Scientists urge President to recall draft rules for Lakshadweep
A group of 60 scientists and researchers has requested President Ram Nath Kovind to withdraw the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021 that seeks to develop the islands as a major tourist destination, underlining that the region’s unique geography, ecology, and long human history places natural limits on the kinds of development the archipelago can support.
In a letter sent to President Kovind on Wednesday, the group sought “a serious re-evaluation” of the developmental paradigms being promoted for the archipelago and underlined that Lakshadweep, an archipelago consisting of 36 islands with an area of 32 sq km, was already among the worst affected places due to the climate crisis.
The 60 signatories to the appeal include herpetologist Romulus Whitaker, ecologist Katik Shanker, wildlife biologist Bivash Pandav, marine scientist Divya Panicker, and ecologist Harini Nagendra.
Earlier this month, a group of 93 former civil servants also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the LDAR envisages land-use, which can destroy the islands.
The regulation is among the new rules and proposals introduced in the region that has triggered loud protests in Lakshadweep. Some of the measures provide for the removal or relocation of islanders from their property for town planning. On Thursday, the Kerala high court stayed, for the time being, two decisions taken by the administrator to close dairy farms and exclude meat products from the midday meals in the island’s schools.
The group identified Lakshadweep’s inherent environmental vulnerability, LDR’s impact on local livelihood, its legal status vis-a-vis existing laws and commitments and what it described as a questionable developmental paradigm as their four key concerns around the regulation.
HT sought a response from Lakshadweep Administrator’s advisor A Anabarsu to the concerns raised by scientists but he did not respond.
The group cautioned that Lakshadweep has already “experienced catastrophic climate change-related coral mass mortality events” over the last two decades.
“Some reefs, including the capital, Kavaratti, are already eroding more than they are growing. Unless urgent action is taken now to reverse these trajectories, scientific studies conclude that between reef decline, sea-level rise, land loss, cyclones, and declining freshwater, the majority of low-lying atolls like Lakshadweep will become unlivable by mid-century.”
“Atoll islands’’ are recently formed ( less than 4000 years), low-lying (with a mean elevation generally less than 3 metre) islands. They are composed mostly of biologically derived carbonate sand, gravel and boulders, generated on coral reefs according to scientific literature referred to in the letter.
The researchers also insisted that the proposed regulation, which is designed to boost tourism, is in direct conflict with the rights of local people to land, livelihood and healthy ecosystems. Lakshadweep society, they argued, is organised around its limited land and freshwater resources. “… by granting authorities unqualified rights to appropriate land, beach and lagoon resources, the LDAR acts directly against the livelihood interests of local communities and jeopardises a way of life, and an entire economy.”
The group said LDAR is also against India’s laws like the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the Biological Diversity Act 2002, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Ecotourism Guidelines, 2019, along with international and national legal obligations.
The researchers argued that the regulation was based on the understanding that Lakshadweep is woefully underdeveloped and needs to be fast-tracked on a path of rapid growth. “This embraces a narrow interpretation of development that favours investment in physical infrastructure, high-end tourism, market mechanisms and resource exploitation over local rights, societal wellbeing and existing ecological infrastructure,” the letter said.
Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology said rapid warming in the Arabian Sea has increased the number of cyclones by 50% in the basin. “As Arabian Sea continues to warm, climate projections indicate more extremely severe cyclones in the future. The storm surges from these cyclones, along with heavy rains and a rising sea level can be a threat multiplier to islands like the Lakshadweep,” said Koll.