The Ignoble Clasps of Modernity: Protecting ‘India Paradise’ the Lakshadweep Islands to be Lost
Since February of this year, a flurry of draft legislations introduced by Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel has become the source of much controversy and debate. The ‘Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA)’, ‘the Animal Preservation Regulation’, and the ‘Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021’ in particular appear to be the targets of much of the outrage.
While PASA provides for the administrator to authorise the detention of a person for a duration of up to one year if the offender’s actions “adversely affect the maintenance of public order”, the Animal Preservation Regulations bans the slaughter of cows, calves, bulls or bullocks. In addition, the draft ‘Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021’ allows the administrator to acquire any land required for public purposes.
The regulations have been referred to the Home Ministry for review. The regulations will be taken up by the Union cabinet when the home ministry approves them, and if approved by the cabinet, they will be forwarded to the President for his signature and assent. Only until the President has given his approval will the regulations be given effect to.
In this article, the author seeks to evaluate the negative implications that these guidelines will have on the human rights of the native population if the President approves them, as well as explain what these regulations are about and why they are causing so much uproar.
Perils of ‘PASA’
The Goonda Act, as it is more often known, has drawn the ire of the island's residents as well as opposition leaders, who have labelled it "draconian." Section 3 of PASA has been the root source of much of this criticism which states that “the administrator may if satisfied that it is essential to do so to prevent any person from acting in any manner harmful to the maintenance of public order, make an order directing that the person be detained”. The section essentially bestows a range of open-ended powers on the administrator, such as the power to incarcerate any person who is engaged as a bootlegger, drug offender, immoral traffic offender, property grabber, cyber offender, money lending offender, depredator of the environment, or sexual offender for one year to prevent them from acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the public. Section 6 of the regulation further stipulates that such an order for arrest shall not be rendered invalid even if some of the grounds are “vague”, “non-existent”, “non-proximately connected to the person”, or “invalid for any other reason whatsoever”.
Opposition politicians have questioned the need for PASA, citing the low crime statistics on the islands compared to the rest of India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, only 78 incidences of crime under the IPC were reported on the islands in 2017, 48 in 2018, 0 in 2019. On the official website of the government of Lakshadweep, under the section of Administrative Setup under Police, it is explicitly stated that the crime rate in the Union Territory is the lowest in the country. However, Lakshadweep Collector S. Asker Ali believes the public outrage is unwarranted. In an interview with the Hindu Business Line, he reasoned that the strict rules were implemented considering the rising number of criminal cases. He revealed the prevalence of drug cases and POSCO cases and indicted that some residents are even involved in drug trafficking. He also asserted that there are reports of anti-social activities, as well, and therefore there is a need to regulate such crimes, which according to him, the PASA will ensure.
Baseless suspicion, as exemplified by the data from NCRB presented above, is an insufficient justification for suggesting to enact regulations that can potentially stifle dissent by putting indigenous communities in fear of arbitrary incarceration. This is also particularly unjustified when statutes such as the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure already outline sanctions for preventing crime.
“The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation”
This regulation, which prohibits cow slaughter, has sparked widespread outrage, with opposition parties accusing the BJP of using sectarian politics to influence the administrator's decision. The new legislation not only suggests banning cow slaughter but also bars the purchase, sale, transit, or storage of beef or beef products in any form by the natives. Violations are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh as per S.10 of the relevant regulations. The draft regulation reasons the prohibition on the grounds of trying to preserve animals appropriate for milking, breeding, or agricultural reasons. No certificate will be issued to slaughter cows, calves, bulls, or bullocks on the island for this purpose. The slaughter of animals other than cows and bulls for religious purposes will necessitate a certificate from the authorities, as per the regulation. The draft regulation further states that the authorities will not issue licences for slaughtering animals other than cows and bulls if they are found to be beneficial for agricultural activity or breeding. The draft regulation also makes it illegal to transport cows and bulls for slaughter.
The population of Lakshadweep, which numbers around 65,000 people as per the 2011 Census, is predominantly Muslim as around 96.6 per cent of its population follows Islam. The legislation, cloaked in the guise of protecting milch animals, is arguably an attempt to impose the Hindutva Dogma on the island's original Muslim tribal inhabitants because even if the slaughter of cows can be reasoned on the grounds mentioned above, preventing the native population, in particular, from buying, selling, transporting, storing beef products in any form, cannot be justified. Moreover, such activities infringe on the rights of indigenous people to practise and renew their traditions and customs, as safeguarded under ‘Article 11’ of ‘the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ (UNDRIP).
The Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021
The “Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021” authorises the administrator to form planning and development agencies to facilitate the restoration of areas that they believe require revamping and modernisation. As per the legislation, building, engineering, mining, quarrying, cutting a hill or any portion thereof, or making any major modification in any building or land are all examples of methods in which development can be achieved. This regulation, coupled with the ‘Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2020’, which shortens the timeframe for the public to object to a proposed development, effectively gives the authorities complete freedom to undertake any potentially disastrous development plan that could destabilise the islands' delicate ecological balance. What makes this legislation even more draconian is that it gives the authorities the discretion to forcibly relocate indigenous tribes living in regions where development is deemed necessary.
While the President has the discretion to issue a regulation amending specific parts of central laws that apply to the Union Territory as per Article 240 of the Indian Constitution, the provision in the regulation allowing for forced eviction and relocation of the tribes violates the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, which was ratified for the very opposite purpose, to guarantee a humane, participatory, informed, and transparent mechanism of land acquisition. Article 10 of the UNDRIP, which India ruled in favour of when it was adopted by the General Assembly (of which India is a member) on Thursday, 13th September 2007, states that indigenous peoples must not be relocated from their lands and territories without their free, prior, and informed consent. Allowing the forcible eviction of the indigenous population of Lakshadweep from their ancient lands on the grounds of development and modernity is, therefore, a blatant violation of the Article. Additionally, the aforementioned regulation violates the basic human right of individuals not to be arbitrarily deprived of their property under Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by India on 10th December 1948.
Any regulations or orders for development or change in the UT must consider the inhabitants of the islands as well as the delicate ecosystem they thrive in. The administrator should be held accountable for his conduct during his tenure. Putting arbitrary powers in the hands of a political appointee jeopardises the small group of islands' democratic and administrative structure, which are dominated by Scheduled Tribes. No single individual, irrespective of their stature, should be able to dictate the destiny of indigenous people by robbing them of their fundamental rights to land, life, and liberty. With the #SaveLakshadweep campaign gathering momentum worldwide, President Ram Nath Kovind must now defend indigenous peoples from the Centre's preconceived, standardised notions of civilisation and modernisation and prevent the tribes from being forcibly evicted from territories over which they have ancestral entitlements.
Indrasish Majumder is a 4th-year law student pursuing a B.A L.L. B (Hons.) from National Law University Odisha. Indrasish is an experienced writer – having been in the position of columnist at several International and National Law Blogs namely: 1) Earth Refuge 2) IntLawGrrls 3) Human Rights Pulse 4) International Agora Law Blog (Jindal Global Law School). Indrasish has a keen interest in the intersection of human rights law, Humanitarian Law and International Business Law.
Image: Credits to Satish Acharya