Coastal residents of Trivandrum in a fight for survival…
In 2015 the Kerala Government signed a Rs 7,525 Crore contract with Adani Vizhinjam Port Pvt Ltd. (AVPL) for the construction of Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL) – an international, Deepwater multipurpose Seaport at Trivandrum. The decision to award Adani group – who was the sole project bidder and a company with no previous experience in the sector, was decried by many objective observers right from the beginning, as steeped in corruption and malpractice. Who are the beneficiaries and who loses-out from this project?
Billed as a dream project which, on completion would cater to passenger, container and other cargo shipping, the majority of Keralites initially believed that VISL is going to have endless development potential for the area. The port which is supposed to be 150 metres in width uses about 2.75 sq km (approx. 700 acres) of seawater area, which is to be procured through reclamation of the sea. Under the leadership of the local Archdiocese, the fishermen community of Vizhinjam had approached the Government and the Port authorities right at the beginning with a strong stand that the said project should not adversely affect the fishermen and the concerns of the coastal residents and fishermen should be resolved. But this has fallen in deaf ears. Although many eminent experts and research organizations have long raised the problems that it would create for the people living in the coastal areas of Trivandrum district, the Government unilaterally proceeded with the project. The coastal residents of Trivandrum is in a fight for survival. Vizhinjam port construction, sea reclamation and sea floor dredging have become a threat to their very existance.
VISL Project and Environmental Impact:
Despite assurances to the contrary, Dredging the seafloor in Vizhinjam region to build a sea lane began in 2015. The continuous dredging activy abd dam construction, has led to environmental problems and Trivandrum sea’s rocky reefs which are a habitat for the State’s highest wealth of local fish,hundreds of marine creatures and fish resources have been covered with soot and are completely destroyed. The construction has already caused massive coastal erosion up to Valiyaveli in the North, displacing thousands of people.
Vizhinjam Fishing Port also under threat:
Within a few years of the construction of the first phase of the Port itself, the existing fishing harbor at Vizhinjam is on the verge of collapse. A lot of fishing boats accidents have also occurred with a recent capsized boat lashing in strong waves, causing 5 deaths.
Loss of livelihood & obstacles to Fishing:
This has also led to the loss of livelihood of the fishermen community of Vizhinjam. Even for the construction of the railway line, which is part of the Port development, the local people of Vizhinjam were not taken into faith and their houses were forcibly entered to lay stones. From Valiya Kadapuram to Poovar, dubious measures to disrupt fishing has been implemented in the name of the upcoming ship lane by unilaterally declaring it as a special economic zone. Due to the frequent rise in kerosene prices and weather warnings which ban fishing boats from venturing into the sea for the smallest reasons, fishermen are systematically dissuaded from their livelihood. Despite requests to find a permanent solution for the above-mentioned issues, the government has waited too long to act.
Loss lives, of land and housing:
Many houses have been destroyed and more than 300 displaced families are still living in inhumane camps (some for nearly four years). In Kollangode and Paruthiyur areas, many houses were washed away due to coastal erosion. More than 50 fishermen lost their lives due to the unscientifically constructed breakwaters at Mudalapozhi. Many houses were swept away by the sea at Thagampalli, Poonthura, Anchuthengu and Mampally.
The right of the local fishermen community to live on the seashore and to fish on the sea is constitutionally guaranteed. The 4th phase of Protests to raise the issues faced by the coastal area started with a Dharna on 20th July 2022, followed by sectoral campaign programs, Sea-protests with boats and the ongoing 24/7 Hunger strike near the Vizhinjam Port entrance.Many are trying to divide and pull the protesters down with false accusations. As the Port construction contractor is already trying to harass them by filing multiple cases, the Protestershave also decided to seek the protection of the law for what theyare entitled to. The nefarious collusion of global corporates who are deliberately working behind the scene in Vizhinjam to destroy Trivandrum’s fishing industry is becoming increasingly clear.
Protesting Trivandrum Fishermen’s demands and the Government’s response to them so far:
Find a permanent solution to Coastal Erosion caused by the construction of Vizhinjam International Port.
Govt Response: Besides a mere statement that they are willing to find a solution, no clear response or action has been taken by the government to this demand. As a permanent solution, as done in other countries with coastal-dependent populations, it requires the restoration of lost shores, restoration of land, lost jobs, and homes for those who have lost their homes. There is no such approach from the Government side.
