Jeddah: India’s Union Territory of Lakshadweep, with a population of 100 percent Muslims, is currently witnessing a massive development boom, thanks to the vigorous efforts being made by its young and dynamic member of Parliament P.P Mohammed Faizal with an unflinching support from the government of India.
In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Faizal spoke at length about the measures that have been taken to improve the infrastructure facilities and attract investments into Lakshadweep, which consists of 10 inhabited and 16 uninhabited islands in the Arabian Sea.
Faizal, who belongs to the opposition Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has been elected to the Lok Sabha after defeating Mohammed Hamdulla Sayeed of the Indian National Congress in the general elections held in 2014.
Within a short span after becoming MP, Faizal is a celebrity of island people. His fans call him as the ‘New G Icon’ of Lakshadweep while he is familiarly called Faizal Muthon by common folk, including the young, elderly and women.
“I found that people of Lakshadweep have enjoyed very little fruits of development in the past and I seized the golden opportunity to serve the people by bringing in development in almost all spheres of their life with the full support of the new government led by Narendra Modi,” he said.
As a Congress bastion, the Lakshadweep constituency was represented in the Lok Sabha by the veteran Congress leader and former federal Minister P.M. Sayeed for 10 terms from 1967 till 2004. His son Hamdulla Sayeed represented the constituency from 2009 to 2014. However, the people of Lakshadweep did not see much development during this long period spanning four decades as it was reeling under the giant feet of corruption, nepotism and injustice brought out by bureaucracy. Faizal was instrumental in ending the monopoly of Sayeed family in the island’s parliamentary politics.
“The Congress party, represented by Sayeed saab, was the deep-rooted political entity in the island. There have been two sides always in the island – Congress party and the anti-Congress forces that keep on changing their names and parties.
"Earlier, it was Janata Dal; then came Lakshadweep Vikasana Samithi, and later it was the turn of Janata Dal United. Finally the people of the island gave its mandate to NCP", he said.
“Sayeed saab represented the island for 36 years but when the son Hamdulla held the reins the situation further worsened. Born and brought up in Delhi, he used to spend most of the time in Delhi and hardly visited the island.
"This was an opportunity for me to take up the forgotten development issues of the territory and win the hearts of people after cashing in on the growing discontent. It was fortunate that my candidature was declared very early and that helped me step in to all households in the island and establish an intimacy with each and every voter. In the tough fight, the youngsters stood with me and gave me a commendable margin as far as the island is concerned. Those who had voted for Sayeed saab for several decades switched their allegiance toward me,” he said.
Though representing the opposition in parliament, Faizal is very happy with the Modi government in supporting the island people irrespective of the political differences.
“The government helped a lot and all the ministers are helpful in meeting our demands. For the first time, a political nominee has been appointed as the administrator. Earlier, it was IAS officers who come for two years and enjoy and go back.
Bureaucrats are at the helm of affairs and they do not have any commitment to people or to any development matters. Farooq Khan, a retired IPS officer and director general of police in Kashmir, is the new administrator. He was the national secretary of BJP for the northeast.
“I see this is a good sign that any person with a political background can bring more results than a bureaucrat, whose upper limit of accessibility could be the Home Secretary and above this he may not have access to either home minister or even prime minister. But for a political nominee like Khan, no such boundaries are set and he can meet the PM and any other leaders without any restrictions", Faizal said.
Apart from backing a political nominee as administrator, Faizal also demands for a legislative assembly for the island.
“I raised this demand in my speech in the parliament, vindicating my firm conviction that a democratically elected body is indispensable for the overall development of the island. There is only one democratically elected person to represent the island and there is no elected body so as to fulfill the people’s aspirations and demands,” he said while calling for a political decision to set up at least a legislative council for Lakshadweep.
Lack of connectivity
Faizal, who came to perform Haj, explained about the development boom being witnessed in Lakshadweep in various sectors. He said connectivity is one of the major problems facing the island people.
“My top priority was to bridge the gap of connectivity between the mainland and the island. I have submitted prospective connectivity plan for the next 15 years. Under this, we are going to get five more ships, of which three for passengers and two for tourism, apart from the existing eight passenger ships. The scheduling of the ships in the best way possible is the charm of connectivity", he said.
Faizal also identified lack of communications as a major handicap.
“Connecting the island people with mobile and Internet facility is still in a premature stage. I have taken the issue with India’s Ministry of Communications and subsequently a delegation from the Telephone Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) visited the island in July 2014 and it gave two suggestions.
