A government minister told on Saturday that Kerala will move on with a $900 million port project “no matter what” and is willing to use federal police to safeguard it from demonstrators obstructing development. The Adani Group’s building of the Vizhinjam port has been halted for over four months by the local fishing community, which is led by Catholic priests. They have erected a temporary shelter at the port’s entrance. The protestors are demanding a full halt to the development because they claim the massive project contributes to coastal erosion, which has affected their way of life.
The Adani Group, led by Asia’s richest man Gautam Adani, and the Kerala government, which is splitting the project’s cost with the federal government by two-thirds, have denied these claims. Over the past weekend, clashes between police and protesters resulted in over 100 injuries, including 64 officers.
Kerala’s minister of ports, Ahammed Devarkovil, stated that despite the protesters’ tenacious opposition, the state’s leadership was confident in ending the standoff and would not postpone operations. “We want to complete the port project, anyway. There can be no compromise on it “He said in an interview. The government has decided to proceed without inflicting harm on protesters because they are demonstrating in their capacity as citizens.
When challenged about Devarkovil’s remarks, a protest organizer named Fredy Solomon said that protests will continue because “the homes and lives of thousands of fishermen are at stake.” The Adani Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent by email. The corporation has repeatedly asked a state court to let the federal police defend the project so that work may resume, arguing that local police were “silent onlookers” and, therefore, not allowed to do so.
Kerala is still open to the notion of utilizing the federal Central Reserve Police Force, according to Minister Devarkovil. Devarkovil stated that his administration was hopeful that the first ship will arrive at the port by September 2024, the deadline by which Adani hopes to complete the first phase of development, even if work is still ongoing. It tries to make up for the lost time by making people work longer shifts and using more industrial equipment.
According to Gautam Adani, whose empire includes gas and energy projects as well as a ports and logistics company valued at about $23.5 billion, Vizhinjam is an “unmatched location” on the crucial east-west shipping route. According to Devarkovil, the potential offered by Vizhinjam port are unmatched in India. We’ll be ready to close deals with the Sri Lankan port.
Understanding the fishermen’s protests in Kerala against Adani’s Vizhinjam Port
The Adani Company wants to build a seaport in the Vizhinjam neighborhood of Thiruvananthapuram, and the local fisherman is protesting this. Many of the fishermen are participants in the protest, which is being led by the Latin Catholic Church. According to media reports, informal talks to put an end to the unrest have started after a week of violent protests that injured both protesters and police officers. However, it is claimed that the government is to blame for the violence in letters read at Latin Catholic churches.
Earlier, the state government responded to an Adani group appeal in the Kerala High Court asking for security personnel from the Center to protect the construction, stating that they were already providing all the necessary security but that the company was free to request more from the Centre.
To maintain safety and order in the community, we don’t need centralized troops. The Adani company has reportedly been searching for the main personnel, according to Minister of Ports Ahammad Devarkovil. But why are protests taking place in Vizhinjam against the port being built by the Adani Group? Here is all the information you require regarding the Vizhinjam port and the fishermen’s protests.
In December 2015, Oomen Chandy, a former chief minister of Kerala, laid the cornerstone for the development of the Vizhinjam port. Adani Ports Private Limited’s port, which is being constructed for Rs 7,525 crore, has subsequently missed its completion target. The port would help India’s economy and is close to important global trade lanes, claims the Adani Company. It is also crucial strategically since it will compete with Dubai, Singapore, and Colombo for some of the shipping traffic. Internally, it was connected to the network of railways, as well as to both national and regional roads.
The Adani Group will only contribute Rs 2,454 crore out of Rs 7,525 crore under the public-private partnership (PPP) model, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India that was given to the Kerala Assembly in 2017.
The remaining expenses must be covered by the state and the Center. Fishermen in the area have been demonstrating against its development for four months. They claim that the port’s development will cause extensive marine erosion, damage their homes, and wipe out their way of life.
The demonstrators built a large shelter to block the port’s entrance, with the Latin Catholic Church serving as their primary leader. In the final week of November, when the Kerala High Court approved the construction to continue, there was a confrontation between the police and the demonstrators that turned violent, injuring people on both sides. Although the government has maintained that the port won’t cause erosion, there is still a protest. The authorities accused the Latin Church of inciting the demonstration and further declared that the port’s construction will proceed.
