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Lakshadweep islands residents complain against a “political-corporate” nexus, India


Lakshadweep residents are believed to be descendants of migrants who arrived from the Malabar Coast of southwest India. Ethnically and linguistically similar to Kerala, they have strong links with this state. They are mostly Muslims. There are in 2021 several conflicts having to do with BJP plans in the islands (with 70,000 inhabitants). Some conflicts are linked to religion, and food habits (Hindutva principles), and others to the impact on ecology and fisherfolk of large so-called developmental projects which may undermine the livelihood of the fishing community. On 8th June 2021, it was reported: "The entire Lakshadweep went on a 12-hour hunger strike protesting against the Union Territory administration and Administrator Praful Khoda Patel for sanctioning "anti-people" policies. Residents held placards outside their homes, on charpoys and even underwater with slogans like "Revoke LDAR" (Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation) and "Justice for Lakshadweep". People supporting the movement bombarded social media platforms with #SaveLakshadweep and pictures of the mass protest. But what is the protest all about?" [5]. 

In 2021 people of the archipelago, backed by some from the mainland, protested a series of new regulations being pushed by the Union Territory’s controversial Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel.  This BJP Gujarat politician at the helm maintains that the reforms are aimed at development. Residents of Lakshadweep are up in arms against the sweeping reforms to be imposed on them in the name of so-called development. After his appointment, Patel opened the islands to tourists after having done away with the stipulation for mandatory Covid quarantine of the island-bound travelers in Kochi and in Lakshadweep. The previous Administrator had ensured the quarantine because of scarce medical facilities.  The opening of islands meant that Lakshadweep, which had been declared a COVID-free region last year, ended up with 6,847 cases until May 24. 2021. This is just one of the points of disagreement. 

Patel introduced the draft regulation for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR 2021), which is being seen by the residents as an attempt to take over the small landholdings of the islanders at the behest of real estate sharks. The islanders, 98% of whom belong to the Scheduled Tribes, have been attempting to mobilize public opinion against these draft regulations. Over 3,000 responses were sent to the Administrator demanding that the draft regulations be withdrawn. These draft regulations state that any area in the island can be declared as “area of bad layout or obsolete development” by the government through the publishing of a Development Plan in accordance with the procedure established in the LDAR 2021, irrespective of the fact that whether such an area is inhabited by the local population or not.

Members of the fishing community hold ‘customary ownership’ of land on the beachfront for centuries, even on remote uninhabited islands. The beachfront and lagoons, where the fishermen park their boats and dry fish, are linked to their survival and to the economic development of the islands. Naveen Namboothri is a marine biologist who has worked in these islands for many years. He says that “These are the spaces where most of the tourism development activities will be concentrated bringing them in direct conflict with livelihood needs of the local fishers. Fishing is the largest revenue generator and livelihood provider on these islands”.  Large resorts, hotels and other facilities catering to tourists may pose a threat to the atolls’ local ecology, which is very sensitive. The  “carrying capacities of these islands are very limited, particularly freshwater availability. So, the ecological cost of large developmental projects will be high on these fragile islands”. “Coral reefs play a very critical role in protecting these islands from adverse weather conditions. They need to be protected. Damage to the coral reefs will leave islands – many of which are under sea level – extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change” [1][2].

The central government’s expenditure finance committee is poised to consider a proposal for developing hotel projects under the garb of eco-tourism at Kadmat and Suheli islands in Lakshadweep regardless of the fact that the Maldivian type of tourism development envisaged by the powers-that-be is resisted by locals as well as environmentalists. The planned hotel projects are to come up at an estimated cost of INR 240 crore to 247 crores respectively. The government planning body, the Niti Ayog, and the Union Home Ministry have been reportedly planning 10 hotels since 2018. Such large-scale projects are not only a threat to the environment but appear to be inconsiderate to the immediate economic needs of the locals.  Marine biologists say that the waters around the islands are home to a variety of threatened and endangered marine life, such as green turtles, sea cucumbers, giant clams, and corals, which will be destroyed by unbridled and large-scale tourism. “Beneath seemingly barren white sand, grows an entire grassland. Tiny tips of smooth, waxy seagrass gently break the grainy surface, and if left undisturbed, will grow into a lush meadow in a few years, waving their green fronds as far as the eye can see,” said an article in The Hindu in March 2021. According to marine biologist Rohan Arthur, the shallow lagoons are protected from the open sea by an outer coral reef; which reduces the impact of wave action, preventing beach erosion and protecting the islands’ limited freshwater supply. “The healthy seagrass meadows in lagoons, crucial nurseries for many reef fish, also have high soil-binding capacities. Lagoon seagrasses help stabilize beaches and prevent beach erosion,” Arthur is quoted as saying [3].

