He says vested interests behind campaign to portray Lakshadweep administration in poor light
The reforms rolled out in the Lakshadweep islands are aimed at the betterment of islanders. Vested interests are behind campaigns to portray the administration in poor light, Lakshadweep Collector S. Asker Ali has said.
The reforms are aimed at optimising the potential of the isles, mainly in the tourism, fisheries, and agriculture sectors, Mr. Ali told mediapersons here on Thursday, in the first official response after protests arose over the reforms spearheaded by the new administrator Praful Khoda Patel.
“The protests do not reflect the sentiments of the residents of the islands,” he said.
Beef, liquor row
On the decision to remove beef from the noon-meal scheme and to ban slaughtering, he said a policy decision had been taken. Fish and eggs were healthier for children. Moreover, fish was readily available in the islands and it would help local fishermen sell their catch.
While admitting that prohibition was in vogue in the isles, Mr. Ali said the administration could exempt resorts and other properties that had been given licence to serve liquor within their premises during a specified time span from the ambit. Liquor was served only to tourists and not sold to islanders.
About concerns of potential rights violations if the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (having provisions similar to the Goonda Act – like the one permitting preventive detention without trial for a specified time) was invoked in the hitherto peaceful isles, Mr. Ali said this was aimed at reining in narcotic drug, illegal trade, and POSCO cases which had, of late, been increasing in the isles.
While acknowledging that protests were on in Kochi and many other parts of Kerala, Mr. Ali rebutted reports that there were large-scale protests in the isles against the reforms.
Among the reforms were termination of service of 180 personnel from the Tourism Department, personnel rendered jobless due to alterations in anti-poaching operations, and the potential job loss due to impending reforms in the shipping sector.
“Most of these personnel were additional employees, whose services can be roped in if need arises. It also has to be noted that 8,000 islanders are employed in government service, directly or otherwise,” he said.
Mr. Ali said the submarine optical fibre cable project at ₹2,000 crore being established to the isles by 2024 would bring in new job and business opportunities.
Similarly, Lakshadweep isles had similar geographical peculiarities as the Maldives. But tourism infra was limited here, as compared to the Maldives. The administration was working in tandem with the NITI Aayog to augment infra in three isles. Moreover, the low-capacity airstrip at Agatti was being extended to enable landing of bigger aircraft, including during night.
On many cargo ships from the isles, which used to call at Beypore, being diverted to Mangaluru, Mr. Ali said they saved 75 nautical miles and nine hours, apart from ₹200 per tonne of cargo.
Referring to agriculture and fishing, he said the administration was working with agencies to help improve preserving and marketing of produce. Women self-help groups would be set up. He said only encroachments had been evicted from the coast. A model fishing village would be built.
Passenger transit from the mainland to Lakshadweep and back resumed in December 2020 as no COVID-19 case was reported in the isles and in keeping with the fall in cases across the country. The first case was reported in January 18, following which 26 deaths were reported, Mr. Ali said.
The isles were equipped to handle the pandemic and there were 127 doctors and front line treatment centres for the 70,000 islanders. Similarly, sufficient quantity of oxygen and ventilators too was available. The availability of hospital beds and oxygen was being improved, he said.
Answering questions on curbs on islanders having more than two children from contesting elections, Mr. Ali said this would not affect people who already had more than two children.