In the first week of December 2022, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the anti-port protesters were sabotaging the state’s peace and development. It is not a protest against the administration, he said. It’s an effort to stop the state’s growth. They will not be allowed to succeed, no matter in what guise they appear, the government added, adding that it would not abandon its plans for the Vizhinjam port.
Why is the Latin Church-backed protest against the Adani port project in Vizhinjam intensifying?
At Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram, a 134-day-old agitation by fishing communities supported by the Latin Catholic Church allegedly resulted in 27 police officers being beaten up, three of whom were severely, and over 2,500 demonstrators allegedly vandalizing the local police station. The archbishop of the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Archdiocese, Thomas J. Netto, and 50 priests was among those who were accused of rioting by the police in 30 separate incidents.
The arrest of four persons who are accused of damaging trucks transporting building supplies for the port being built by the Adani Group appears to have been the catalyst for the violence. The incident has increased tensions surrounding the contentious K-Rail project, which Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF (Left Democratic Front) government bills as a significant infrastructure development initiative and aims to connect the state capital with Kasaragod and significantly reduce travel time between Kerala’s north and south.
The fisherfolk organizations contesting the Vizhinjam port contend that the project will result in significant coastal erosion and endanger their way of life. The port, according to them, will decrease their harvest by ruining the beaches and fish habitat, as well as causing regular high tides that will harm the shoreline and endanger their houses.
The demonstrators also demand the completion of a study on the seaport’s environmental effects. A combined voting bank of Latin Catholic fishermen may be found in the 20 assembly districts and the Lok Sabha districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, and Ernakulam.
The Pinarayi administration claims that the demonstrations are politically driven and that the project would not be given another chance at any price. Except for delaying building work, the government has engaged in many rounds of negotiations with the religious leaders and accepted all six of their demands.
According to the police, on November 26, some demonstrators attacked trucks and cars carrying building materials into the port construction site, which led to the detention of four people. The Vizhinjam police station was encircled the next day by 600 demonstrators, including women, according to the police, who were demanding the release of those who had been detained.
Later, 2,000 more demonstrators from the adjacent fishing villages marched to the police station, purportedly under the direction of church priests. The police station, police cars, and officers were reportedly vandalized, destroyed, and physically assaulted by the demonstrators. Before more police came, the siege lasted for about an hour.
The police claim that the violence was premeditated. “They (protesters) had carefully planned their actions. Before the incident, two young people wearing masks removed CCTV cameras that had been set up in stores close to the police station while another group was riding bikes around the area to patrol it. We have stationed about 500 police officers in the region as a precaution after the incident.
The state administration convened a reconciliation meeting on November 28, but it was unsuccessful because the demonstrators and church leaders insisted on shutting down all buildings. According to officials, the state administration is committed to taking harsh action against the demonstrators and has the support of the ruling CPI (M) in this regard.
The state administration is under pressure since May 2023 is the anticipated completion date for the Vizhinjam port. Pinarayi wants the project to be finished on schedule so he can promote Kerala as a desirable investment location and boost support for his party ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The UDF (United Democratic Front) administration under Oommen Chandy started work on the Vizhinjam port project in 2015. The Latin Catholic Church then approved it. The port, which has 30 planned berths and is intended to handle enormous “megamix” cargo ships, is anticipated to become a significant maritime hub for the nation.
The LDF’s opposition occurs as it prepares to win a second straight term in office in 2021. This leads others, in addition to the Pinarayi government, to assume that the movement has political goals. “The church has a secret agenda against the port.” The concerns brought forth by the church and the fishermen have received sympathy from the administration. However, the church hierarchy is determined to delay development, said Vizhinjam resident S. Venugopal.
The fact that several Hindu groups, like the upper caste Nair Service Society, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, and Vaikunda Swami Dharma Pracharana Sabha, favor the port project raises additional questions regarding racial division. Since the project is crucial to Kerala’s development, it must be completed as quickly as possible. State ports minister Ahammed Devarkovil stated, “We have been accommodating to the demands of the protestors and have pleaded with them to cease the protests, but to no effect.”
Edited by Prakriti Arora