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Lakshadweep Islands

JUN 3

Mains   > Geography   >   Political geography   >   Places in news

IN NEWS:

  • A series of reform measures taken by the administration is widely resented by the people of Lakshadweep.

LAKSHADWEEP:

  • Lakshadweep is an archipelago in the Arabian sea.
  • It consisting of 36 islands, categorized into three main groups:
    • Amindivi Islands in the North
    • Laccadive/Cannanore Islands
    • Minicoy Island in the South

Geography:

  • The islands are of coral origin. The archipelago consists of twelve atolls, three reefs and five submerged banks.
  • The region does not have a rich flora and there is also an absence of forest in the region. However, the surrounding sea is rich in fauna.
  • The Eleven Degree North Parallel separates the Amindivi Islands and the Laccadive Islands. The Nine Degree Channel separates the Laccadive islands and the Minicoy Island.  

Administration:

  • The Uni-district Union Territory was formed in 1956 as called ‘Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands’ and renamed Lakshadweep in 1973. It is the smallest union territory of India.
  • It is governed by an administrator appointed by the President of India. The UT is served by one Lok Sabha MP and has dweep panchayat councils.
  • The region comes under the jurisdiction of Kerala High Court.

Economy:

  • Production of coconut fiber products is the main industry. Fishing is another important livelihood of the islanders.
  • The government is actively promoting tourism as a means of income. Eg: Bangaram is projected to become a major destination for international tourism.

Demography:

  • Of the 36 islands, ten are inhabited. According to the 2011 Census, the UT has a population of 64,429.
  • The earlier inhabitants of Lakshadweep were Hindus who had migrated from the Malabar coast of Kerala and were converted to Islam in the 7th century AD.
  • More than 93% of the indigenous population are Muslims, and the majority of them belong to the Shafi School of the Sunni Sect.

Culture:

  • Even though there is dominance of Islam, the social structure is based on the matrilineal kinship and caste system that reflects the Hindu customs of Kerala.
  • Kolkali and Parichakali are the two popular folk artforms in the Territory. In Minicoy, Lava is the most popular dance form.

SIGNIFICANCE OF LAKSHADWEEP:

  • Strategic:
    • Lakshadweep is a significant part of country’s expanding maritime strategy and a deterrent to China’s increasing influence in the Indian Ocean.
    • Despite its small size in terms of geographical land mass, it has a large territorial water (20,000 square km) and exclusive economic zone (4 lakh sq km). This offers the Indian Navy better outreach for patrolling and surveillance across the western Indian Ocean.
  • Security of sea lanes:
    • The busy shipping lanes and the island nations in Arabian Sea such as Sri Lanka and Maldives are facing threats from piracy and extremism. Eg: The 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. 
    • Proximity to these areas makes the islands extremely important for ensuring security of sea lanes of communications and for maritime security across Arabian sea.
  • Ecological:
    • The tropical island ecosystem and the surrounding coral reefs are ecologically sensitive.
    • Also, the entire Lakshadweep group of islands has been declared as an organic agricultural area under the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of India.
  • Economic:
    • The lagoons and EEZ around Lakshadweep Islands have significant fishery and mineral resources which are of immense economic importance. 
    • Also, government is actively promoting tourism to develop Lakshadweep like Maldives, a renowned international tourist destination.
  • Cultural:
    • Though inhabited by a majority of Muslim residents, Islam practised in the Lakshadweep is unique. It is a matrilineal society, also influenced by Hindu traditions and caste structure.
    • Further, although the islanders share cultural links with the Kerala, there is significant Arabic, Tamil and Kannada influence on Lakshadweep as well.

THREATS FACED BY LAKSHADWEEP:

  • Impact of climate change:
    • The low level of the islands of Lakshadweep makes them very sensitive to sea level rise.
    • Due to increasing intensity of cyclones in the region, coastal erosion has become a serious natural problem in Lakshadweep.
  • Marine pollution:
    • Due to the drastic increase in marine traffic across the seas, untreated wastes and oil are discharged into the sea. These cause heavy pollution, resulting in damage to the coral reefs.
  • Threat from anti-social elements:  
    • There have been reports of drugs being found along with weapons and live ammunition in the Islands. Since a majority of the islands are uninhabited, there is also a chance that anomic groups like ISIS could use them to wage war against India.
  • Unsustainable tourism model:
    • The government is pushing for developing the islands into a Maldives-like tourist destination. However, Maldives is hardly a suitable model.
    • For eg: Maldives has among the highest level of reef fishing, most of it to service the tourism industry. Such a system in the Lakshadweep could be devastating for the coral ecosystem.
  • Threat from development:
    • The present administration is planning to allow the mining and exploitation of mineral resources in the region, which could threaten the ecology and convert the islands into a hub for cement manufacture.
  • Digital Connectivity:
    • Only BSNL and Airtel provides telecommunication services to Lakshadweep Islands. BSNL provides connectivity in all 10 inhabited islands whereas Airtel provides connectivity to Kavaratti and Agatti islands.

PROPOSED CHANGES & CONCERNS:

Over the last few weeks, public has raised concerns over a number of controversial proposals floated by the Union Territory Administrator. They include:

  • Relaxation of COVID guidelines:
    • Lakshadweep recorded no case of Covid-19 till Mid-January 2021 due to stringent quarantine protocols and testing of inbound travellers. However, the administration did away with these restrictions in December 2020.
    • The change led to the island losing its ‘green zone’ tag and a spurt in infections in subsequent months. As of May 28, 2021, the Union Territory has reported over 7,300 cases and 28 deaths.
  • Ban on cow slaughter:
    • An administrative order seeks to ban the slaughter of cow, calf, bull and buffalo without a certificate from a competent authority. It prohibits the sale, transport and storage of beef products and prescribes penalties for violation.
    • Residents view the ban on slaughter as a direct infringement on their culture and eating habits.
  • Ban on contesting elections to panchayats:
    • The Draft Panchayat Regulation 2021 bars people with more than two children from becoming a member of the gram panchayat.
    • However, no reason has been given for the move.
  • Sale of liquor:
    • Currently, alcohol is prohibited in all inhabited islands, with liquor served only at resorts on the uninhabited Bangaram island. The Administration has decided to allow liquor to be served at resorts on inhabited islands to promote tourism.
    • Residents fear that the move will lead to a proliferation of liquor sales on the island.
  • Creation of Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation:
    • The Administration brought in a draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) to oversee development of towns on the islands, with changes in the way land can be acquired and utilised.
    • There is fear that large infrastructure and tourism projects can destabilise the ecology.
  • Legislations:
    • The draft Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation allows for detention for anti-social activities from six months to a year without legal representation.
    • Residents are sceptical of the need for such a stringent law in a UT with one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Strengthen military presence: Beijing’s advancing interests in the Indian Ocean Region lend added urgency to the need for a reconfiguration in India’s military approach to the Lakshadweep Island.
  • Promote Inclusive development: While the government should go ahead with its plans of ensuring security and order in Lakshadweep, it should also take the local population into confidence. The plan for Lakshadweep requires industries that are people-centric and enrich the fragile coral ecology.
  • Well defined developmental Policy: A clear long-term policy, focused on sustainable development, arrived at after wide consultation, and also taking into account climatic compulsions is essential. The focal areas of the policy should include enhancing employment opportunities, sustainable fisheries, connectivity, waste management and widening access to drinking water.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. Discuss the significance of Lakshadweep islands to India’s policy in the Indian Ocean?


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