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Protests against Adani port in Vizhinjam: All you need to know

What is the Vizhinjam port project and why are fisherfolk protesting against it? Why is the agitation acquiring a communal hue? We explain.

Thiruvananthapuram: Police personnel deployed to maintain law and order after a mob of agitators attacked Vizhinjam police station following the arrest of one person in connection with violent protests against the construction of Adani port, in Thiruvananthapuram, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (PTI Photo)

The protests against Adani Group’s Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited in Kerala continued to simmer Monday, with the police booking 3,000 people in connection with fishermen attacking a police station the previous night.

As many as 36 policemen and around 20 agitators were injured in the violence, which rocked the Vizhinjam region on Sunday night. In the FIR, the police have said their department incurred a loss of Rs 85 lakh in the attack.

What is the Vizhinjam port project and why are fisherfolk protesting against it? Why is the agitation acquiring a communal hue? We explain.

What is the Adani group’s Vizhinjam port project

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Then foundation stone of the the Rs 7,525 crore port, being built under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model with Adani Ports Private Limited at Vizhinjam on near Thiruvananthapuram, was laid by then Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in December 2015. It has since missed its completion deadline.

The port is to have 30 berths, and will be able to handle giant “megamax” container ships. The Adani Group has said the ultramodern port, located close to major international shipping routes, will boost India’s economy. Its location is also of strategic importance, the project’s supporters have claimed. The port is expected to compete with Colombo, Singapore, and Dubai for a share of trans-shipment traffic.

According to the Vizhinjam International Seaport website, the port’s advantages are “availability of a 20m contour within one nautical mile from the coast; minimal littoral drift along the coast, hardly any maintenance dredging required; links to national/regional road, rail network; and proximity to international shipping routes.”

Why fisherfolk are protesting

Fisherfolk have been protesting against the project for the past four months, alleging that its construction is causing massive sea erosion, taking away their livelihood and dwellings. They want an impact study conducted and the project to remain suspended until the study report comes out.

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The project construction resumed Saturday after a Kerala High Court order allowed it to, causing the standoff that led to Sunday’s violence.

The fishing community has also put forward six other demands: (i) rehabilitation of families who lost their homes to sea erosion, (ii) effective steps to mitigate coastal erosion, (iii) financial assistance to fisherfolk on days weather warnings are issued, (iv) compensation to families of those who lose their lives in fishing accidents, (v) subsidised kerosene, and (vi) a mechanism to dredge the Muthalappozhi fishing harbour in Anchuthengu in Thiruvananthapuram district.

The kerosense subsidy has been demanded by claiming that because of the project, fishermen have to venture deeper into the ocean for catch, increasing the fuel cost burden.

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The government has conceded all demands except the kerosene subsidy and halting the construction of the port.

Communal divide

While the fishermen’s protests are being supported by the Latin Catholic Church, a local people’s action committee is demanding speedy completion of the project. This committee has the backing of various Hindu community outfits like the upper caste Nair Service Society, besides OBC Hindu organisation like the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, as well as the Vaikunda Swami Dharma Pracharana, which has a considerable presence among the Nadar community in southern Kerala.

Opponents BJP and CPI(M) have made common cause over the port project, criticising the protesters.

Senior CPI(M) leader and state education minister V Sivankutty has blamed the Latin Catholic Church, alleging there is a bid to create a riot. Pro-Left media in the state had also alleged involvement of foreign funding behind the fishermen’s agitation.

BJP state president K Surendran has said the forces that had organised the protest against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant near Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, were behind the Vizhinjam protest. The Kudankulam protest was spearheaded by the Latin Catholic diocese of Tuticorin.

What the govt has said

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The government claims that the port will not cause coastal erosion.

On Monday, Kerala Port Development Minister Ahamed Devarkovil said an all-party meeting would be held over the issue.

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“The district collector was asked to convene an all-party meeting to ensure peace in the region. He would also hold discussions with the agitators. The issue is coming up before the high court on Monday. The government would also consider the outcome from the high court before deciding further action. The agitators had given an assurance at the high court that they would not obstruct the construction. Now, that assurance to the court has been breached,’’ he said.

Questions over financial viability

Apart from the fishermen’s protests, the port project has also faced questions of financial viability.

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The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, tabled in the Kerala assembly in 2017, had said the conditions of the concession agreement were not favourable to the state government. “Out of a total project cost of Rs 7,525 crore, the Adani Group needs to invest only Rs 2,454 crore. The rest of the cost would be borne by the state and the central governments,” it had said.

The CAG had said that the standard concession period for PPP projects was 30 years, but the Vizhinjam project concessionaire had been given an extra 10 years, which would allow it to reap an additional revenue of Rs 29,127 crore.

First published on: 28-11-2022 at 16:40 IST
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