 Pointing out the dangers arising from rash development plans, 114 scientists from more than 30 universities and research institutes urged the stoppage of such tourism projects. Their petition points out that beaches and lagoons are where islanders fish for their daily consumption. Lagoon fish are the backbone of Lakshadweep’s famous sustainable and indigenous tuna fishery industry. The beaches are heavily used as the catch is processed and sundried on these sands. With tourism, and the spatial restrictions it could bring, locals fear that they will not be able to use the beaches or lagoons for their traditional livelihoods, the scientists warned. Rohan Arthur points out that the inhabited islands where the villas are to be built are already reeling under a water crisis. A “Save Lakshadweep Forum” (SLF) has become active [3].

 For Alif Jaleel, a young sociologist from Lakshadweep, the current crisis emerged because, among other reasons, the administration wants to “grab” people’s land. He said the administration’s excuse of development is meaningless, as people in Lakshadweep are happy with their traditional, eco-friendly and simple lifestyle. “The only issue we have is the lack of sufficient healthcare facilities,” he added. The region has an advanced literacy rate and the lowest crime rate in the country. Alif, who currently pursues his PhD at Pondicherry University, feels a harmful “political-corporate nexus” is at play in Lakshadweep. Besides, he said, “There’s a planned effort to divert public attention from various failures of the Narendra Modi government.” He also said that Lakshadweep has a unique cultural and religious identity that does not fit well with the Hindutva idea of “monolithic Indian culture” advocated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP [4]. The actions of the Administrator Praful Khoda Patel seem to be part of a three-pronged strategy – pave way for big players in the tourism sector, restrict cultural-religious freedom, and cut off links with Kerala [7].



Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lakshadweep islands residents complain against a “political-corporate” nexus, India
State or province:Union Territory of Lakshadweep
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Fish
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Lakshadweep, also known as Laccadives, is a Union Territory of India. It is an archipelago of 36 islands in the Arabian sea, located 200 to 440 km off of the Malabar Coast. In 2021, a new administrator enacted some rules, directed towards land grabbing for the benefit of the hotel industry. The majority of the inhabitants are fisher people, who have evolved through centuries as stakeholders of local ecosystems and developed identities fundamentally intertwined with nature. As reported in The Hindu (6), the latest draft regulation for the creation of a Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) is resented as the people suspect that this might have been issued at the behest of ‘real estate interests’ seeking to usurp the small holdings of property owned by the islanders, a majority of them (94.8% as per the 2011 census) belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. Hundreds of islanders wrote to the Administrator demanding that the proposed regulation, which makes “provision for the orderly and progressive development of land in both urban and rural areas and to preserve and improve the amenities thereof; for the grant of permission to develop land and for other powers of control over the use of land; to confer additional powers in respect of the acquisition and development of land for planning and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid” be withdrawn [6].

The forced imposition of ‘development’ would cause a social and economic crisis among the community and also lead to cultural erasure. This assault by the current regime is also in line with its well-known hatred for Muslim populations [7]. There has been local resistance from all political parties, also from marine biologists in India. On June 2021, Lakshadweep residents observed a 12-hour fast and daylong strike on June 7, in protest against administrator Praful Khoda Patel’s recent moves.