Relocate families who have lost their own homes due to Coastal Erosion (up to 7 rows of houses from the sea in some areas) and still live in Camps by paying rent.
Govt Response: The Government says that Rs 5,500 per month can be paid to rent a house to those living in Camps who have lost their homes due to Coastal Erosion. But this offer is not acceptable as this amount is insufficient. Moreover, in the current situation where even many welfare pensions have been suspended, it is not possible for those living in the camp to rent a house and move out blindly trusting a mere promised by theGovernment. It is common knowledge that to get a house rent check, the amount must be paid in advance. Also, it is impossible to rent a house for Rs.5500 within Corporation limits. Instead, rent government housing and make it available to families. Otherwise, pay Rs.10,000 per month as rent per family through the bank account. Also, provide Rs. 20,000 as rent in advance along with it. Such a decision will be acceptable to the Protest committee.
Rehabilitate those who have lost their homes and land by providing compensation for their homes and properties.
Govt Response: To this demand, the government says that 10 lakh rupees can be given to buy the property and build a house. But again, this amount is insufficient. The houses that were on the property with the title deed have been lost. Property taxes were also paid at the respective village offices. It is common knowledge that 10 lakh rupees will not be enough to even buy a property of equal area lost in the Coastal area. In this regard, the protest committee will accept the guarantee that the families who have lost their houses and land will be rehabilitated by building a 3-cent property and a 750-square-foot house by paying compensation equal to their losses.
Stop the construction of the Port, which is causing Coastal Erosion and a grave threat to Vizhinjam fishing harbor, Kovalam and Shankhumukham beaches, and conduct a transparent and independent Study involving the local residents.
Govt Response: T government says that under no circumstances, will the construction of the Port be halted, and an expert committee will be appointed for the study. This offer of the government, which may seem fair prima facie, is rejected as it is unreasonable and not in accordance with the circumstances. The circumstances under which this demand is made are as follows: Coastal erosion, damage to homes and loss of jobs caused by the commencement of construction work for the port is extremely serious and costly. Undertaking a Study while continuing construction activity makes its amply clear it would be carried out just for namesake, while all the adverse effects continue. It is not logical or common sensical. The Protest committee, therefore, insists that the construction of the port must be halted and that a study be conducted with experts with proven absence of any conflict of interests and fishermen’s representatives regarding the socio-economic-ecological consequences of the construction of the Vizhinjam port and efficient and proven measures to address them.
Intervene to roll back the colossal kerosene price hike and make kerosene available as per Tamil Nadu model.
Govt Response: The government is of the view that the price of kerosene cannot be reduced. Instead, the government is just discussing the technical changes in engines. That is, the government says that it can be considered to replace the kerosene engine with a diesel engine. However, the subsidy that the government provided when kerosene was 40 rupees per litre still stands, even with the price of kerosene at 141 rupees per litre. The fact is that the government’s subsidy is not rising as per the kerosene price hike. Another thing is that as the price of kerosene increases, the tax due to the government has also increased. Our government fails to provide enough kerosene, which sustains the livelihood of lakhs of fishermen. The strike committee, however, thinks that the Kerala government should also adhere to the same policy as that of the Tamil Nadu government who increased the government subsidy and provided kerosene for fishing to the fishermen as the kerosene price hiked.
Pay minimum wages to fishermen on days they cannot go to the sea due to weather warnings.
Govt Response: Even though it is said that a favorable decision will be taken by the government, the fact remainsthat no steps have yet been taken in this regard. Rs.1000/- per day was given due to the loss of work during the Cyclone Okhi. It is acceptable to the Protest committee to implement same system to fishermen on days when they cannot go to the sea due to weather warnings.
Solve problems arising from defective construction of the Mudalapozhi fishing harbor
Govt Response: It is sad that even when the government says that they are ready to solve the problems in Mudalapozhi, no immediate steps have been taken yet. As a result of unscientific construction, around 65 fishermen have died in Mudalapozhi. Instead of correcting the defects of the construction, the government has prepared the facilities in Mudalapozhi, to transport the materials required for the construction of Vizhinjam port. The demand of the strike committee is, to involve local experts in the discussions to solve the defects of the construction of the fishing harbor in Mudalappozhi, and to solve the defect as soon as possible.
