Lakshadweep Islands
Lakshadweep Islands

Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian Sea did not report a single case of COVID-19 in 2020. While health officials in the Union Territory received widespread acclaim for their early preparedness, the situation this year was not the same, with the island reporting its first case in January. The UT has since registered 4,986 cases and 14 deaths with the active caseload being 1,208 cases at present.

Against this backdrop, there has emerged a social media movement of sorts to "#SaveLakshadweep" with countless individuals tweeting to highlight an ongoing crisis in the island territory - from politicians to sports personalities and actors.

As per Health Ministry data, Lakshadweep presently has 2050 active cases. But while a rise in COVID-19 cases is certainly a big part of the problem, the 'Save Lakshadweep' movement goes beyond that. Critics have repeatedly hit out at Administrator Praful Patel over reforms that have been introduced since he took charge in December last year. This list of reforms includes a halt on schools serving non-vegetarian food and reports of anganwadis being closed and officials losing their jobs.

"As soon Shri. Praful Patel assumed that office, he unilaterally changed the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which was in force in the island for preventing the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. According to the people of island, this unplanned and unscientific altering of SOP has led to the current surge in COVID cases in Lakshadweep where there was not even a single case reported in the year 2020," reads an excerpt from a letter by Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem to the President.

While officials in the administration point to the new COVID-19 strain and the movement of people as the reason behind the surge in cases, critics blame the new administration. Unlike previous months, the latest SOP requires only a negative RT-PCR report from an ICMR-approved laboratory to enter the UT.

Kareem alleged that that the orders and promulgations issued by the Lakshadweep administration under the current administrator were aimed at destroying the traditional life and cultural diversity of the people of Lakshadweep. Hundreds of casual and contract labourers, he contended, had lost their jobs, even as countless others who depended on fishing and dairy farming have been affected negatively in recent months.

He is not alone. Over the last few days, a slew of well known personalities have stepped up to highlight the situation in Lakshadweep, calling for action against the administration.

"How does disrupting the way of life of a centuries-old peaceful settlement become an acceptable means of progress? How will threatening the balance of a very delicate island ecosystem with no regard for the potential consequences pave the way for sustainable development?" asked actor Prithviraj Sukumaran, noting that no islander that he had spoken to was "happy with what’s happening".

In a lengthy thread, footballer CK Vineeth hit out at "administrative injustices" in the island territory, contending that it had been "one problem after another for the people of Lakshadweep" ever since a new Administrator was appointed.

How does Governance in the Union Territory work?

Every union territory is administered by the President acting through an agent appointed by him. The President can specify the designation of the agent, which may be Lieutenant Governor or Chief Commissioner or Administrator.

An administrator of a union territory, however, is an agent of the President and not the head of state like a governor. Since 2015 administrators in the Union Territory were officers from either the IAS or IPS. However, the present leader Mr Praful Patel belongs to neither group.

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