The administration of the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea has introduced strict restrictions on visitors attempting to travel to the archipelago.
The move comes after several human rights activists and politicians tried visiting the islands to study the new reforms proposed by the administrator Praful Khoda Patel. The authorities have issued an order tightening the security coverage of the region, citing “intelligence inputs”. The security coverage of the island is being raised to 'Level -2', based on this new intelligence. "Appropriate additional security measures will be maintained for a period of time while the heightened risk remains," the order said. Officials have been asked to pay special attention to suspicious movements and activities around the ports and ships.
The district magistrate Shashipal Dabas said entry to the island will be restricted to ensure effective COVID-19 management due to a rise in positive cases. According to the order, an entry permit will be given to the visitors that can be extended by one week by deputy collectors and block development officers. On completion of the permit period, the visitors will have to return to the mainland or seek permission for an extension of stay from authorities.
The islands had effectively kept away COVID-19 last year, but since January, infections started rising as the administrator eased quarantine rules for tourists.
A group of Left leaders from Kerala alleged that they were denied permission to visit Lakshadweep by the administration, which cited the virus infections. Meanwhile, the Kerala Legislative Assembly on Monday passed a resolution demanding the removal of the administrator. The Indian state's legislature is dominated by the Communist Party and its Left Democratic Front allies.
#Kerala Assembly unanimously passes resolution demanding removal of #Lakshadweep Administrator, states it's centre's responsibility to protect interest of people. "Attempts to further saffron agenda, corporate inrerests currently in Lakshadweep", Kerala CM pic.twitter.com/HBwFnuppRf— Sneha Koshy (@SnehaMKoshy) May 31, 2021
The new administrator, who shares a bond with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been accused of changing the cultural fabric of the Muslim-majority region. He has been accused of imposing a ban on beef consumption and cattle transport, cracking down on protests and tarnishing the fishing industry. He is the first politician to be appointed administrator since India's Independence in 1947, as the position is usually occupied by a civil servant.
The Opposition has accused Khoda of executing a "Sangh Parivar agenda". The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is the parent body of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Two lawmakers had written to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind to recall Patel for “destroying the unique culture and tradition of the Indian Ocean group of islands”.
The proposed laws introduced by Patel have drawn the ire of locals, who have taken to social media to protest against the authorities. Since February this year, Patel has introduced -- Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation (PASA), the Animal Preservation Regulation, the Panchayat Regulation and the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021.
Locals fear that under the PASA or Goonda Act, the authorities will try to curb dissent with numerous arrests. The Panchayat Regulation proposes to disqualify people with more than two children from contesting the village council elections. Under the Animal Preservation law, cow slaughter and cattle transport will be banned, directly impacting the food consumption of the Muslim majority region.
The federal government has dismissed the criticism, saying Patel is trying to end "corrupt practices involving local politicians".
Several celebrities such as actor-director Prithviraj Sukumaran, director Geetu Mohandas, and footballer CK Vineet have expressed their solidarity with the locals and joined the "Save Lakshadweep" campaign.