Release of Ramachandran Commission Report
The Ramachandran Nair Commission appointed by the Kerala government to study the report issued by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2017 has already submitted its report to the government regarding the construction of Vizhinjam Port. The Vigilance Committee was also tasked with the report, as there were serious lapses in the terms of the contract. The government should be ready to release the above reports regarding the port agreement, which is affecting the entire state of Kerala.
Vizhinjam Commercial Port Project – Fishing Workers’ Grievances: 2015 Overview
In an era where environmental protection is becoming a core issue while implementing development projects, two things must be ascertained: First, who are the beneficiaries and second – who loses-out from this. In India we know that while the marginalized tribals, dalits, fishermen and small farmers have been hit hardest by “development”, it is the wealthy class who have stood to benefit. We are confronted by the historic reality that for the last quarter of a century, when new economic policies are implemented in the name of globalization, the rich here are getting richer and the marginalized are getting poorer. In addition to this, it is the latter who are most negatively affected by environmental problems.
In 2015 the Kerala Government signed a Rs 7,525 Crore contract with Adani Vizhinjam Port Pvt Ltd. (AVPL) for the construction of Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL) – an international, Deepwater multipurpose seaport at Trivandrum. The decision to award Adani group – who was the sole project bidder and a company with no previous experience in the sector, was decried by many objective observers right from the beginning, as steeped in corruption and malpractice.
Billed as a dream project which, on completion would cater to passenger, container and other cargo shipping, the majority of Keralites initially believed that VISL is going to have endless development potential for the area. Although many eminent experts and research organizations have long raised the problems that may arise for the people living in the coastal areas of Trivandrum district, the Government unilaterallyproceeded with the project. Dredging for the sea lane began in 2015 and the port which is supposed to be 150 metres in widthuses about 2.75 sq km (approx. 700 acres) made available through reclamation of the sea. The continuous dredging activities in Vizhinjam region has led to environmental problems and the rocky reefs which are a habitat for hundreds of marine creatures have been covered with sand and are completely destroyed.
This has also led to the loss of livelihood of the fishermen community of Vizhinjam – who under the leadership of the Latin Archdiocese had approached the Government and the port authorities right at the beginning with a strong stand that the said project should not adversely affect the fishermen and the concerns of the coastal residents and fishermen should be resolved.
VISL Project and Environmental Impact:
The outline of the container trans-shipment port project, the environmental impact study report and other official study documents were also studied by the Center for Fisheries Studies under the Archdiocese and the Thiruvananthapuram Social Service Society. The services of many scientists and experts in this field were sought for this purpose. These studies put forward following:
• Implementation of this project in its current form will have serious adverse effects on the livelihoods and marine environment of our coastal areas.
• Impact study report has not studied many important topicsscientifically (or chose to ignore the known facts).
• Many of the conclusions in the above report are attemptsto deliberately justify the project by obscuring the facts.
• Impacts on the fishing communities that populate the project impact area have not been properly studied (or have been ignored).
• The proposed project can be implemented only in violation of the existing Coastal Management Act and Environmental Protection Act.
Construction of the Vizhinjam port project as currently drafted would be in violation of several provisions of the existing Environmental Protection Act and the project would adversely affect the habitations and employment of tens of thousands of people living in the nearby coastal areas. The construction of a large embankment for the port will lead to massive land loss in the northern coastal areas. For instance, after a 400-meter-long dike was constructed for the fishing harbor in Vizhinjathin the 1970s, the coastal residents experienced first-hand howthe sea thinned down and a large amount of land were washed away in the populated coastal areas such as Panathura, Poonthura, Bimapalli and Valiyathura. In Poonthura alone, where there were hundreds of houses, all residents had to be relocated and is all sea today. This process of land-loss is still going on. Official studies conducted under the supervision of the central government have also confirmed that this is not the case. Conducted for Vizhinjam project
When the environmental impact study report was published before the public hearing, this land-loss was also mentioned. Land-loss up to 200 meters wide was recorded at Poonthura, while new land was formed up to 220 meters wide at Adimalatura. These matters were raised in writing at the public hearing. But in the final report given to the Central Government – a whole chapter pertaining to this was removed. Now if a 4 km-long causeway is built for commercial port in Vizhinjath, the coastal areas from Poonthura to Veli will be completely destroyed.
Vizhinjam Fishing Port also under threat:
Environmental clearance for the proposed commercial port was received in 2011. Along with this, the responses given by the expert committee of the Union Ministry of Environment are noteworthy:
If the construction of the commercial port in Vizhinjam is undertaken as per the proposal, the biggest impact will be on the fishing harbor in Vizhinjam. It will affect the livelihood of traditional fishermen and if the fishing harbour falls into disuse, it is certain that the livelihood of the entire fishermen of Thiruvananthapuram district will be seriously affected.
