Exposes double standards of UDF, LDF

Shows Adani’s clout on opposition, ruling parties

Abdul Bari Masoud finds that Adani Group’s massive port project in Vizhinjam, and the warlike violence and terror it has caused has all the makings of Nandigram. He also dwells deep upon the allegations made by the coastline inhabitants, who are vehemently opposing the project, that Adani’s ultimate goal was to displace the impoverished fishermen and seize the coastline in order to turn it into a major real estate project.

Is it a new Nandigram in the making in Kerala? Adani Group’s massive port project in Vizhinjam, Kerala, at the southernmost point of India, has all the makings of Nandigram. The coastline inhabitants, mostly Latin Christians, are vehemently opposing the project. They alleged that Adani’s ultimate goal was to displace the impoverished fishermen and seize the coastline in order to turn it into a major real estate project. The warlike violence and terror that occurred in the vicinity of Vizhinjam on November 26 and 27 are reminiscences of Nandigram violence occurred in 2007 as a result of land being forcibly acquired for the creation of a chemical hub, a type of special economic zone, by the CPI (M)-led government of West Bengal (SEZ) in which 14 people were killed in police firing.

There is much similarity between Nandigram and Vizhinjam protests and characters. In both the states CPM-led governments were in power. Though, the then Congress-led United Democratic Front government of Kerala and the Adani Group entered into a concession agreement in 2015 to construct India’s first major transshipment container terminal at Vizhinjam, which is close to the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. But in a complete about-face, the project is now being backed by the Left Democratic Front government headed by the CPM. When CPM was in opposition, it had alleged that the project was a `5000 crore land grabbing deal.

THE PROJECT

The 7,525 crore Adani Vizhinjam International Seaport project is said to be an all-weather, 24-meter deep-sea port that can accommodate megamax-sized container ships. It is claimed the transshipment container terminal promises to reduce logistics costs and make manufacturing competitive. Once completed, it will be the first container transshipment hub in India, competing for business on the lucrative east-west trade routes with Sri Lanka, Singapore and Dubai.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN VIZHINJAM?

However, the ambitious Vizhinjam project landed in controversy as the fisherman community is up in arms about it. The project is caught in protests and violence which is being supported by the Latin Catholic church. Vizhinjam is the perfect location for a deepwater port due to its natural un-dredged draught. According to protesters, who halted the construction for almost four months, the project is resulting in habitat, economic and biological destruction.

On November 27, the protests against the project became violent when demonstrators attacked the Vizhinjam police station in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. At least 12 policemen were hurt during the incident, the media reported.

The villagers, headed by Catholic priests, are blocking the site’s entrance with a homemade shelter. The police tried to interfere and that caused skirmishes resulting in more than 80 injuries.

Public property losses were reported, including damage to 20 motorcycles, two vans, four police jeeps, and furnishings within the police station. Following the demonstrations on November 26, protesters arrived at the station, demanding the release of five people who had been previously detained. Following these demonstrations, at least 50 Latin Catholic priests, including Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram’s Latin Archdiocese Archbishop Thomas J. Netto reportedly had cases filed against them.

The tension was further heightened when Thomas Netto was named as the first accused in an FIR against him. In the new FIR, 50 priests are also listed, including Auxiliary Bishop Christudas and Vicar General Eugeine Pereria. Apart from this, the police also registered cases against 3,000 people.

The local fishing population led by the influential Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram has been arguing that the breakwater and works will impact their way of life and residences for some time.

COMMUNAL TWIST

As the RSS-backed Hindu United Front vowed to walk to the port in Vizhinjam to express support for the project they claim will create jobs in the area, the protest took on a more divisive tone.

A senior police officer reported that even additional security had been placed around the port to keep the Hindu group from getting there in an effort to avert new confrontations.

Senior priest Eugeine Pereria told the media that some suspicious events have now occurred and that a judicial investigation is necessary.

