Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the Lakshadweep administration’s reform measures including the move to introduce Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 (LDAR) and the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) in the islands has been dismissed by Kerala High Court on Thursday.
Dismissing the litigation, the court observed that the alleged reform measures were at the draft stage.
“The writ petition, at the instance of petitioner, is premature, the prayers as made are unavailable and the petitioner has not satisfied as to his standing vis-à-vis the affairs of Lakshadweep Island to entertain the PIL. For the above reasons, the petition fails and accordingly dismissed. No order as to costs,” the court order states.
Talking to The Leaflet, KP Noushad Ali, the petitioner and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee General Secretary, said that “he is waiting for the court order and a decision on future steps will be taken after discussion with others.”
Noushad had requested the court to immediately stay the reforms and had alleged that the PASA gives powers to the administration to detain a person without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year.
The draft of Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 or LDAR 2021 was notified on the official website of the administration.
A circular issued on April 28, 2021, seeking comments from the public on the LDAR with a 21-day deadline ending on May 19.
The LDAR draft aims to change the existing land ownership on the island, modify the usage in Lakshadweep by providing sweeping, arbitrary, unchecked powers to the government.
The Regulation also gives the powers to the government to choose any land for “development” activities that have been provided under its regulation.
The draft also raises concerns as the development would mean the activities including “building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under, land, the cutting of a hill or any portion of 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.”
As per the regulation, the development plan would not, (either before or after being approved), be questioned by anyone, be it in any legal proceedings too.
Meanwhile, the islanders suspect that the LDAR might have been issued for seeking real estate interests to usurp small holdings of property owned by islanders.
The islanders also fear that the LDAR may provide for a forcible eviction. It puts the onus on the owner to develop the holding as per plan by the authority.
Meanwhile, PASA introduced in January this year also has raised concern among the islanders as the Act enables the administration to detain any islander without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year.
All the reforms which have irked the islanders were brought in after Praful Khoda Patel, a former Gujarat BJP minister, took charge as the administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020.
Despite resentment from islanders, Patel is moving ahead with his development plans and had visited the island on Wednesday.
Earlier in May, talking to The Print, Patel had said he intends to develop Lakshadweep like neighbouring Maldives, a renowned international tourist destination.
“The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation will usher in development and go a long way in improving the social and economic indicators on the islands, which have so far lagged despite having the potential,” The Print had quoted him as saying.
Lakshadweep has an ecosystem comprising 36 islands, three coral reefs, and several inhabited and uninhabited islands.
In 2016, MM Hidayutllah, a researcher, while working on five uninhabited islands of Lakshadweep for his doctoral degree, had found that Parali I, one of the 36 islands in Lakshadweep, had an area of 0.032 sq km in 1968, but had “completely eroded”.
He notes in the thesis that the magnitude of net erosion was higher in Parali I island (100%), which resulted in its inundation.
“Apart from Parali I, net erosion was higher in Parali II (80%), followed by Thinnakara (14.38%), Parali III (11.42%), and Bangaram (9.968%). Studies with DGS data also showed erosion (100%) and submergence of Parali I island. Apart from this, the magnitude of erosion was higher with Parali II(60.4%) and Bangaram (8.52%),” he adds.
In his thesis, he said that in addition to tourism and transportation, other activities like dredging of navigational channels, unsustainable fishing practices, coastal development, and souvenir collection had harmed the islands of Lakshadweep.
“Such activities together with coral mining had resulted in severe impacts on the ecology of the coral environments of the island,” he added.
The island’s population, as per the 2011 Census, is 65,000, 94.5 percent of whom are classified as Schedule Tribes and 96.58 percent of whom are followers of Islam.
(Reji Kuttappan is a journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram.)