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New Laws Drafted for Lakshadweep Not required: Former Lakshadweep Administrator Wajahat Habibullah

Former IAS officer Wajahat Habibullah, who has been administrator of Lakshadweep between 1987-1990 says that the new laws being brought by Praful Khodabhai Patel are not at all required for development of the archipelago. The archipelago, he says, has 100 per cent literacy and the youths with modern education are no longer interested in their family’s traditional occupation. They want salaried jobs.

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—Does the Lakshadweep, comprising 36 islands and only 10 of them inhabited with a population of about 70,000, require developmental laws as proposed by its new administrator?

Former IAS officer and India’s first Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who has been archipelago’s administrator between 1987-1990 says that none of the laws brought by Praful Khodabhai Patel, at the insistence of the Centre, is required for the development of the group of islands spread over an area of 32 square kilometres.

The laws to be introduced in the archipelago are : the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021 (PASA) or the Goonda Act, the Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021, the Lakshadweep  Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021 and the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021.

Habibullah, who was actively involved in the development of the Lakshadweep, the smallest union territory, says that what was required for Lakshadweep was framing a policy for providing job opportunities for its youths with modern education who don’t want to join their traditional family occupation, setting up of refrigerated storage houses to promote fishing, one of the main sources of livelihood for the residents and improving civic amenities.

Speaking to India Tomorrow over phone, he said that none of these developments need the laws being brought by the new administrator.

New laws drafted to facilitate setting up of cement factories

Habibullah, who is well-connected in bureaucratic circles of Delhi responsible for framing policies, revealed that the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation Bill, 2021, containing provisions for mining and exploitation of mineral resources of the island is aimed at setting up of cement factories in the archipelago, which will not only destroy the local ecology and environment but also result in large scale displacement of the population, without bringing any benefits to the local population. The beneficiaries, according to him, will be investors from the mainland, and not the islanders.

Praful Patel hailing from Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, contends that the new laws have been framed for ‘holistic’ development of the union territory which has remained undeveloped for the last 70 years, a slogan being repeated for hundreds of times by the present political dispensation for entire India ever since the current ruling party leaders captured power in May 2014.

Counters arguments of Lakshadweep’s new administrator

Countering the arguments of the new Lakshadweep administrator that there has been no development in the island for the last 70 years, Habibullah says Lakshadweep islands have been connected with helicopter service since 1986 and high-speed passenger boats since 1990. Beaches have also been reinforced against sea erosion. Solar power covers 10 per cent of lighting needs and piped water supply has been provided in every coral island. Besides, Lakshadweep has 100 per cent literacy. The first Navodaya Vidyalaya was set up in Minicoy island. A degree college was established in Kadmat island. According to Habibullah, every island in Lakshadweep was having a computer by 1990. An airport was also constructed in Lakshadweep about 40 years ago and an international tourist resort was built in Bangaram island, resulting into a flourishing tourist industry in the Union territory. According to him, all these developments happened following an Island Development Authority (IDA), constituted in 1988, under chairmanship of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. ISD, he said, approved India’s island development based on “environmentally sound strategies” and “with much greater care in the use of land resources”.

New laws threaten environment, interest of islanders

Speaking about the provisions of the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, he said he has learnt that LDAR had been drafted to facilitate establishment of cement factories in the island. But LDAR is not in consonance with the ISD policies because the new law drafted would not only destroy the local ecology and environment but also result in displacement of large number of people from the archipelago. He said that any development policy should take into account the interest of the local population and protection of environment.

