'People should realise that what we are fighting for today is actually for tomorrow, for future generations.'
The Vizhinjam international transhipment deepwater multipurpose seaport is an ambitious project started on a public private partnership model of design, build, finance, operate and transfer basis.
The project's private partner is the Adani Vizhinjam Port Private limited.
Though construction started on December 5l 2015 with the intention to complete the first phase by December 2019, the project has been delayed indefinitely.
Reason: The ongoing protest against construction of the port by the fishing community under the leadership of the Catholic archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram.
Kerala's Marxists, who dominated the Left Democratic Front goverment in Kerala, have now joined hands with their political adversaries, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in support of the Adani port project in Kerala.
"The political parties in Kerala are all trapped because all of them have accepted favours from Adani. They do not even react to our pleas and warnings," Father Eugene H Pereira, vicar general, archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram, one of the 15 Catholic priests against whom the LDF government filed cases on Sunday, November 27, 2022, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
It is said the agitation against the Vizhinjam port developed by the Adani group is spearheaded by the church. How did the church get involved in this?
Is it because it affects the livelihood of fishermen of the area?
Definitely. Majority of the fishermen in Thiruvananthapuram belong to the church.
In 2010, when the talks were going on about the construction of a port at Vizhinjam, they (the fishermen) had shared with us their concerns and apprehensions.
In June 2013, the state government had arranged a public hearing, but it did not consider the concerns of the fishermen of the area.
What were the concerns that the fishermen had?
They feared the construction of a port at Vizhinjam would not just affect their lives and livelihood, it would also cause coastal erosion.
The major worry was coastal erosion because when you lose the coast, you are losing your houses and every aspect of your life.
Fishermen cannot venture deep into the sea during the monsoon season in June-August, and it is the Vizhinjam fishing harbour that comes to their rescue then.
This harbour was built in 1970 solely for the fishing community.
When the new port being developed by the Adani group come into existence, the functioning of this fishing harbour will get affected.
We have already seen that it could create accidents. That is because of the sediment movement that happens during the south west monsoon season.
When the monsoon starts, the sediment movement is from the north to the south but the sediments will come back during October-November when the north east monsoon starts.
With the construction of a breakwater structure for about a kilometre into the sea for the new port, it will block the movement of sediments.
Remember, this is a natural process and you are blocking a natural phenomenon. This, of course, will result in coastal erosion.
What they had feared happened in 2020-2021 itself, even before the completion of the port.
For the first time in history, at the mouth of the fishing harbour, huge waves lashed out drowning fishing boats and killing five fishermen.
What caused the accident was lack of sediment movement.
Because of the new port, the sediment movement did not happen, and the depth of the sea in the mouth of the harbour got reduced which resulted in the accident.
So, it is quite clear that the functioning of the fishing harbour will end with the new port.
The third reason is, the sea at Vizhinjam up to 12 kilometres is very rich in biodiversity.
The incessant dredging has already affected the biodiversity of the area.
A study by the former chairman of the Biodiversity Board also mentioned that dredging would destroy the unique biodiversity of the Vizhinjam sea.
This, in turn, will affect the livelihood of fishermen.
When it is such an environmentally sensitive area, how did they get clearance from the environmental ministry?
In fact, several studies have recommended that this should be declared as a special economic zone.
When the application to construct the port went to the environment ministry in 2011, the ministry had asked questions like, what would happen to the hundreds of fishermen who use this fishing harbour for their livelihood, what would happen to the bounty of fish, what about coastal erosion.
The ministry wanted them to identify another area as it felt Vizhinjam is an environmentally sensitive area.
But these people were determined to go ahead with the project without bothering about the concerns of the environmental ministry.
In fact, seven agencies conducted studies on the port, and some of them very clearly mentioned that it could result in coastal erosion.
What happened then was, they just suppressed the original report, and asked the Hyderabad- based INCOIS (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services) to write a new report which said there would not be any erosion in the north or accretion in the south.
It clearly shows they got what they wanted by manipulating government agencies.
The UN secretary-general told the COP27 summit in Egypt that we were on a highway to climate hell.
Since this project is going to have such a huge impact on the environment, climate and livelihood, should you not try to get the attention of the world?
Yes, we should. We are trying to send the message to everyone.
I have to tell you that this project not only affects the sea, it affects the Western Ghats also.
They are filling the sea with stones, and this is already done for less than a kilometre in the sea.
They have to reclaim the sea for at least two kilometres where the sea is very deep.
Do you know from they are bringing materials to fill the sea?
They are destroying the Western Ghats and the hills surrounding the ghats. They are not just destroying the forests, they are destroying the fauna too.
It is shocking that they have got permission to destroy the mountains and the forests.
You mean not just the treasures in the sea, but the enviroment- sensitive Western Ghats also will be destroyed if the project goes ahead?
Yes... What we are going to witness is an environmental disaster.
Kerala is already an environmentally sensitive area. We are seeing the coasts of Kerala being eroded.
Every year we are witnessing floods, landslides, cyclones and coastal erosion.
That is why we are warning the authorities of even worse disasters.
Do you feel your warnings are falling on deaf ears?
Yes. The political parties in Kerala are all trapped because all of them have accepted favours from Adani. They do not even react to our pleas and warnings.
What we are saying is, not just our lives and livelihood, our right to live also is threatened by the port development.
You must have seen how the sea has eaten away the Sankumukham beach.
Once the sea was more than a kilometre away and there was a beautiful beach. Now, there is no beach.
When the sea came close to the road, they built a sea wall, but the sea has consumed half the road now.
If the work on the port continues, even the airport which is close to the sea, will be lost to the sea.
In Valiyathura, a football ground is lost to the sea. We will lose many more houses, churches and other public places too soon.
So, what we are going to lose is much more than what they are going to gain from building a port.
The Centre has given viability gap funding recently to the project...
Both the Centre and state have given viability gap funding. Why did they give the viability gap funding? It is because the port is not viable!
According to the pro-port lobby, this has become an environment versus development issue. They say you are stopping a port project that can be a competitor to Colombo and Dubai.
Yes, that is their argument. We saw what happened to the Vallarpadam international container transhipment terminal in Kochi.
So many families were evicted for nothing. The Vallarpadam rail link was no use as not a single train has passed through it.
It was described as Kerala's dream project then. Why is it remaining idle today?
The Adani port project is going to be a disaster worse than the Vallarpadam project.
Even the CAG report had commented that this project would turn out to be a white elephant for Kerala!
People should realise that what we are fighting for today is actually for tomorrow, for future generations.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com