rebuild themselves.

Wisdom with Economic prosperity?

According to an interview with The Wire, NITI Aayog report as proposed 1,092 hotel rooms spread over six islands,  IIM Pune had proposed 610 beds across five islands and a separate Union environment ministry’s National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management report has claimed the capacity to be even higher –2,523 beds across ten villages.

Locals use water between 180-200 litres a day but any expected high-end resort might need as much as 600-700 litres a day. This, paired with increased construction projects, come with a second set of costs.

A bigger fish to worry is that Lakshadweep produces almost no ‘hotel products’ on its own, everything will need to be transported from mainland.

Plus, the hotels will need desalination plants to process potable water. This will cost anywhere between Rs 6 crore and Rs 11 crores in installation alone, maintenance is hectic too.

The economics of development in Lakshadweep may collapse without Governments extra-ordinary incentives.

Democracy, with its benefits, allows criticism to flow in. Its voice can raise reasonable queries or can hinder even the best of works. There has to be a right balance around it.

Government can therefore address, rather than suppress, justifiable doubts of citizenry as greater transparency empower greater implementation.

Corruption is a pandemic already ruling India since decades. With Maldives model in mind for Lakshadweep, we hope that Corruption does not derail and negate better developmental works dedicated for the island.

We hope and aspire but to err is Human. Lets hope that we integrate our aspirations with Environmental regards for a better and sustainable future.

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