A group of retired bureaucrats wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday to express concern over what it termed were “disturbing developments” in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep “in the name of development”.
Ninety-three former All India and Central services officers of the Constitutional Conduct Group wrote to Mr. Modi on the occasion of World Environment Day to raise concerns over the introduction of draft regulations on land and development. Among the signatories were former Environment and Forests Secretary Meena Gupta, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. The non-partisan group has raised concerns through its open letters about the Centre’s farm laws and the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic recently.
“We are a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Central and State Governments in the course of our careers. As a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in impartiality, neutrality and commitment to the Constitution of India. We write to you today to register our deep concern over disturbing developments taking place in the pristine Union Territory (UT) of Lakshadweep in the name of ‘development’”, the letter stated.
Referring to draft regulations introduced by Lakshadweep Administrator P.K. Patel, the group said the proposals were drafted without local consultation and were now with the Union Home Affairs Ministry for necessary approvals.
“It is clear that each of these draft regulations is part of a larger agenda that is against the ethos and interests of the islands and islanders. Claiming that there has been no development in Lakshadweep for the past seventy years, the LDAR [the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation] reflects a model of land and tourism development which includes resorts, hotels and beach fronts on the ‘Maldives model’ unmindful of the differences between the two island groups in size, population, number of islands and their spread,” the letter stated.
The former bureaucrats added that the draft regulation not only ignored the unique geography and community life of Lakshadweep, it also gave “arbitrary and draconian powers” to the Administrator to acquire, alter and transfer properties and remove or relocate islanders from their properties. The Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation would enable detention up to a year, they pointed out.
“In a territory where, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, crime rates are very low compared to the rest of India, it has generated fears that the real purpose of the Regulation is to smother dissent or protests against the policies and actions of the Administrator or on any other issue,” the letter said.
Another proposed regulation, the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, would target the dietary habits of the majority Muslim community by effectively banning the killing of bovine animals and the consumption, storage, transport and sale of cattle meat, it said.
“No such prohibitions apply to several states in the north-eastern region and even the state of Kerala next door… In addition, in an island territory where fruits, vegetables, cereals and pulses have to be supplied and distributed from the mainland by sea and are frequently not fresh, where fishing is risky during the monsoon months, and meat is part of their daily diet, non-vegetarian food has been arbitrarily removed from mid-day school meals,” it said.
The ex-bureaucrats urged the Prime Minister to withdraw the measures and put in place a development model in consultation with the islanders.