Lakshadweep’s New Land Reforms Threaten Its Fragile Ecosystems, Citizen Rights
Lakshadweep’s new Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, has proposed changes to local development laws, including banning beef in the Muslim-majority islands, enacting the Goonda Act (preventative detention of individuals without trial), and changing local development laws with the aim of creating a more tourist-friendly location.
Of the several changes proposed, one is The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR 2021). The LDAR will give unchecked powers to governmental bodies to interfere with a citizen’s right to possess and retain the property. This means the government can choose any land — either common or private — for development activities like mining, quarrying, building, etc. Further, the LDAR draft regulation states that “a development plan shall not, either before or after it has been approved, be questioned in any manner, in any legal proceedings whatsoever.”
This complete lack of accountability from citizens and other stakeholders in the proposed draft regulation is likely to hurt the fragile ecosystems on the islands. Lakshadweep islands are coral islands, i.e., islands created by coral detritus, with a vast and diverse marine ecosystem including coral reefs, seagrasses, algae, mangroves, fish, octopi, crabs, mollusks, echinoderms, invertebrates, reptiles, dolphins, and whales.
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Beyond damage to ecosystems, the new draft regulation is a blow to the island citizens’ access and ownership over the union territory’s land. More than 31% of women in the islands hold land rights, making it the best among India’s states and union territories at women’s land ownership. Plus, more than 94% of individuals who own land in the islands belong to Scheduled Tribes.
Hundreds of citizens have written to the administrator demanding that the draft regulations be withdrawn. Apart from citizens, several members of political parties on the mainland have also criticized the new reforms and called for the administrator to step down.
Many have also criticized the administration’s handling of the Covid19 crisis on Lakshadweep. The removal of the quarantine period post entering the union territory in December 2020 led to a rise in Covid19 cases from zero in mid-January to 6,000 cases now.
As of now, citizens are continuing their protest on online platforms under the hashtag #SaveLakshadweep. The last date to submit comments and suggestions on the new land draft regulations is May 31st, 2021.