COASTAL EROSION

Following the start of construction, protesters claimed there had been significant coastal erosion on the port’s northern side and sea accretion (the gradual accumulation of sand or land mass along coastal zones). According to research conducted by the National Institute of Ocean Technology in Chennai, erosion has occurred in Shangumugham (600 m), Valiyathura (200 m), and Cheriyathura (100 m) on the port’s northern shore. According to a senior government official, the region was experiencing coastal erosion, and this erosion had nothing to do with the construction of the port and the region was witnessing coastal erosion from early 2000s onwards.

The vehement opposition to the project has put the LDF government, particularly the CPM, in a spot of bother.

According to Basanth P. Regional, Editor Mathrubhumi News, “The CPM when in opposition has alleged this was a 5000 crore land grabbing deal and the ultimate aim of Adani, they alleged, was to displace the poor fishermen and grab the seashore and convert it into a big real estate project and the goal is to get kilometres of beautiful coastline….CPM has said then.”

Speaking with Radiance, Delhi-based Kerala journalist Basanth P said the port will not be profitable as claimed because of Dubai and Colombo ports in the near vicinity as Mother ports.

He said the Christians are agitated because the port is being constructed in the area where they are concentrated. The fear of losing their houses and livelihood is real and serious. Sea erosion in the project area is another challenge after the construction has started. No adequate compensation for the loss of livelihood and houses… these are some of their grievances.

But the government says that adequate compensation has been agreed. A number of meetings have taken place in which the church and the protesters have agreed to the suggestion of higher compensation.

WHAT CRITICS SAY

Critics assert that Adani, who is from the same state as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has benefited from the Union government’s policies.

Dr. John Dayal, a writer and activist, said now it is quite clear that Adani is using his mighty clout with the establishment in New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram to crush all opposition to the port he wants to construct.

On the protests of Christians, Dr. Dayal told Radiance that the church is with the people, most of whom are fishermen and Catholics.

“The church feels the warlike violence and terror at Vizhinjam on 26th and 27th November were the result of a conspired script between the ruling CPI (M) and the BJP.”

He also accused the CPM of playing communal politics over the issue.

“They (CPM and BJP) created communal divide and promoted organised fights using the ugliest tactics. There were groups of people deployed to provoke the fish workers who were engaged in peaceful protest. Fish workers’ fight was against the port construction that jeopardises their life and survival. However, the all-party concocted meeting organised by the oppressor government and their cronies exposed their hidden agenda of victimising the protestors”. Dayal also hails from Kerala and is attached to several Christian organisations.

The truth should come out. Therefore, we demand a judicial probe into the incidents. We have nothing to hide, Dayal said.

However, it’s an irony that the ruling LDF and CPM are now making the serious accusation that people who are currently opposing the project are supported by anti-nationals. They are supported by extremist organisations. The BJP and other Sangh parivar organisations use the same justifications. They even held a march to denounce the violence from the previous week. Thiruvananthapuram district leaders from the CPM and BJP spoke together at a public event in favour of the project.

Dismissing the allegations, Kerala state Ports Minister Ahamed Devarkovil said the protesters give scant respect to the judiciary, which had asked the protesters to maintain calm and not to disrupt the ongoing works.

“The state government has been very considerate and in the numerous talks that we have had with them, they came up with seven demands. We are unable to give them an assurance on one demand seeking free supply of kerosene as it comes from the Centre.

Another demand is they want the ongoing work in the port to be stopped. That’s not possible at all,” said the Minister.

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

CPM IS UNWILLING TO LEARN

The issue has now snowballed into a major political controversy. However, the ruling and opposition fronts seem to be on the same page in this regard.

Basanth P underlined that in the last assembly elections, 2021, minorities especially the Christians have overwhelmingly voted for, surprisingly also, for the CPM all over the coastal belt.

After the police action, the Church as a whole has turned against the CPM. This can damage the LDF in the coming Lok Sabha polls. And Congress has supported the fishermen protest and opposed the police action.

It appears that the CPM is unwilling to learn from the Nandigram catastrophe, which was a major factor in the end of its 34-year rule in West Bengal.

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