“Gautam Adani’s mega port also hangs in the balance as a fishing community protests. “The 56,000-person fishing community, according to the protesters, has experienced significant coastal erosion as a result of port construction since December 2015, and further construction poses a serious threat to their way of life.
The southernmost tip of India’s Christian fishing community built an entrance blocker to prevent further development on the main road leading to billionaire Gautam Adani’s proposed Vizhinjam mega port.
The straightforward 1,200 square-foot building with a corrugated iron roof has been a hindrance since August for the nation’s first container transhipment port, a $900 million project that seeks to tap into the lucrative shipping trade flowing between juggernaut manufacturers in the East and wealthy consumer markets in the West.
Though the actual number of protesters participating in a given day is typically much lower, the shelter provides cover for about 100 plastic chairs and is decorated with banners that read “indefinite day and night protest.”
Along with other port supporters, Hindu organizations and members of the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have erected their own shelters across the street.
Up to 300 police officers equipped with batons will gather nearby every day to keep a close eye on the situation, even when there aren’t many protesters around. The top court in Kerala has ruled repeatedly that construction should proceed as scheduled, but the police have refused to comply with those orders out of fear that doing so would rekindle simmering social and religious tensions over the port.
Adani, who according to Forbes is the third-richest person in the world, is in a difficult situation and there doesn’t appear to be a simple solution.
Reuters spoke with more than a dozen protesters, port supporters, police officers, and hundreds of pages of court documents pertaining to legal actions taken by the Adani conglomerate against the state government and the protest leaders, who are Catholic priests. There seems to be no way out at this point.
The 56,000-person fishing community, according to the protesters, has experienced significant coastal erosion as a result of port construction since December 2015, and further construction poses a serious threat to their way of life.
They demand that the government halt construction and order objective studies on the impact that the port’s expansion will have on the marine ecosystem.
The Adani conglomerate intends to send heavy vehicles to the port on Friday after the court decided this week that vehicle movement should not be restricted. In October, vehicles trying to leave the port were forced to go around.
Eugine H. Pereira, the archdiocese’s vicar general, said that despite the court’s directive, the demonstrators would not be tearing down the shelter.
He said to Reuters: “If necessary, we are ready and willing to be detained in large numbers.
Adani Group asserted in a statement that the project fully complies with all legal requirements and that numerous studies conducted recently by the Indian Institute of Technology and other organizations have disproved claims that the project is to blame for shoreline erosion.
The statement reads, “In light of these conclusions by independent experts and institutions, we feel that the ongoing protests are motivated and against the interests of the state and the development of the port.”
The Kerala state government, which has been negotiating with protesters and asserts that erosion is caused by cyclones and other natural disasters, did not respond to a request for comment.
BEING AN EXAMPLE, VEDANTA
Adani, whose empire includes gas and power projects as well as a ports and logistics business valued at about $23.5 billion, has described Vizhinjam as having a “unmatched location” on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. It would be well-positioned to draw business from Singapore, Dubai, and Sri Lanka as a transhipment port because these countries are where China’s archrival has made significant port infrastructure investments.
Containers are transhipped from larger feeder vessels on specific trade lanes to mainline vessels on important trade routes. By doing this, a hub-and-spoke network is created that is more affordable and adaptable than one that only uses point-to-point shipping.
To advance with plans to complete the first phase of construction by December 2024, the Adani conglomerate has filed a lawsuit against the Kerala government for police inaction.
But according to Prakash R, a senior police officer in charge of security outside the port, he wants to avoid a repeat of the 2018 environmental protests against a Vedanta copper smelter in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, which led to 13 fatalities and the closure of the smelter.
“In order to avoid any unfavorable incidents, we are refraining from using force. What happens if someone tries or succeeds in killing themselves? Everything will end in disaster.
“The possibility that this will heighten tensions in the neighborhood cannot be ruled out. In order to prevent any such incident, we are strategically positioned between the two sides “He went on.
The port’s critics and supporters yell slogans and play loud music every day. Prakash R asserts that there is a conflict between “people of the land,” who are primarily Hindu, and “people of the sea,” who are primarily Christians and who make their living through fishing.
The fishing community constructed the shelter after years of fruitless attempts to persuade the Kerala government to take action as they watched the coast steadily erode. Due to the pandemic’s ease, protesting was also less difficult this year than in previous years.
Protesters contend that their catches have decreased as a result of the port’s construction and that once it is finished, they will have to fish much farther offshore.
The Kerala government and the Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. unit in Vizhinjam have also been sued by a group of 128 members of the nearby fishing community, who claim that erosion brought on by dredging and other construction work is destroying their homes.
In response to protesters’ demands, the state last month formed a panel to look into coastal erosion there.
Adani Group claimed in a statement that the National Green Tribunal of India, which has been examining the project’s effects, had not found any evidence of environmental or social violations.
Construction advocates accuse the protesters of impeding work on their side of the fence in their shelters.
This is about giving jobs to the many localities here, according to Mukkola G. Prabhakaran, a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kerala state council.
ADANI has taken legal action.
The protests in India remind me of the backlash Adani faced when he opened the Carmichael coal mine in Australia. Because of their concerns about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef, activists there forced Adani to lower its production targets and delay the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.
The Adani conglomerate, which is paying a third of the project’s costs while the state and federal governments are responsible for the other two-thirds, has repeatedly asked the Kerala state court for relief.
It has claimed in filings that the protests have caused the project to suffer “immense loss” and “considerable delay.” Along with threatening port officials with “dire consequences” and “constant and continuous militant” action, it has also been reported that protesters have made this claim.
More than 1,500 people allegedly broke into the port’s grounds on October 27 during a “land and sea protest,” some of whom carried iron rods to the main gate. Additionally, a fishing boat was burned.
Pereira responded as follows when questioned about the claim: “Any kind of violence is not supported or encouraged by us. We’ve always held nonviolent protests.
A federal police presence has also been demanded by the Adani conglomerate, which has referred to the Kerala state police as “mute spectators.” The court will hold its next hearing to address Adani’s complaints on Monday.
Although the tense standoff is still ongoing, protesters assert that if police begin to remove the shelter, they can quickly gather. Protest leaders can keep an eye on the situation on their phones thanks to a live feed from four CCTV cameras at the scene.
“Anything we can do to protect our way of life will be done. Joseph Johnson, a protesting fisherman, says, “Do or die.”
Edited by Prakriti Arora