Gujarat BJP MLA had opposed cement plant cleared by Modi

But the history of the leaders at the helm of affairs of this government indicates that they are not concerned about environment or interest of the local population. They have always pushed the interest of the corporates and business community. It was this policy that motivated the Gujarat government in 2008 to allot huge tract of land for a cement manufacturing plant in Mahuva taluka of the coastal Bhavnagar district in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was chief minister, despite protest from the local population. If majority of the BJP leaders of the island have resigned in protest against the decision of the Centre without consulting the local population, a BJP MLA Dr. Kanubhai Kalsaria had opposed the allotment of land for cement plant to Nirma, famous for its detergents. Though Dr. Kalsaria had to quit BJP and join the Congress for his opposition to the cement factory in his constituency, he succeeded in stalling the project on the ground that the project was coming up on two water bodies and the plant would destroy the local ecology as also environment. The Union Ministry of Environment had given its clearance for the project because the Nirma showed the project as wasteland. But after the local people led by Dr. Kalsaria protested, the environment ministry on March 11, 2011, ordered suspension of the work under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. Nirma took the matter to the Supreme Court and the latter directed the environment ministry to set up a committee of five prominent scientists to look into the matter and submit its report. The committee found the claims of Dr Kalsaria to be genuine and recommended that the cement factory be relocated. Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) cancelled its earlier clearance and submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court and the latter rejected Nirma’s appeal on December 8, 2011. However, the Supreme Court, on the insistence of Nirma, allowed it to move to the National Green Tribunal and argue its case there within the ambit of law.

Nirma moved the NGT in February 2012. Meanwhile, the government at the Centre changed and the same set of people came to power who had granted land for Nirma’s cement plant at Mahuva. NGT, in January 2015, decided in favour of Nirma, revoking the environment ministry’s order. Dr. Kalsaria told India Tomorrow that he challenged the NGT order in the Supreme Court where it is pending for adjudication for the last six years and the construction at Nirma’s cement plant is totally suspended. When questioned about Lakshadweep’s new administrator Praful Khodabhai Patel’s bid to bring changes in development regulations in the island with the objective of setting up a cement plant there, he said that his (Kalsaria’s) experience in Gujarat indicates that these people are little bothered about environment and the interest of the local population. So, there appears to be little hope that the Centre would repeal the new laws because ever since this government came to power, it has not reversed any of its orders, including the controversial farm laws that provoked huge protest from farmers who are sitting on Delhi’s borders for the last six months seeking repeal of “anti-farmer” agricultural laws.

Lakshadweep’s NCP MP, BJP leaders meet Amit Shah

On Monday (May 31), Union Home Minister Amit Shah told a BJP delegation from the island and Mohammad Faisal, NCP MP from Lakshadweep, that no changes in the island laws will be made without taking local people into confidence. However, he did not make any promise that the laws will be withdrawn.

Maldives model not feasible for Lakshadweep

Habibullah disagrees with ‘Maldives model’ for development of tourism in Lakshadweep as advocated by its news administrator. He says that Maldives model is not feasible in Lakshadweep. While there are no monsoon rains in Maldives, the monsoon in Lakshadweep is very turbulent that forced dismantling of wooden jetties before every monsoon in Lakshadweep. So, how will ‘water bungalows’ as suggested by NITI Aayog, survive during monsoon? He says that any development model should take into account the local climatic conditions and it should be people-centric. If Maldives model is followed, Lakshadweep will also begin sinking creating more problems.

Fertility rate in Lakshadweep below national average

The former bureaucrat has also questioned the two-child policy for contesting panchayat elections in Lakshadweep where the average fertility rate is 1.4 against average national fertility rate of 2.2 as per National Health and Family Survey in 2019-20 and lifting of prohibition that has been in force in the island on public demand. He says that the public in Lakshadweep are worried about their low fertility rate and any imposition of two-child norm would further complicate problems for the locals.

PASA brought to book opponents of developmental projects?

He is also surprised at the ban on cow slaughter and consumption of beef in the union territory where there are no cows except in the government dairy and bringing stringent Goonda Act in the UT having the lowest crime. He says that archipelago’s environment is not favourable for big animals and that is why there are no buffaloes and cows there. Many people suspect that Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) has been brought to book and arrest those opposing the projects to be started after implementation of land development regulations.

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