Adani-promoted Vizhinjam international seaport makes CPI(M) and BJP strange bedfellows

The political polar opposites are batting for the early completion of the project without addressing concerns raised by the coastal community.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 02, 2022 | 12:46 AM Updated Nov 02, 2022 | 10:32 AM

CPI(M)

Protests by fisherfolk against the upcoming ₹7,500-crore Vizhinjam deep-sea port project, promoted by corporate major Adani Group, off the coast of Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram caused a strange kind of bonhomie on Tuesday, 1 November.

Political rivals BJP and CPI(M) extended solidarity to the groups demanding early completion of the project without addressing any of the environmental and livelihood concerns raised by the coastal community.

CPI(M) Thiruvananthapuram district secretary and state committee member Anavoor Nagappan and BJP district president VV Rajesh were the key speakers when a mammoth rally involving members of the Nair Service Society (NSS), Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), Viswakarmasabha, Vaikunta Swamy Dharma Pracharana (VSDP) Sabha, Kerala Thandan Mahasabha, Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha, and Nadar Service Forum reached the state secretariat premises on Monday evening.

Unlikely pairing

The day-long rally, which began from the construction site at Vizhinjam, raised slogans against the agitating fisherfolk and the powerful archdiocese of the Latin Catholic Church that backs the protest, which completed 105 days on Tuesday.

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The under-construction Adani seaport at Vizhinjam. (South First)

Rajesh, who represented the ruling NDA at the Centre, and Nagappan, who represented Kerala’s ruling LDF, said both parties would support any movement or formation that mounted public opinion against the agitating fish workers and those who supported them.

They also clarified that Adani was implementing the project as a joint initiative involving the Centre and the state. The leaders also claimed that any delay in the construction works would adversely affect the state’s overall growth and economic boom.

The march had begun a few hours after the Kerala High Court ruled that the pandal erected by agitating fisherfolk at Mulloor, the entry point to the construction site, must be removed as it prevents the movement of construction materials.

Even while recognising the right of the fisherfolk to continue the agitation, the court directed the police to ensure that there was no hindrance to the resumption of construction work, which has been stagnant for more than three months due to the fisherfolk’s protests.

Fisherfolk on crosshairs

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Anti-Adani protestors at Vizhinjam construction site. (South First)

In the meantime, the CPI(M) has started a no-holds-barred attack on the agitating fisherfolk and the archdiocese.

At a hurriedly convened press meeting on Tuesday, Kerala Education Minister V Sivankutty accused the agitators of attempting to start riots and create anarchy by engaging in false propaganda.

In the last week, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Ports Minister Ahmed Devarkovil termed the agitation an orchestrated one, which evolved through large-scale conspiracies.

The CPI(M)’s Malayalam mouthpiece Desabhimani carried an article on Monday that termed the protest a replication of the “notorious” liberation struggle — a protest involving various religious outfits including different Christian factions to topple the first elected Communist government of Kerala.

It also carried a news item accusing some fishing-community leaders of receiving suspicious foreign funds to support the agitation, which, according to the newspaper, would benefit Sri Lanka and China.

Desabhimani also claimed that those leaders are facing an investigation by the intelligence bureau. But fact-checkers proved that the allegation was wrong.

Meanwhile, the BJP, which has great political and ideological differences with the CPI(M), now shares the state government’s stand that all the six demands of the agitators — especially concerning the rehabilitation of those who lost their houses in coastal erosions of high magnitude — were met, and the seventh demand to stop the works till an independent scientific body studied the implications could not be accepted.

On its part, the CPI(M) is opposed to any police action against the coastal community, as that could lead to large-scale law-and-order problems across the state.

New expert panel 

Vizhinjam Protest

Protestors from the coastal communities at the Vizhinjam port construction site. (South First)

The Latin Catholic community remained a robust support base in the last two Assembly elections in which LDF won a massive mandate.

In the meantime, the church leadership has clarified that there would not be any going back from the agitation till all their demands were met.

The church leadership has also constituted a seven-member expert panel to study the environmental and livelihood impact of the project.

Leaders say that they constituted their panel after finding worthless the limited mandate of the expert committee formed by the state government.

The panel of experts constituted by the church comprises KV Thomas (former dean of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies), John Kurien (retired professor associated with the Centre for Development Studies), Terry Machado (a former scientist with the Centre for Earth Science Studies), KG Thara (former head of faculty at the Institute of Land and Disaster Management), D Pappachan (former District and Sessions Judge, Ernakulam), Probir Banerjee (from PondyCAN in Puducherry), and Saritha Fernandez (independent researcher).

Fr Eugine Pereira, vicar general of the archdiocese, told South First that the mandate of the official panel of the government was restricted to studying whether the port project had caused erosion in the region and to suggest measures, if needed, to tackle the problem.

Vizhinjam

Protestors laying siege to under construction Adani Vizhinjam international seaport on Monday from the sea. (South First)

On the other hand, the church-appointed panel would conduct a comprehensive study on the environmental and livelihood impact of the project by halting the construction.

According to Devarkovil, the project works that began in 2015 have already missed many deadlines due to cyclones and rock shortages. As per the revised schedule, the project is expected to be commissioned next year.

However, since construction has been at a standstill for the last 100 days, the chances of this deadline being missed were also high.

The government has considered just four, at least partially, among the seven demands of the agitators. It has transferred 17.43 acres from the custody of the Department of Animal Husbandry to the Department of Fisheries to rehabilitate fisherfolk families who lost their homes to large-scale coastal erosion and other natural calamities.

In another move, the Central Water and Research Station has been entrusted with studying the construction-related defects at the Muthalapozhi harbour, where accidents occur with alarming regularity.

A monthly house rent of ₹5,500 has been fixed for coastal families who lost their houses and live in relief camps.

Then the four-member Expert Committee was formed with MD Kudale, former additional director of  Central Water and Power Research Station in Pune, to study the possible impact of the port construction on the coast.

However, the fisherfolk terms all these as “arbitrary” decisions taken by the government without taking them into confidence.

The agitators also feel the ₹5,500 the government promised to provide monthly rent for homeless coastal families moving from refugee camps to rented homes is inadequate.

“Show me one place along the Thiruvananthapuram coast where a family can take a house on rent for ₹5,500,” said Fr Pereira.