Obstacles to Fishing:
It is said that in the southern part of the project area, the dredging will be done at a depth of 400 meters and the ship-lane – the main sailing area will be constructed. This construction will completely prevent the fishermen from Pulluvila to Pozziyur from venturing out into the sea. Apart from this, according to Royal Haskoning – the agency that conducted the study of the port plan, this area may also be declared as a no-fishing zone.
As a direct result of this project, the livelihood of around 50,000 traditional fishermen will disappear. Dredging and shipping can seriously alter the marine environment, resulting in the depletion of fish stocks. This will put the Fishermen community at severe risk. The Government is in denial and the State officials are unwilling to listen or respond to theseconcerns raised by coastal stakeholders. Although discussions were held with the Diocesan leadership several times, no constructive steps were taken to address the fishermen’s concerns. If the port construction proceeds this way with no one lending a listening ear, over a lakh people across 32 coastal villages will lose their shores and become unemployed.
While, the Government labels the Port protesters as anti-development, it must be remembered how the Fisher community of Trivandrum under the Latin Archdiocese has been historically pro-development and has a history of making sacrifices for developmental projects. This includes renouncing land for Thumba Space Research Centre, International Airport and Travancore Titanium projects. Many promises, including rehabilitation, to the people displaced from the project areas have remained unfulfilled for decades. Perhaps the environmental and social problems described above are not a problem for non-coastal dwellers. But it is enough for the general public to accept the fact that these coastal dwellers and fishermen have equal rights as citizens of this country.
The project document should accept the above facts and implement the solutions and include the points raised in the project document and allocate the required amount as part of the project. We demand that the government announce a package as part of the Vizhinjam scheme after resolving the concerns of the fishermen and realizing the loss that will be incurred by the fishermen. If the government is not willing to do this, it has been decided to go ahead with potest programs. If the Government continues to challenge the people in the current manner, the implementation of the project should be stopped at any cost. We see this as a human rights issue. We are not against development activities. We want to protect the interests of a people who are going to suffer heavy losses due to development.
Sourced from a Letter by the Thiruvananthapuram Metropolitan,
Vizhinjam Protests – a result of betrayal (Translated from a News Article by Dr. Anthony L. Capuchin)
The public conscience of our country must understand the seriousness of the demands raised by the fishermen protesting the construction of the Vizhinjam Seaport. The government has a constitutional responsibility to protect life and property. As Dr. Ambedkar said, the strength of India’s democracy lies in the public conscience, which says that when a section of the population loses it, peace cannot be achieved. The coastline of Thiruvananthapuram district, which includes Vizhinjam, is an ecologically delicate coast since it is not far from Kanyakumari, the confluence of the seas. Whatever happens in the ocean, it also affects the coast – the Tsunami in 2004, Okhi in 2017 and Yaas in 2021 are a few instances such instances. There are multiple Study reports that the Kerala coast is an ideal coastal zone for disaster mitigation management (Dr. J. Shaji’s and other studies).
The South-North phenomenon
The South-North phenomenon is a scientifically recognized phenomenon derived from the fishermen’s traditional knowledge on the sea. This is the process of coastal erosion in the northern part of the shoreline of Kanyakumari and Thiruvananthapuram districts, when the construction is done towards its ocean. This is a natural phenomenon of this coastline. As a result of the southward flow of coastal sand in June-July, in places where coastal erosion occurs during these months, from August onwards, “sand flows northward, and the coast is restored. If this natural process is interrupted, the south-north phenomenon becomes extreme. Extreme coastal erosion is experienced in the north of the man-made blockage of sand flow to the sea.
But the natural ridges in the sea do not obstruct the flow of sand. It is because the British marine scientists were knowledgeable about the ecological vulnerability of the Kerala coast that high ports or sea bridges were adopted as a method of construction without disturbing the order of south-north movement of sand. Dr. Swaminathan asked the central government to enact laws for the protection of marine life nets. It clearly illustrates the importance of the issue.
