#SaveLakshadweep is kicking up a storm on the internet and for good reason. If you do not know what the Lakshadweep campaign is all about, here’s a brief.
As a Union Territory, Lakshadweep is administered by the President through an agent; this can be a Lt. Governor, Chief Commissioner, or Administrator. Since 2015, Lakshadweep has had an IAS or IPS officer in this position. When the incumbent Administrator Dineshwar Sharma passed away in Dec 2020, he was succeeded by Praful Khoda Patel (an ex-member of Gujarat’s Legislative Assembly). Things seem to have taken a turn for the worse since then.
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Lakshadweep, which was praised for the way it handled the Covid crisis in 2020, has seen an explosion in cases since then. It is believed that this rise in Covid infections was a direct consequence of the changes the new administrations made to Covid travel guidelines.
Praful Patel has been criticised for the passing of three regulations:
- The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR)
- The Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA)
- The Draft Panchayat Notification
LDAR gives the Administrator powers to remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity. PASA allows a person to be detained for up to 1 year without any public disclosure. As per the Draft Panchayat Notification, Panchayat members with more than 2 children will be disqualified from being a member.
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In addition to this, the powers of the District Panchayats also seems to have been curtailed in important areas like Education, Health, Fisheries and Animal husbandry. This curtailment has led to an increase in the concentration of the power at the top – with the Administrator.
There are multiple issues along these lines that the people of Lakshadweep believe go against their best interest.
Praful Patel has stated that his objective is the development of Lakshadweep.
We believe that this has brought to light the flaws in the federal territory system that we have in the form of Union Territories (UT).
What is a UT?
The concept of UT in India was introduced in the States Reorganisation Act, 1956. It refers to territories that are too small to be independent or are too different (economically, culturally and geographically) to be merged with the surrounding states or are financially weak or are politically unstable. Due to these reasons, they could not survive as separate administrative units and had to be administered by the Union Government. The President appoints administrators who govern the UT on his/her behalf.
What is the problem with UTs?
This is where, we believe, the root cause of the problems in Lakshadweep lie. The head of the administration is not an elected representative of the people and hence, their objectives need not be aligned with that of the people. And since the position lacks this democratic flavour, there are chances of abuse of power.
Now you would ask if the problems highlighted in 1956 have magically disappeared, and if we can actually consider Lakshadweep a state. The answer is “No”. The problems still exist. But this recent episode in Lakshadweep shows that the solution from 1956, while it seemed great at the time, has its flaws and it is time we considered alternatives.
Delhi, Puducherry, and Jammu & Kashmir have been granted partial statehoods through a special Constitutional Amendment and the people have been given the right to have an elected legislature. And while the exact same thing cannot be done for UTs like Lakshadweep, there could be an alternative form of governance that is more democratic.