Kerala HC seeks administrator's response on plea challenging new regulations in Lakshadweep
KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Friday sought the response from the Administrator, Union Territory of Lakshadweep, on a petition challenging the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021, a proposed regulation to provide for the development of towns in Lakshadweep.
The draft bill gives sweeping, arbitrary, unchecked powers to the government and all its bodies to directly interfere with an islander’s right to possess and retain their property, argued the petitioner.
When the petition filed by K P Noushad Ali, secretary of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, came for hearing, KM Natarajan, Additional Solicitor General (ASG), who appeared for the Administrator, sought two weeks time to inform their views on the matter. Then the petitioner's counsel requested an interim relief not to implement the Regulation till that time. The Bench orally observed that "this is a policy matter, let them inform their views."
A Division Bench comprising Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice MR Anitha posted the hearing of the case after two weeks.
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Anoop V Nair, counsel for the petitioner submitted that the draft issued by the Lakshadweep Administration, for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) is widely resented as it gives the Administrator, Union Territory of Lakshadweep Administration, the powers to remove or usurp the small holdings of property owned by the islanders belonging to the Scheduled Tribes.
The petition stated that under section 72 of the draft regulation, it gives power to the Planning and Development Authority to evict anyone who is found to occupy land under a final scheme formulated under the proposed law. If the Planning and Development Authority is opposed or impeded in evicting such person or taking possession of the land from such person, the District Magistrate shall, at the request of the Planning and Development Authority, enforce the eviction or secure delivery of possession of the land to the Planning and Development Authority. It provides for forcible eviction, puts the onus on the owner to develop his holding as per the plan prepared by the authority as also it heavily penalizes them in the event of non-compliance.
The draft regulation further goes down to the extent of imposing severe punishment such as imprisonment by virtue of section 119 for causing obstruction of work or workers under the Development Plan. He submitted that with a very fragile environment, traditional society and marginal economy and almost entirely dependent on the mainland, the regulation will destroy the way of life practised by them for generations. Even though it was published with a public notice calling for objections, the same will be implemented soon without any further notice and if implemented it will highly affect the residence of Lakshadweep Islands and nobody will be able to question the same.
The Sections 92 and 93 of the draft Regulations mandates levying development charges and processing fee for change of zones from the islanders. This means that the islanders have to make payments to obtain permissions for change of zones in accordance with the Development Plan and are also liable to pay for permission to develop their own land.
The petitioner also challenged the draft panchayat notification, where a person with more than two children is disqualified from being a member. He also pointed out that the unscientific altering of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for COVID management has led to the current surge in Covid cases. Earlier the SOP stated that people coming from Kochi were to observe a mandatory quarantine of 14 days before having public contacts. However, the administration unilaterally changed the SOP to state that anyone who had obtained a negative RT-PCR Test 48 hours before travel could enter the islands.
The petition stated that the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), which is also known as the Goonda Act was hastily implemented in January 2021, under which a person can be detained without any trial for a period of up to one year. The Act is a violation of the constitutional rights of the islanders and is used to take action against those people who protested during the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The private-sector jobs in Lakshadweep are limited and the people are mainly depending on the Government for employment. Since January, close to 300 people have lost their jobs. The administration had terminated jobs for physical education teachers and mid-day meal cooks. Many were expelled from the Department of Animal Welfare and the Department of Agriculture. The Administration has also allegedly closed down all dairy farms operated by the Animal Husbandry Department. Island residents were wiped out from the administrative systems. The Administration has demolished the sheds used by fishermen for keeping nets and other equipment on the grounds saying that they violated Coast Guards Acts, stated the petition.
According to the petitioner, non-vegetarian food items were removed from the school menus in Lakshadweep, a place where people increasingly consume seafood. The Administration has also decided that the islanders should no longer depend on Beypore (Kerala) for freight transmits. Instead, they should depend on Mangalore Port (Karnataka) for this purpose. This decision will also adversely affect Beypore, which is closely associated with the island for decades. All this has caused great concern and suffering among the islanders during this pandemic time, stated the petitioner.