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Kanyakumari fishermen up in arms over port's location

January 31, 2018 10:30 IST

The Centre has zeroed in on Kovalam village in Kanyakumari district for a new port, but fishermen's protests could derail this plan.
A Ganesh Nadar reports.

There seems to be no end to India's woes in locating a deep water port in Kanyakumari, the southern-most point of the country, to challenge Colombo's status as the premier harbour located on one of the major shipping routes of the world.

In 2015 the central government zeroed in on Colachel, in Kanyakumari district, which has been a port since time immemorial, but when fishermen from Enayamputhanthurai and neighbouring villages gathering under the Kanyakumari District Fishermens Federation and staged a protest in the Saint Lanemmal church complex in Enayamputhanthurai in November 2015, the Centre beat a hasty retreat.

They next zeroed in on Enayam further down the coast towards Kanyakumari town where some 20,000 families in eight villages could be affected adversely by the project.

However, when 40,000 fishermen turned up to protest against the port in 2016, the central government had to turn away once again.

Next the choice fell on Kanyakumari town itself, but this plan was abandoned on the ground that a harbour there would destroy the bustling tourism industry.

Finally, goaded on by Union Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament from Kanyakumari, Pon Radhakrishnan, the Centre finally decided on Kovalam village in the district (not to be confused with the resort of the same name in Kerala) as the perfect spot for the port.

But public opposition is building up slowly, but surely.

Asks Jyoti, from nearby Manakudi, "Why is the government behaving like this?"

"We protested at Colachel and Enayam and still they are trying to destroy our livelihood."

Asked why she is protesting, she says, "The village head sent out a diktat that all women had to attend or they would have to pay a fine. We would have come anyway."

Asks Jesurani, another resident of the fishing community, "Do you think the fishermen of Colachel and Enayam are different from the fishermen of Kovalam? We are all the same."

"If it is not good for Colachel, it is not good for Kovalam or any other place in the district."

"According to the coastal zone regulations this area falls under CRZ-1 as there are mangroves, corals and coral reefs, sand dunes, mud flats here," says Prabha, the co-ordinator behind the January 12 protest.

"Moreover, turtles come here to lay eggs. This is an ecologically sensitive area. Apart from that, it was also hit by the tsunami in 2004."

"Moreover, their first notification shows there are no villages here, which is a blatant lie," says Prabha.

"There are eight villages here. The ocean is not deep here so they will have to dredge for 30 metres. If so, why not do it in the existing port in Tuticorin?" asks Prabha.

"The major import in southern ports is coal to feed the thermal stations here," says S P Udayakumar, who spearheaded the agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant.

"This coal will lead to an ecological disaster, fish will start avoiding the area and the sea will be filled with coal dust," adds Udayakumar.

"The minister (Pon Radhakrishnan) is adamant to go against the people's wishes, and we will not allow that to happen."

Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

A Ganesh Nadar / Rediff.com in Kanyakumari