Lakshadweep Islands are one of the remotest areas of India. They have almost always enjoyed their time away from limelight unlike their eastern cousins, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which have been a tourism hotspot. However, recently, the administration decided to bring about certain legislative reforms on the islands and since then Lakshadweep is the epicentre of some major disputes that have marred the nation repeatedly.
In this article, we dissect the following regulations introduced by the Lakshadweep Administration to create these reforms and analyse the legal issues surrounding them:
The Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021, also known as the “Goonda Act” provides many powers to the Administrator of Lakshadweep. Some of the powers include:
It is difficult to find any basis of such a regulation as the crime rate in Lakshadweep is very low as compared to other parts of India. According to National Crime Records Bureau, only 121 criminal cases were registered in Lakshadweep in 2017; 86 in 2018; 186 in 2019; and 89 in 2020. As such, the regulation is seen by the people of Lakshadweep as a tool to supress any form of protest and agitation, therefore, imposing a threat to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 19(1).
The regulation is further in contradiction to the fundamental right of “protection against arrest and detention in certain cases” as covered by Article 22 of the Constitution. Article 22(1) provides that:
“No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.”
Further, Article 22(2) states that:
“Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of twenty four hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the magistrate and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate.”
State’s Power to Arrest and Detain and its Constitutional Validity
While clauses (1) and (2) of Article 22 provide the right to “protection against arrest and detention”, clause (3) of Article 22 itself puts a limitation on these rights by attaching a proviso that “nothing in clauses (1) and (2) shall apply to any person who is arrested or detained under any law providing for preventive detention”.
Further, clause 7(b) of Article 22 empowers the Parliament to “prescribe the maximum period for which any person may in any class or classes of cases be detained under any law providing for preventive detention”. However, these limitations on “protection against arrest and detention” and powers of the State to make laws providing for detention, do not give the State a license to make such laws arbitrarily and without a valid pretext.
Lakshadweep, being a union territory, is administered by the President through an administrator appointed by him, as per Article 239 of the Constitution. Therefore, when any law introduced by the administrator is ratified by the Union Parliament and assented to by the President becomes binding. Entry 9 of the Union List contained in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution gives the power to the Union to make any laws related to “preventive detention for reasons connected with defence, foreign affairs, or the security of India; persons subjected to such detention.” As such, any law made by the administration of Lakshadweep would be constitutionally valid once it receives the signature of the President.
The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation, 2021, is aimed at restricting and banning the slaughtering of certain animals including bulls, bullocks, cows, calves, male and female buffaloes and buffalo-calves.
Article 48 of the Constitution, as Directive Principle of State Policy, directs the State to make efforts for "preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle". It also directs the State to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.
Although the Directive Principles of State Policy are “fundamental in the governance of the country”, it is to be noted that they are not legally enforceable. They act as guidelines laid down by the framers of the Constitution for governing India like a welfare state which preserves the very essence of its being – the principles of sovereignty, democracy, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism. Therefore, any laws that the State makes, have to be made by keeping in mind these principles meant to be followed by any government.
Lakshadweep is not the first state to propose or implement laws that check the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks; several states and union territories already have cattle and cow preservation laws in some form or the other. Judicially, the first major challenge to anti-cow slaughter laws in India came before the Supreme Court in Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar, 1958, where the petitioners pleaded for the preservation of their right to trade arguing that “the Quraishi community and generally engaged in the butcher's trade". The Supreme Court held that a complete ban was impossible in the economic interest of the nation, but it allowed a partial ban on cow-slaughter. The Supreme Court also recognized that "beef was a common part of the diet of poorer Muslims, Christians, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”.
The Supreme Court in this judgment took a much clearer view of the cow-slaughter issue and upheld the Constitutional validity of laws putting a total ban on cow slaughter. The court held that:
“In the agricultural sector, use of animals for milch, draught, breeding or agricultural purposes has great importance. It has, therefore, become necessary to emphasise preservation and protection of agricultural animals like bulls and bullocks. With the growing adoption of non-conventional energy sources like bio-gas plants, even waste material have come to assume considerable value. After the cattle cease to breed or are too old to do work, they still continue to give dung for fuel, manure and bio-gas, and therefore, they cannot be said to be useless. It is well established that the backbone of Indian agriculture is, in a manner of speaking, the cow and her progeny and have on their back, the whole structure of the Indian agriculture and its economic system.”
This case reopened the debate related to ban on cattle and cow slaughter. The Supreme Court in this case suspended a government order that banned the trade of cattle for slaughter. It stressed on the hardship that the ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter had imposed. This verdict was delivered keeping in mind the livelihood of the people involved in the leather and meat industry. India is one of the largest exporter of beef in the world and a total ban on the trade of cattle for slaughter affects the livelihood of millions of people associated with this industry.
Therefore, the Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation contradicts the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The Lakshadweep Town and Country Planning Regulation, 2021, provides for the formation of Lakshadweep Planning and Development Authority and gives widespread land eviction and confiscation powers to the Lakshadweep Administration.
Article 300A of the Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law”. Although not a fundamental right, the right to property is still a constitutional right under this article and it does not give arbitrary powers to the State to evict, alter, and occupy the property of any person at will. Nonetheless, this right of a citizen to defend itself against the arbitrariness of the State is still protected under the right to equality and right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 14 and Article 21, respectively. This is emphasized by the various judgements of the Apex Court:
The new laws introduced in Lakshadweep touch upon many delicate aspects of the individual and the society – religion, lifestyle, and culture. Therefore, any legislation that is made for the archipelago must keep in mind its demographic and ecological welfare. However, in a sudden democratic turmoil, the people of Lakshadweep find themselves right in the middle of complex and unresolved battles between the rights related to property and personal liberty, and the power of the State to exercise “reasonable restrictions” on them.