Vizhinjam peaceful, Church blames far-right Hindutva groups for violence and seeks judicial probe

Thiruvananthapuram collector convenes peace meet; property worth ₹85 lakh damaged, state to recover loss from the protesters.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 28, 2022 | 6:08 PM Updated Nov 28, 2022 | 7:58 PM

Station

The coastal town of Vizhinjam in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram appeared peaceful on Monday, 28 February, a day after fishermen protesting against the Adani Group’s ₹7,500 crore transhipment port attacked the local police station.

The tension that had gripped the area eased after the police, early on Monday, released four of the five detained fish workers. Normalcy returned by afternoon as shops and other establishments resumed business. Public transport buses hit the road by 2 pm.

The fishermen were detained for allegedly preventing the resumption of the port’s construction works that have been remaining suspended for over three months following the protests.

The protesters alleged that the port works were posing environmental and livelihood challenges. After the attack on the police station, the detained people were shifted to the armed police’s special camp in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital.

On Monday, the fishing harbour commenced functioning late by 11 am, even as the police deployed additional forces in Vizhinjam and other nearby fishing areas such as Kovalam, Poonthura, Valiyathura, Beemapalli and Shanghumugham.

As many as 66 people, including 36 police officers, were injured in Sunday’s clash. The Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram informed the media that all are out of danger.

Peace talks begin

Thiruvananthapuram district collector Geromic George initiated a peace meeting in the afternoon.

Police vehicles were damaged when the anti-Adani port protesters attacked the police station. (KB Jayachandran

Police vehicles were damaged when the anti-Adani port protesters attacked the police station. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

Meanwhile, the police told the High Court of Kerala that cases have been registered against 3,000 people for rioting and unleashing terror on 27 November night. The affidavit submitted before the single bench of Justice Anu Sivaraman estimated a loss of ₹85 lakh in Sunday’s violence.

The protesters had vandalised police vehicles and two-wheelers parked on the station premises, besides damaging furniture, computers and files. The police said the loss would be recovered from the agitators.

The police were responding to a petition by the Adani Group, seeking the deployment of central government forces to resume the project works.

Lawyers who appeared for the corporate group stated that anarchy had derailed the law and order situation at Vizhinjam.

They said construction works could be resumed only after the deployment of the CRPF or CISF.

The government said it has no objection to the group’s demand to recover a loss of ₹200 crore from the Latin Catholic Arch-Diocese of Thiruvananthapuram. The diocese has been spearheading the agitation.

The judge posted further hearing on the case for Friday, 2 December, saying restoring normalcy in Vizhinjam was of top priority.

The court directed the state government and the police to file an action taken report on Friday, detailing how to ensure normalcy in the sensitive region, where the fish workers apparently have a trust deficit in law enforcers.

Meanwhile, Thiruvananthapuram City Police Commissioner Sparjan Kumar told South First that proper legal advice was sought before making Archbishop Thomas J Netto of the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram the first accused for conspiring against the port project.

He denied reports that naming the bishop as an accused in the conspiracy case had escalated the tension. On Saturday, 26 November, fish workers had prevented the resumption of the construction, resulting in the violence, the officer said.

Besides the archbishop, 49 other Latin Catholic community leaders have been charged with criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder and attempt to rioting. The leaders included Auxiliary Bishop J Christudas and Vicar General Eugene Pereria.

Hindutva groups blamed

After visiting the protesting fish workers on Monday morning, Pereria told South First that only a judicial probe could reveal the deliberate attempts undertaken by vested interests to put the agitation in a poor light.

“We have been protesting peacefully for over 130 days. A set of ultra-Hindutva groups initiated a parallel strike, demanding early completion of the project and mocking our agitation with the support and funding of the Adani Group, state government, CPI(M) and BJP-RSS,” he said.

“They humiliated the fish workers and on several occasions provoked our people. On Saturday, our people peacefully protested the resumption of construction work. The Hindutva groups attempted to resist them physically, triggering these unhealthy developments,” he added.

Pereira said the fishing community had maintained maximum restraint but the rival agitators and the police challenged their patience resulting in the incident. He claimed to have clinching evidence to prove that some external influences had led to the violence.

Government rejects demand for judicial probe

Rejecting the demand for a judicial probe, Ports Minister Ahamed Devarkovil alleged that the protesters have scant respect for the judiciary that had asked them to maintain peace and not to disrupt the ongoing works.

“The state government has been very considerate, and in the numerous talks we have had with them, they came up with seven demands. We cannot give them an assurance on one demand —  free supply of kerosene as it comes from the Centre. Another demand is they want the ongoing port to be stopped. That’s not possible,” he said.

“The protesters are coming up with new demands, adding to the confusion,” he added.

Meanwhile, ADGP (Law and order) MR Ajith Kumar said around 300 more personnel have been deployed to the region, which already had 600 officers. Considering the sensitive situation in the area, the Kerala government has deployed more officers from the other districts as well.

The state secretariat of the ruling CPI(M) termed the violent turn of the agitation as part of a larger conspiracy to defame the state government. It urged the authorities to tackle violence with an iron hand.

Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, meanwhile, termed the episode a complete failure of law and order and blamed the state government for its poor handling of the situation.

The Congress-led opposition UDF warned the LDF government against associating with the BJP-RSS at the Centre to favour Adani and unnecessarily targeting the Latin Catholic Church leadership over port construction-related issues.