Ground Reports

Fishing Communities Resist Mega Adani Port Construction, Raising Concerns Over Its Negative Impact On Livelihoods

According to the local community, the environmental impact study for the project does not adequately address the issue of coastal erosion and its impact on the livelihoods of the local population.

India’s first “mega transhipment container facility” will be the Adani Vizhinjam Port. The project, which would cost Rs 7,500 crore to complete, is for building a container terminal in Vizhinjam, a seaside community about 20 kilometres south of Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital of Kerala.

The Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport demonstrations in Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, have been ongoing since June 5th, 2022. Local fishermen held demonstrations, claiming that the port’s development had negatively impacted their way of life, made hundreds of families homeless, and damaged the environment.

Fishermen, farmers, and environmentalists began a sit-in protest outside the Adani Airport on June 5th this year, World Environment Day. The Church joined the demonstrators after 40 days. The protesters’ fundamental demand is still that the port’s development ceases and that the displaced households receive compensation and new housing.

According to the reports, Kerala’s coastline, which covers over 9 districts in the state, and the livelihood and occupation of the local fishermen will be most significantly impacted by the port’s development. The environmental impact study for the project, according to the protesters, did not adequately address the issue of coastal erosion. They claim that eventually, the construction will have an impact on everyone. Multiple mishaps have happened as a result of the port’s development on various occasions. Numerous families in the neighbourhood are now without a place to live. Additionally, several incidents have been reported at fishing harbours.

The direction of sea currents has been changed due to the continuous building of breakwaters, resulting in coastal erosion along the whole project area’s shore. The renowned Shanghumukham beach in Thiruvananthapuram has completely disappeared due to marine erosion in recent years. Following the loss of their homes to sea erosion in fishing villages like Valiyathura and Muttathara, over 600 families have already been relocated to relief camps.  They are still residing in relief camps and are asking for a just compensation package. According to the reports, almost 300 families have been rendered homeless and are now living in schools and godowns. The construction of the port has also affected the wind balance.

The idea also involved building residential communities, such as housing colonies, which may have a considerably wider impact. Due to the full-fledged drenching that began in the years 2017–18, erosion accelerated and sand soil quickly accumulated in drenches. Around 3 fatalities were recorded in 2021, more than 100 fishing tracks were damaged, and fishing harbours turned out to be quite unsafe.

“Fishermen consider workplaces unsafe for fishing. The beaches apart from being the domain of fishing, are also places of cultural heritage. These beaches were also used by the wives of the fishermen to dry fish. Due to the construction of this port, these beaches got destroyed and these women were left with no option other than to protest, ” says Sindhu Napoleon, a local journalist from the area.

“When the construction of the port started initially, it was met with protests and many dissenting voices came into the picture. However, these did not possess the intensity and had also not taken any collective form till recent times. The protests and dissent voices have now taken collective form, and these protests have now been going on for several weeks. ” she added

The breakwater development at the port will require more stones, and quarry mining may have additional negative consequences on the environment and ecosystem of the state. Since it is well known that the operation of quarries in and around the Western Ghats in the state leads to landslides that are amplified by significant rainfall events, this is a problem. Scientists and environmentalists, for example, claim that more than 30 quarries in and around Kavalappara in the Malappuram district had improper excavations that significantly increased the area’s susceptibility to landslides. A landslide here in 2019 claimed the lives of around 50 people.

According to A J Vijayan, the protest to halt the development of the Vizhinjam Port project is now being participated in by fishing and coastal communities from more than 40 coastal villages. The protesting team, who recently received backing from the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Catholic Archdiocese, is preparing more land and sea rallies. After protesters entered the building site, The Adani Group was compelled to halt development temporarily.

This project is not modern in origin, he continues. The problem dates back to the early days when the government. Kerala desired to construct a commercial port. It was referred to as the “dream project” by the media at the time and was considered as a development project. The concept was later advanced, nevertheless. It was contrasted with the port at Kochin, however, the Kochin Coast port is a natural port and cannot be compared to this one in any manner. It’s not like that in Vizhinjam. Given that the port is open, artificial constructions are required.

During the environmental impact assessment, some critical issues were brought forward. The government was questioned by the environmental assessment committee about why they intended to build the port there because they believed the area was prone to erosion. The committee also brought up the issue of the port’s proximity to the fishing harbour and its potential effects on the community of worried fishermen, on whom 2 lakh people depend. However, the Kerela administration approved the proposal under political duress. The port’s supporters backed its construction on the grounds of security due to its location at the country’s outermost frontier.

“We appealed the environmental clearance before the National Green Tribunal after it was granted. The Tribunal did not forbid them from building either, but it did impose two conditions: a scientific reading committee would be constituted for evaluation, and the port controller would be responsible for any future corrections that might be necessary. Adani was the sole applicant for the position of port operator, and the Chief Minister of Kerela met with him secretly at that time,” said  Vijayan.

“The government seems to be reluctant on the construction of the port due to the political influence,” Vijayan added.

“Since the very beginning, I have warned local youngsters, fishermen, and residents about the terrible effects of the port construction,” says Seeta Dasan, convenor, Anti-Adani Seaport Samara Samiti and member Self Employed Women Association ( SEWA). 

“At the beginning of the protests, there was not the intensity that was required. But after the victory of the farmers (referring to nationwide farm agitation), people started participating actively. The victory of the farmers encouraged the people that they too could demand and succeed in their demands. A tractor rally visited the protests of these fishermen by the farmers, which encouraged them a lot”, she adds with a smile.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram has now assumed the lead with fishermen pressing their demands under their leadership, with support from several communities and pressure organisations and with fishermen leading the effort.

On Wednesday, the Kerala High Court ordered the state government to let workers freely use the Vizhinjam port which is currently under development. The state government had already been instructed by the HC to provide police protection for Adani Ports till the project was finished. The court noted that as long as the demonstration at the port does not prevent Adani Vizhinjam Port Pvt Ltd workers and staff from entering or leaving the site, it can continue peacefully.

The protestors have put forward seven demands  : (i) construction should be stopped and a proper environmental impact study should be carried out. (ii) rehabilitation of families who lost their homes to sea erosion, (iii) effective steps to mitigate coastal erosion, (iv) financial assistance to fisherfolk on days weather warnings are issued, (v) compensation to families of those who lose their lives in fishing accidents, (vi) subsidised kerosene, and (vii) a mechanism to dredge the Muthalappozhi fishing harbour in Anchuthengu in Thiruvananthapuram district.

The government has accepted all demands, with the exception of subsidising kerosene and stopping the port’s development. The demonstrators said that they would keep up their nonviolent protests until their demands were satisfied.