The Lakshadweep administration on Saturday issued fresh tenders for the construction of 370 villas to boost tourism in the ecologically-fragile Kadmat, Minicoy and Suheli islands, despite opposition from scientists.

The public-private partnership project, proposed by government’s think-tank NITI Aayog and the Ministry of Home Affairs, aims to build Maldives-like beach and water villas on the islands. The initial investment for the project is Rs 266 crore, and additional investment amounts to Rs 788 crore, The Hindu reported. Developers will be granted 75 years to raise funds and complete the tourism project.

In January 2020, 114 scientists from over 30 universities had flagged the dangers posed by the project to the islands’ lagoons and beaches. They urged the Lakshadweep administration to rethink their decision, wildlife biologist-turned-journalist Aathira Perinchery wrote in an article for The Hindu.

In June this year, 60 scientists and researchers had also urged President Ram Nath Kovind to withdraw the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, which empowers the administration to acquire any piece for development.

“It [the draft LDAR] will severely threaten the future survival of these beautiful atolls and its inhabitants,” the signatories said in a petition, according to Carbon Copy, a news website tracking developments in the climate and energy sector. “All these inshore reefs and underwater grasslands may be in deep peril if an ambitious tourism project – involving the construction of beach and water villas offering 370 rooms – becomes a reality.”

Experts also fear that the decision may exacerbate climate change effects on the islands.

Asker Ali, the nodal officer for the tourism project, told Carbon Copy that necessary permissions have been taken for the project. “People have the right to live a better life, access better education, amenities and development,” he said.

Also read: As Lakshadweep protests development plans, study urges safeguarding islands from future sea rise

The official added: “We welcome all criticism and suggestions of our scientists and conservationists , as it will only help us to improve. However, we want to assure we are sensitive towards coral reefs, which are a paradise for tourists and means of livelihood for local people. Why would we destroy that?”

In May, Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel had issued a slew of regulations for the islands, triggering outrage among the residents. Apart from the draft law proposing sweeping changes in land development regulations, it includes a proposed cow slaughter ban and a preventive detention law.

On June 7, the residents of Lakshadweep sat for a 12-hour-long hunger strike and staged demonstrations at beaches and their homes in protest against the proposed regulations.

Opposition parties have also criticised Patel’s decisions related to the Union Territory and demanded his removal from the post. The parties accused him of harassing locals and destroying the heritage of the island territory. Politicians have also alleged that Patel, who had served as Gujarat home minister, has been targeting Lakshadweep’s large Muslim population.

On June 5, a group of 93 former civil servants wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concern over the proposed regulations. They also demanded Patel’s removal for the post.

In May, the Kerala government passed a resolution against the policies and urged the Centre to call back the administrator.