"One is improving the present infrastructure, and secondly establishing the satellite connectivity, which is very expensive. We have very limited bandwidth and need cables. To expand bandwidth, we need around Rs300 million. The government of India has agreed to establish more infrastructure facilities like towers and antennas so as to provide the people with 3G connection by December,” he said.
Faizal, an MBA graduate from the University of Calicut, has been vigorously pursuing a development agenda and striving hard to get them implemented in all major sectors in Lakshadweep.
He identifies health, education, tourism, fisheries, and communications as the five major pillars that need massive development in the island. Improving the health sector is one of the main priorities that Faizal embarked as a deputy. Fulfilling the dream of smart insurance card is the major achievement of Faizal in this respect.
“There are no specialist hospitals in the island. Those who need better treatment have to be evacuated to Kochi by helicopter. This incurs huge expenses for both the government and people for whom medical expenses are quite unaffordable,” he said, adding that this prompted him to work hard to bring all people, including government employees, under a comprehensive insurance coverage.
“Everything has been finalized to issue smart health insurance smart card, which initially will cover 33 percentage of people and gradually the entire people within a year. Around 10,000 government employees will come under the government scheme of insurance.”
Faizal also explained about the efforts being made to improve health infrastructure. We had a 100-bed hospital developed in Agatti island under the public private participation (PPP) model. We are going to implement this model in four other most populous islands – Minicoy, Amini, Androth and Kavratti, which is the headquarter island.
The island’s administration will finance the construction with outsourcing of doctors. Now we are waiting for the concurrence of India’s Home Ministry, and after getting this, we will pursue tendering procedures, he said.
Giant leap in education
Faizal also explained the giant steps taken to develop the education sector.
“Now, Lakshadweep has facilities only for higher secondary education. For the university education, the students need to go to Kerala or other Indian states and for this government of India gives scholarships. An increase in the amount of scholarship was the much sought after demand since 2006.”
“One of my election promises was to increase the amount of scholarship, and in the first speech in parliament I raised this issue. Within two months, I personally went to the Ministry of Human Resources Development and sat there until completing the procedures, and vigorously followed the case and succeeded in the effort. The ministry has sanctioned doubling of the scholarship for students from 8th class up to university research studies, and the students for undergraduate courses alone getting Rs.9,000", he said.
Since 2008, Faizal noted, teachers were hired provisionally on contract basis and it had affected the quality of education adversely.
“It was my proposal for the creation of 120 permanent posts of graduate teachers and my efforts have been crowned with success with approval was accorded for creation of 76 posts of teachers and all of them hired from the island.
"I have allotted a total of 1,275 tabs for all plus one and two students, by spending Rs.16.5 million from my local MP fund. All measures have been taken to improve the quality of education and upgrading the standard of teachers per CBSE rules, with modifying one class room as smart class in two schools from each island", he said.
Vast scope for tourism, fisheries
Faizal said that tourism is the major sustainable industry that the islanders can make a good earning.
“We focus on controlled tourism in a way preserving our ecology, which is very fragile. We have prepared different tourism policies and guidelines for our inhabited and uninhabited islands. We are looking for high and low volume tourists with specific guidelines and a ban on liquors,” he said while inviting investors into this vital field.
Faizal also drew attention to the huge potential to develop fisheries in his constituency.
“Though Lakshadweep’s total area covers only 32 square kms, it boasts of having an exclusive economic zone of 402,000 square kms of sea water. Lakshadweep’s annual potential of fish is 100,000 metric tons but only 15,000 tons are being tapped now,” he said while urging investors to pool money into the island, which abounds in the best tuna in the world.”
He noted that there is only one fish landing area with break water in Lakshadweep that is in Androth but all other islands have reefs. Setting up a high tech fish market in Androth is the need of the hour. I have a plan of a most modernized fish market with biogas plant and recreation facility in place of very small fish market that was established in 1968. The foundation stone for the Rs.10 million market was laid.
Referring to the efforts to improve the sports and recreation facilities for the islanders, Faizal, who hails from Androth island, said that Sports Authority of India (SAI) has approved an institute for Lakshadweep.
“We expect affiliation for the main SAI center in Androth. I am also giving fund to build synthetic track in one of the islands", he said.
Dr. K.K. Muhammed Koya, founder of Lakshadweep NCP, is the mentor of Faizal, who served earlier as the general secretary of Lakshadweep Students Association.
Faizal, who worked as project associate in Lakshadweep Tourism Department from 2010 to 12, is now member of NCP National Working Committee and chief whip in the parliamentary party. He also serves as member of Home Ministry’s standing committee, and Haj and Waqf committee.