Kerala: Adani's Vizhinjam mega port project stalled as fisherfolk protest
A shelter built by protesting fisherfolk has been hindering the construction of billionaire Gautam Adani's mega port in the Vizhinjam region of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The project, worth $900 million, is set to be India's first transshipment port, which could disrupt the existing shipping trade by becoming a flexible and economical alternative. However, protesters allege the port will disrupt their livelihoods and erode the coast.
Why does this story matter?
- The port's construction began in December 2015. The fisherfolk claim since then, the size of their catch has significantly reduced, forcing them to go out further into the sea.
- The fisherfolk erected the shelter in August 2022 after years of failed pleas. The community is mostly Christian, while the port supporters are predominantly Hindu.
- The administration fears the protest could take a communal turn.
Port supporters, BJP members set up shelter opposite to protesters
Last month, vehicles that tried exiting the port had to retreat following protests. However, earlier this week, the Kerala High Court ordered that vehicle movement shouldn't be blocked, which the protesters agreed to. Meanwhile, in support of the project, Hindu groups and members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have set up shelters opposite the protesters' shelter.
Construction must proceed unhindered: Kerala HC
The Kerala High Court has repeatedly ruled that the project must proceed without hindrance. But the police are reluctant to act against the protesters, fearing it could spark communal tensions. Protester claim it will ruin the lives of around 56,000 fisherfolk. They are demanding that the construction be halted and independent studies be conducted into the port project's impact on the marine ecosystem.
Fisherfolk sue Adani Ports, SEZ Ltd., and state government
The leaders of the archdiocese spearheading the protests refused to remove the shelter despite court orders. Moreover, a group of 128 members of the fishing community living near the port filed a case against the Vizhinjam unit of Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited along with the Kerala government. They claim the project resulted in coastal erosion and also destroyed their homes.
Coastline erosion caused by cyclones: Kerala government
On the other hand, the state government maintains that coastal erosion was caused by cyclones and other natural disasters. Heeding the pleas of protesters, last month, the government constituted a panel to study coastal erosion there. In a statement, the Adani Group said various studies, including that conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), have cleared the project of allegations of shoreline erosion.
Police fears a Thoothukudi replay
Around 300 policemen are currently monitoring the situation. Senior police personnel said they were focused on avoiding any untoward incident, such as the 2018 environmental protests against the Vedanta copper smelter in Tamil Nadu. The police opened fire on protesters, which led to 13 deaths, and the smelter was closed. Meanwhile, supporters of the Adani project accuse the protesters of posing hurdles to development.
Adani bats for intervention of federal police
The project is jointly undertaken by the Kerala and Union governments and the Adani Group, which is bearing one-third of the cost. The conglomerate has filed a case against the state government alleging police inaction and demanded federal police be brought in. Earlier this month, the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPI(M)] and their arch-rivals, the BJP, came together in support of the project.