Lakshadweep reform controversy: All you need to know
Kavaratti/IBNS: The union territory of Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq.km, has turned out to be the new political flashpoint after its new administrator Praful Khoda Patel brought a slew of reforms leading to a huge row.
Patel, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), brought a number of new policies that have upset people, politicians of the union territory and also its neighbouring state Kerala.
Patel, who was appointed by the BJP government at the Centre in Dec 2020, introduced the proposal of the implementation of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, or the Goonda Act in the union territory, which already has a lower crime rate.
As per media reports, locals fear that such an Act will enable the administration to arrest anyone without a trial.
In his explanation, Patel, who is the first politician to assume the administrator's post in a union territory, told The Print that people who have done nothing wrong should not be worried about the new Act.
"Only those who have committed a crime will be penalised, for the others it should not be an issue. In the rest of the country, under the Indian Penal Code there is Section 302 for a reason," he said.
The administrator has sought to bring changes in the panchayat regulations in Lakshadweep, which has no assembly or lawmakers directly elected by common people.
As per the new proposed reforms, any person, who has more than two children, will be ineligible to contest panchayat elections.
The government has also proposed to take control over the administrative powers of Zilla panchayat in matters like education, healthcare, agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries.
Besides the administrative rejigs, Patel gave nod to open liquor bars to encourage tourism in the island territory which is so far non-alcoholic zone due to its Muslim population.
A ban on beef and an elimination of non-vegetarian food from the menu of Angadwadi children are set to be implemented.
'Focus on development'
Amid the massive outcry by local people who recently took to Twitter to express their anger, Patel has stated all the reforms he is undertaking are "focussed on development".
Patel, who is also in charge of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, told The Print, "My message for everyone is to work together for the development of Lakshadweep. I am only focussing on my work."
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Reforms face opposition
CPI-M MP from Kerala, Kareem, reportedly wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind alleging that Patel was exercising his authoritarian rule in Lakshadweep.
He has requested the President to recall the policies introduced by the administrator, who was the Junior Home Minister of Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the state's Chief Minister.
"Lakshadweep people have close connection with Kerala, as Kochi is the main port in mainland India for the union territory.
"Now he (Patel) is trying to move everything to Mangalore, which is in Karnataka, and is a BJP-ruled state. He is trying to cancel all contact and relations with Kerala. We cannot keep quiet right now," Kareem told The Print.
After Kashmir Lakshadweep is the new target of Modi Govt. People there are being tortured under the new Administrator's rule. Everything to destroy their culture & traditions. Wrote to @rashtrapatibhvn to immediately call back the authoritarian Administrator.#SaveLakshadweep pic.twitter.com/rzH43wFil1— Elamaram Kareem (@ElamaramKareem_) May 24, 2021
Congress MP from Lakshadweep, Mohammad Faisal, told the news outlet, "We are in the middle of a pandemic and the administration is speaking about PASA – Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, which is also known as the Goonda Act. Lakshadweep has one of the lowest crime rates."
Springing surprise, Lakshadweep BJP's general secretary HK Mohammed Kasim said as quoted by Hindustan Times, "It seems some of the grievances of the island people are genuine. It is always good to seek the opinion of people and their elected representatives before making decisions."
Kasim has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who form the top brass of the BJP, informing about his standpoint on the controversy.
Praful Khoda Patel and his controversies
Patel began his political career by winning in the 2007 Gujarat Assembly Elections.
From 2010, he served as the Junior Home Minister under Chief Minister Modi and later was handed over a number of portfolios.
The Lakshadweep administrator was embroiled in controversy just in February this year.
Dadar and Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar committed suicide naming Patel among others responsible for his death.
In a complaint with the police, Delkar's son Abhinav has accused Patel of harassing his father to pay Rs. 25 crore or face false charge under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act.
The administrator had also controversially lifted COVID-19 protocols in Lakshadweep, which had zero infection last year, leading to a situation where 24 people died of the virus so far.