Vizhinjam port: The storm that refuses to die

Fisherfolk and locals holding black flags stage a protest against Adani Groups' port development project at Vizhinjam, outside the main entrance of Adani Port in Thiruvananthapuram, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Adani Group's Vizhinjam port, which has been touted as an ambitious multi-crore project for the state, is now in a fix. The implementation has not been that smooth for the project from the very beginning. However, the protests that were in the limelight as a local issue have now grown into a hot potato for the state.

Though the Latin community is at the forefront of the present protests, Kerala Swathanthra Matsyathozhilali Federation and the National Alliance of Farmers are also among others who are part of the movement. The fishing community started an indefinite strike against the project on June 5, 2022. Since then the movement against the under-construction port has been escalating. The protesters took to the secretariat and erected pandals on the roadsides of the locality to put their concerns in the limelight.

Fishing boats lined up as a part of protest / Photo: Sreekesh S, Mathrubhumi

Facing the heat, the government had talks with representatives. However, it failed to persuade the fisherfolk to withdraw from the protest. Following that, the form of the protests changed. A large number of coastal people have been staging an intense protest outside the main entrance of the multi-purpose seaport, located nearby Mulloor, since last week pressing their seven-point charter of demands. Youngsters and women are seen at the protest sites.

According to the protesters, the construction of the port has been the major reason for increasing coastal erosion in the district. Reportedly, the same has been affecting their catch and livelihood. It is learnt that more than 70 families in the locality lost their shelters to the encroaching sea. Most of them were forced to find shelter in the nearby schools and warehouses that were converted to evacuation areas. Fear has gripped the fishing community and they believe the progress of the port construction will doom them. Many find themselves as refugees of development, even before the actualization of the project. Their demands include:

  • Ceasing of the construction work and a coastal impact study in connection with the project
  • Provision for proper rehabilitation and compensation for those who have lost their homes
  • Measures to reclaim their traditional workplaces
  • Increasing kerosene subsidy for the fishing community who face the heat of skyrocketing operational cost
  • Provision for financial assistance during trolling ban, weather-related restrictions
Police barricades vandalized by protesters / Photo: Sreekesh S, Mathrubhumi

Meanwhile, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on the other day reacted to the recent developments. While giving details of the steps being taken by the state government to address the protesters' concerns, Vijayan said the protest at Vizhinjam port was not by the fisherfolk only as in some places it appeared to be a 'pre-planned' agitation.

He also said that the concerns of fisherfolk and their plight were being viewed very seriously and the government was taking active measures to resolve their issues. Giving details of the purported measures being taken by the state government, Vijayan said administrative permission was given for constructing flats for 192 fisherfolk families at Valiyathura but the work could not commence due to some local issues.

He said that the government was considering providing rented accommodation to rehabilitate the displaced fisherfolk and the District Collector of Thiruvananthapuram has been entrusted with the task which includes fixation of rent. He also claimed that the state government has launched a Rs 2,450 crore worth project to rehabilitate the fisherfolk displaced due to coastal erosion and CRZ regulations.

On their demand for kerosene at subsidised rates, the Chief Minister said the central government does not provide enough kerosene for fishing which requires around one lakh kilolitres of the fuel annually. Of this, the Centre is allocating less than 25,000 kilolitres which is not even sufficient for agricultural and non-agricultural purposes, he claimed. He also claimed that subsidy for kerosene purchased through Matsyafed was being timely paid to the account of the fishermen.

The Chief Minister also contended that coastal erosion which was occurring around Vizhinjam was not due to the port and rather the reason was the cyclones forming in the Indian Ocean. He further said that a project like Vizhinjam port will help create new employment opportunities and fuel the growth of the economy and while there are naturally going to be some problems as part of it, the government's approach is to address and resolve the people's concerns amicably through talks.

However, the claims of the Chief Minister and similar statements by Fisheries Minister V Abdurahiman were rejected by the protesting fisherfolk, one of whose leaders told mediapersons here that the government was telling lies in the Assembly. A Latin Archdiocese priest said that the statements in the House by the ruling front amount to making fun of the fisherfolk and their plight.

He said that there was no question of them withdrawing from the protest till the port construction was stopped and added that more fisherfolk would be joining them from other parts of the state as they plan to intensify their agitation. He said the CM was speaking without knowing the facts and they will not withdraw the stir till all their demands are met.

Vizhinjam / File Photo: G Binulal, Mathrubhumi

V D Satheesan, the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, also did not accept the ruling front's claims regarding the steps they have taken.

In his speech, Satheesan said that the project commenced in 2015 when the UDF was in power and realising that it would lead to coastal erosion to a great extent and loss of thousands of fisherfolk's homes, they had come out with a rehabilitation package of Rs 471 crore for acquiring lands to construct houses and also provide education to children of the fisherfolk.

However, not a penny was spent out of that package to help the fisherfolk who lost their homes and they had to live in a cement warehouse for several years, he alleged.

If there was no agitation, the government would not have even said it will provide rented accommodation to the fisherfolk or will try to get land to build flats for them, added Satheesan.

On the kerosene subsidy issue, he said UDF had given a subsidy of Rs 25 when the fuel cost was Rs 46. He pointed out that the LDF government didn't revise the subsidy rate when the price of kerosene touched Rs 116. He said that in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, kerosene was being provided to fisherfolk for Rs 25 per litre and therefore, Kerala too should increase the subsidy it was providing.

Meanwhile, Adani Group has been facing protests across the globe for its various projects in countries like Australia and Myanmar for allegedly violating environmental norms and lobbying with politicians.

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