Change in Archbishop’s Standpoint
Initially Dr. Soosa Pakiam, current Emeritus Archbishop of Trivandrum Latin Archdiocese had agreed to the project, trusting the government’s assurance that the port construction will not affect fishermen’s villages or fishing. But as the project progressed, bad omens started to be felt on the coast. He disclosed that despite conveying the factual concerns of his people to the successive governments in writing, combining the maritime knowledge of the traditional fishermen and the knowledge of the scientific and technical experts in the concerned subject, those in-charge took a passive approach to it.
Now after seven years, even when only one-third of the project has been completed, the South – North phenomenon is creating a huge crisis for the livelihood and survival of fishermen living in the project-affected areas.
Since the coastal residents were once betrayed by the authorities by providing false information, Archbishop’s demand is that a fresh and objective scientific impact study should be undertaken along with the involvement of experts recommended by the Protesters committee and the construction of the Port should be halted until the study is completed. Some global warming studies were quoted to claim that only by 2030 to 2100 sea level rise and coastal erosion would occur. But its amply clear to the fishermen that the plan is to proceed with the project by blaming global warming and ignoring the scientifically established South-North phenomenon.
Halt the Project and Conduct Study
Unlike some Media narrative to the contrary, there has been no demand by the Protesters to abandon the project. But the current construction needs to be halted, and an impact study should be conducted. In an article written by MP Shashi Tharoor, the people’s representative of the project affected areas, he supported the demands of the Protester committee, but disagreed with the demand to halt the project. The coastal community has categorically rejected the MP’s dissent.
Shashi Tharoor suggests that the construction of the long sea wall in Kerala should be implemented at a fast pace, taking Tamil Nadu as an example. In that case, the construction of the port should have started after the construction of the coastal wall and ensuring coastal security. The government itself has admitted that the construction of a protective wall is not possible when the process of coastal erosion is taking place, using Shankhumukham beach as an example. The failure of the Pondicherry sea wall construction is also worth studying. Due to the fact that all documentation related to the project and construction have been kept confidential so far, the protesters are skeptical about the transparency of the impact assessment report.
The coastal people are to be considered as tribal category due to their lifestyle and specialities. If there is a change in their occupations and living conditions, the very existence of this society will be disastrous. Therefore, the scientific approach that should be taken for the survival of this community is not to relocate the coastal residents, but to allow them to live by providing security to their habitat. In this sense, the fishing community is not migratory and it will cause a great deal of mental conflict for them to be displaced from their living environment.
The authorities, who hide the objective scientific knowledge that that there will be an environmental impact due to the port construction project from the fishermen, should immediately halt the construction and take responsibility for the loss caused by it so far. It is necessary to conduct an advanced technical study on the possibility of protecting the Thiruvananthapuram beach by building a sea wall. In order to avoid the construction of Vizhinjam port from becoming a major disaster, the seabed should not be filled up from its natural level and the construction should be stopped until practical solutions including a coastal protection wall are implemented. The scientific approach to the project should be one which first seeks to have an expert and nuanced understanding of coast before commenting any construction.
The concept of moving forward with the construction after conducting the impact study and
protecting the shore is scientific, fair, and rational. Vizhinjam protests can only be ended through
practical solutions and not through the misuse of law or force.
Translated from a News Article by Dr. Anthony L. Capuchin – an expatriate, holistic development researcher, social worker and teacher
Huffington Post Article reg the Environmental impact of the Port project
Prof. Nihar Ranjan Bhatttacharya’s address at Trivandrum Rally (English):
SC Advocate Shri Prashant Bhushan’s address at the Trivandrum Rally (English):
IFC Failed to Follow its Performance Standards in Vizhinjam – CAO:
Vizhinjam: Adani Group seeks contempt case, saying HC passed order directing police protection, the government has not taken any effective steps:
Vizhinjam Port – Livelihood Protest | We are not refugees (Malayalam):
Vizhinjam Port – Livelihood Protest | What is development? (Malayalam):
Vizhinjam Port – Livelihood Protest | Sir, you cannot suppress this protest (Malayalam):
Vizhinjam Port – Livelihood Protest | We have no other means to live (Malayalam):
Protests Against The Port
After the Port construction has commenced, the shoreline was so badly eroded in the last few years, that 7 rows of houses were washed away or had to be vacated. The Govt has turned a blind eye to these families some of whom have spent the last 4 years in run-down, uninhabitable warehouses label as ‘relief camps’…
The majority of the Fishermen here are Christians. So only after the Bishop, priests and nuns from the Trivandrum Latin Archdiocese started supporting them, the protests gained local Media attention.
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