The Lakshadweep Report 2021

A collection of 35 islands in the Arabian sea officially named as ‘Lakshadweep’ on 1st November 1973 with archaeological shreds of evidence of human settlement since 1500 BCE.

In an era when maps were not in use, and sailors were sailing around for the new routes, an anonymous sailor and author have first described these reefs or group of islands in a manuscript “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea” used for navigation and trade opportunities during the 1st century AD.

Lakshadweep is known for its serene beauty, crystal clear water beaches, coral reefs and a perfect tourist destination with flying Brown noddies to charm is one of the most peaceful places in India.

On 1 November 1956, Lakshadweep islands were organised into a separate union territory for administrative purposes of India. Since then coconut, tourism and fishing are the major activities around this archipelago of 10 inhabited islands, 16 uninhabited islands, 4 islets and 5 submerged reefs, and holds the 1st position in coconut production in India.

Along with the calm & beautiful nature, which makes this a perfect tourist place, the fact cannot be ignored that there are still more scopes. But at what cost?

Well, when we speak about cost, the first thing that comes to mind is the per capita income, where Lakshadweep is slightly higher than the world bank poverty threshold of 1.25 USD/day with a difference of 0.25 USD i.e 18.5 INR/day.

One more key point to note here about Lakshwadeep is only BSNL & Airtel provides telephone services, with only BSNL being the leading provider to have access for all the 10 inhabited islands, while Airtel has access to only Kavaratti and Agatti islands. Presently only 352 Mbps satellite bandwidth is operational in Lakshadweep islands and the same is planned to be upgraded to 1.71 Gbps by BSNL.

In 2005, a low-temperature thermal desalination (LTTD) plant to generate potable water as well as energy, opened on Kavaratti & one each at Minicoy and Agatti, by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), fully functional by 2014.

In 2016, TCIL (Transport Corporation of India Limited) submitted a cost analysis report for submarine OFC (optical fibre cable) connectivity of Lakshadweep islands to the mainland at Kochi and on 02 Feb 2018, TCIL got the contract to do the desktop survey and to provide the DPR (Detailed Project Report).

All this started when the TRAI recommended improved telecom connectivity in Lakshadweep and A&N islands and have suggested connecting the islands on submarine OFC to resolve the issue of reliable sufficient telecom bandwidth and USOF (Universal Service Obligation Fund) was awarded the work for the detailed survey with a hope to increases the literacy rate from 91.8% by providing reliable telecom connectivity and access to education with quality learning and teaching through Tele-education, which in return reflects in the increases in the GPD of the region.

Now, the expenditure required is huge and cannot be met by the current revenue realization. Hence, USOF planned to fund the project to create a level playing field for all Telecom Service Providers, by defining the subsidised bandwidth leasing charges to encourage telecom penetration by other TSPs.

As per the report by USOF, they ensured the commercial utilization of the network by the TSPs, if the passive telecom network elements are shared, like mobile tower & equipment rooms. Therefore, it will be prudent to mandate for BSNL to share its infrastructure. In return, USOF can provide a right of operation and access to created submarine telecom infrastructure.

One point that seems to be ignored by the authorities responsible for the study, that one of the biodiversity-rich islands of Lakshadweep has already vanished due to coastal erosion and another four such territories in the sea are shrinking fast.

In 2019, the administration of this Union territory Farooq Khan in a meeting with senior officials of the local administration, Navy and Coast Guard in Kavaratti discussed the intelligence reports about a boat carrying 15 ISIS terrorists had set off from Sri Lanka to Lakshadweep just after Sri Lanka witnessed a deadly terror attack on 21 April 2019, later a boat from Tamil Nadu, named SS Rafai, with eight crew members and bearing false registration documents has been seized near Suheli island by the Indian Navy.

On 18th March 2021, a subsequent quantity of heroin, 1000 rounds of ammunition along with an AK-47 were seized from three fishing boats, off the Minicoy Island in Lakshadweep, in a joint operation conducted by the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and the Lakshadweep Administration.

As per the reports, after this incident, the Lakshadweep administration led by Praful Khoda Patel appointed on 05 December 2020 applied few new laws since February 2021, along with the “Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA)”, the “Animal Preservation Regulation”, the “Panchayat Regulation” and another draft law that allows the administrator to acquire any land required for a public purpose, which has created a huge turmoil in India.

The CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, Elamaram Kareem said, “The government wants to suppress any form of protest or agitation. The regulation will give power to the administrator to order the detention of any individual for a year without any valid grounds.”

A petition was filed by Congress leader K.P Naushad Ali, challenging LDAR & PASA stating LDAR is widely opposed by the residents of Lakshadweep as it would allow the administration to remove or usurp the small holdings of the islanders, who belong to the scheduled tribe, on which Justice K Vinod Chandran asked the administration to respond within 2 weeks.

In an interview with “ThePrint” on 28th May 2021 the Lakshadweep collector Shri.S.Asker Ali, IAS, labelled this as a needless controversy as the draft laws are for the development of the islands and the Union home ministry is currently scrutinising the 3 draft laws.

He also added that, once the home ministry clears the regulations, they will be taken up by the Union cabinet. “Once cabinet approves, they will be sent to the President for his assent. Once the presidential assent comes, only then will the regulations be notified.”

Before this furore, the islanders used to lease out land to the Department of Tourism, which is responsible for developing infrastructure and can also re-lease land to interested parties through a global tender as outsiders are not allowed to buy land in Lakshadweep till now.

Now Praful Khoda Patel, one of the most favourite of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was appointed as Administrator of Daman and Diu in 2016 followed shortly after by Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli is now appointed as the first non- IAS administrator of Lakshadweep. And this is where the storm begins.

With a controversial role in “2019 Daman Indigenous Land Clearing Protests”, the Adivasi’s of Lakshwadeep is now afraid of the same kind of demolition in the name of development.

So, the facts that needed to be checked in future are:

  • Whether Lakshwadeep can still hold the 1st position in coconut production in India?
  • Whether Lakshwadeep can still hold its beauty and clarity?
  • Whether the Literacy rate is increasing as planned?
  • Whether the bio-diverse islands of Lakshadweep stand safe from sinking?
  • Whether the Local youths are getting proper education & employment?
  • Whether the Narendra Modi led Indian government is successful in delivering what they have promised for the development, without violence?
  • Whether the per capita income for Lakshadweep is increasing?

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