For K Ubaidulla, a fisherman in Kavaratti Island in Lakshadweep, life has turned upside down after the arrival of the new controversial administrator and the new reforms that he has brought in.
He is one among the 102 natives of Kavaratti Island to have received eviction notices by the authorities who want to demolish their houses citing violations of the law. Ubaidulla was born in Kavaratti, and when he grew up he took up his father’s occupation, fishing. He is living in the same house, where his father and grandfather lived.
“My ancestors have been living here even before independence. This is my ancestral property. I inherited it from my father and have been living here since my birth,” said Ubaidulla.
Ubaidulla, who stopped his education after his 10th standard and turned to fishing, is baffled by the sudden developments that have unsettled the peaceful life of the islanders. He does not have a clue why he has been asked to move out of his ancestral property one sudden morning.
A few weeks ago, his elder daughter who has been working as a project coordinator in the fisheries department, was relieved of her post. She was one among the hundreds of temporary employees who were terminated by the new administrator. Ubaidulla’s younger son who was employed with the Forest department too lost his job.
Fishing has come to a halt in the island for the past few months due to the pandemic. Hence, Ubaidulla also is jobless. Now he has been running from pillar to post to protect his property. On his writ petition, the Kerala High Court issued an interim order staying the proceedings of eviction asking the administration to furnish a counter affidavit in four weeks.
“The Lakshadweep administration is using the same laws meant for the protection of the islanders by misinterpreting them,” pointed out advocate Rohit, the counsel for Ubaidulla and Khalid, another native of Kavaratti Island who has also been served notice for eviction.
The ongoing disruptive actions by the administration are blatant violations of natural justice according to experts.
The main contention raised by the administration to justify eviction is that the houses have been constructed without having a ‘diversion certificate’ as mandated by the Laccadive Minicoy and Amini Islands Land Revenue and Tenancy Regulation Act of 1965.
Another reason cited for the eviction is that the constructions violate the Island Management Plan of 2015. “The houses are built by their ancestors in 1950s, in those days, no such specific permission was required for constructing houses in one’s own land. The tenancy regulation Act came into existence in 1965 and the Integrated Island Management Plan came only in 2015. The laws in India are only prospective if not specified otherwise. So, it is absolutely irrational to ask for demolishing the houses,” said advocate Rohit.
According to the Integrated Island Management Plan of 2015, no constructions are allowed within 20 meters from the high tide line. Ubaidulla, Khalid and many other islanders argue that due to consistent sea erosion, the coastal land is being slowly swallowed by the sea.
Ubaidulla said that he had made several efforts to erect a sea wall in their locality. “I have submitted several representations to the government for getting a sea wall constructed. The officers pay a visit, raise some technical issues and it went on and on. I started this in 2009 and quit all such efforts in 2019 as I got fed up,” added Ubaidulla.
Latheef, a native of Kalpeni Island, a coconut farmer has received a notice from the administration to demolish the temporary sheds he had constructed for storing his coconuts. According to Latheef, he knows of 18 people in Kalpeni who have so far been served with eviction notices.
The land which the administration is targeting for eviction and demolition is in Cheriyam Dweep. This is a small island adjacent to Kalpeni where people own private lands. The notice served to Latheef on June 24 2021 cited the same reason given for evictions in Kavaratti – the violation of the diversion clause in the Land Revenue and Tenancy Regulation Act of 1965. (This Act stipulates that land which is used for any other purpose other than the originally intended purpose needs to get a ‘diversion certificate’).
“I was told that the temporary sheds have to be demolished because the land is used for a different purpose other than agriculture without a certificate (Diversion Certificate), but we use these temporary sheds only to store coconut,” said Latheef, who is just not able to comprehend the rationale behind the actions initiated by the administration.
The property, for which the eviction notice has been served, is his ancestral property owned by his family for three generations. “My father, grandfather and great-grandfather lived here and we own this property even before independence. What can we do if we are asked to leave our property all on a sudden”? asked an anxious Latheef.
Lakshadweep is a scheduled area declared under the Scheduled Areas (Part A – States) Order 1950 and the islanders are commonly treated as scheduled tribes as per the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) (Union Territories) Order, 1951.
“From the inception of the colonial administration, the notified tribal areas have been treated distinctly from other areas. Tribal people were protected from exploitation; their rights and title to enjoy the lands in their occupation and their autonomy, culture and ecology were preserved,” said Rohit, the lawyer.
Article 240 of the Constitution prevented the transfer of the land in a scheduled area to a member of the non-tribal community.
The eviction and demolition drive in Lakshadweep began in April by demolishing the sheds constructed by fishermen for storing their fishing equipments. On April 24 and 25, a large area in Kavaratti has been cleared by demolishing the sheds. The counsel for the administration informed the court that the sheds were being used for ‘illegal activities’.
Section 3 of the Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands (Protection of Scheduled Tribes) Regulation, 1964 states that ‘No land held or occupied by a member of the Scheduled Tribes shall be liable to attachment or sale in execution of any decree or order of a civil or revenue court. Any transfer, attachment or sale of any land made in contravention of this section shall be void’.
The law is crystal clear. The people of Lakshadweep cannot be evicted without due process of law.