In addition to people native to Lakshadweep – living in the mainland and abroad – many Kerala residents also fasted in solidarity, according to organizers. "The call for the Monday protest was the first major announcement by the Save Lakshadweep Forum, which was formed in late May. The Forum has demanded both the removal of Patel as the administrator and the repeal of all the contentious measures taken by his administration. The joint platform has leaders of various political parties in Lakshadweep, including Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Janata Dal (United), Left parties and also Bharatiya Janata Party as its members. The Forum has a central committee and island-wise subcommittees" [4].

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:70,000
Start of the conflict:2020
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The 'Save Lakshadweep forum' in the islands and in Kerala

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Hunger strikes and self immolation


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Other Environmental impactsImpact on marine biology
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Fostering a culture of peace
Proposal and development of alternatives:Lakshadweep residents went on a 12-hour hunger strike in June 2021 against land grabbing for tourist hotels and against newly imposed rules governing tourism, cattle, and panchayat elections, which they fear will destroy the unique culture and tradition of the island, home to around 70,000 residents. According to Vikalp Sangam [7], on the contrary, what is needed is:

- Withdraw immediately Lakshadweep’s Administrator Praful Khoda Patel and replace him by an I.A.S cadre officer as previously done.
- Suspend the plans for on-shore and off-shore development of Lakshadweep for high-end tourism, and make Kavaratti into a “smart city”.
- Conduct social and environmental impact assessments of all proposed ‘development initiatives’ with transparent public hearings and consultations and involving local people as well as those who have been working for the conservation of biodiversity in the region; explore decentralized and regenerative alternatives in participation with the local people privileging the local livelihood needs and the ecosystems.
- Restore the powers of Local Self Governments with immediate effect.
- Withdraw, in the public interest, the draft Regulations and other measures like relaxing alcohol restrictions, relaxing Covid quarantine, etc.
- Withdraw the ban on beef and respect the food habits of the local people.
- Scrap the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation, 2021.
- Rollback the move to bypass the islander’s trade links with Baypore and move it to Mangalore; do not tamper with the historical, economic and cultural connection of the islanders with Kerala.
- Stop the repressive measures and legal action by the UT administration against people rightfully and peacefully protesting these authoritarian measures.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The BJP administrator was enacting his own rules and planning his vision of "development". He belongs to BJP party. The islands are a Union Territory. Environmental aspects come together with cultural aspects. The BJP administrator has changed school weekly holiday from Friday (for Muslims) to Sunday.

Sources & Materials

[1] Lakshadweep’s draft land regulations by Centre-appointed Administrator last nail for simmering islanders. Ashlin Mathew. 25 May 2021 . National Herald

[2] Money Control. Lakshadweep up in arms. May 28, 2021 / By Nachiket Deuskar May 28, 2021 / By Nachiket Deuskar

[3] The Citizen. P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 2 JULY, 2021.

[4] The Wire, 8 June 2021. 'Lakshadweep's First United Protest in History': UT Residents Fast, Strike Against Patel Admin

The Save Lakshadweep Forum has said that the daylong protest against administrator Praful Khoda's decisions on June 7 could be one of the first times the peaceful islands have stirred unitedly. By Muhammed Sabith.

[6] The Hindu. Widespread resentment in Lakshadweep over a slew of bad law proposals. S. AnandanKOCHI, MAY 24, 2021.

The Diplomat. Lakshadweep: Trouble in Paradise?. A series of controversial changes by a BJP appointee is causing concern on the island chain. By Sudha Ramachandran. June 01, 2021

Sudha Ramachandran

By Sudha Ramachandran

June 01, 2021

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[5] Lakshadweep: What's At The Heart Of Protest Against The Administrator | [email protected] ( News Desk) 08-06-2021

[7] Vikalp Sangam protests regressive moves in Lakshadweep in India — by Vikalp Sangam Core Group — 12/06/2021 (excellent analysis).

Video protest June 2021. Lakshadweep

Newsminute.Geetika Mantri. An assault on culture and nature: Why Lakshadweep is against Administrator Patel. 25 May 2021.

Meta information

Last update08/01/2022
Conflict ID:5786



Source: the Wire

Source: the Wire


Source: Indian Express, 2 June 2021. Vishnu Varma. Explained: Why Lakshadweep Administration proposals have upset its locals.