Kerala wants seaport 'at any cost', against fishermen (and Church)
The state’s ports minister is ready to deploy security forces to ensure the US$ 900-million project by the Adani Group gets done. Local priest is outraged by “police atrocity” and agents provocateurs acting on the company’s behalf. Despite threats, fishermen announce all-out action to defend the local economy.
Delhi (AsiaNews) – Kerala will complete "at any cost" the controversial megaproject, worth about US$ 900 million, which has thrust the spotlight on the local Catholic Church and Archbishop Thomas J Netto of Thiruvananthapuram, who has been accused, along with, his priests, of causing protests that have resulted in violence.
The issue concerns the construction of a new port, the Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport (also simply known as the Vizhinjam Port) by the Adani Group, an Indian multinational conglomerate led by founder Gautam Adani (Asia’s richest man).
The seaport has become a pet project for the Kerala state government, which is ready to deploy police forces to let work go ahead and get it built.
Bur for Fr James Culas, training coordinator at the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum, what is happening in Vizhinjam is a firm of “police atrocity”.
Things got worse when workers linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and groups linked to Adani and the seaport construction “pelted stones at the protestors” who had blocked the road, triggering an escalation.
“Given police support for the provocateurs, it was clear that the move was meant to deliberately provoke the protesting fisher folk and clergy who had conducted their agitation peacefully for 130 days,” Culas told AsiaNews.
The local fishing community, led by Catholic leaders, have blocked the Vizhinjam seaport construction for almost four months, setting up a makeshift shelter at the site entrance.
Protesters say the huge project would eventually result in coastal and seabed erosion, undermining their main livelihood. Supported by the Church, they demand its complete cancellation.
The Adani Group and the State of Kerala, which is paying for two thirds of the construction costs, deny the allegation.
Clashes between police and protesters last weekend injured more than 100 people, including 64 policemen.
Demonstrators do not intend to back down, despite threats from Ports Minister Ahammad Devarkovil to deploy security forces. The minister explained that the government intends to resolve the deadlock, but there will be no backtracking.
“We want to complete the port project no matter what. No compromise can be made on that," he said in the face of civilian protests. “The government's position is to take this forward without inflicting any harm" on protesters, he added.
Faced with threats from top state officials, protest leader Fredy Solomon said that the mobilisation would continue as long as the “homes and livelihoods of thousands of fishermen are at stake.”
The Adani Group wants to complete the first phase by December 2024, but the government hopes to speed up construction through extra work gangs to make up for lost time in order to see the first ship dock at the port by September next year.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)