The Kerala assembly on Tuesday witnessed a heated debate on the ongoing agitation against the under-construction Vizhinjam sea port project, in which Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed suspicion whether any external forces were controlling the stir from outside.
Vijayan, in his detailed speech, said his government wanted to resolve the issue amicably within the framework of law and sought the support of everyone to participate in the process to settle the 140-day-long agitation.
He, however, categorically made it clear the massive infrastructure project could not be abandoned as it was inevitable for the development of the southern state.
"It is not possible under any circumstances to accept the unreasonable demand to stop the construction of Vizhinjam port, which is a significant infrastructure project inevitable for the comprehensive development of the state...Eighty per cent of its construction is already completed," Vijayan said.
Earlier, Vijayan agreed to discuss the matter on the floor of the Assembly when the opposition Congress-led UDF sought a notice for an adjournment motion over it.
Strongly rejecting the opposition charge that the Left government did not take any steps to resolve the agitation by the local fisherfolk, he said several rounds of official talks had been held under the aegis of ministerial sub-committee and a number of unofficial discussions through other channels as well.
He said he had himself discussed the issue directly with prominent leaders of the protest committee with an aim to end the agitation at the earliest.
"We have accepted all of their demands except the one. They wanted to stop the construction of the port and we made it clear that it was not possible under any circumstances," he said.
The other point of difference was regarding the coastal erosion allegedly caused by the port construction and the government had appointed an expert panel to study that to alleviate their concerns, he said.
The CM said each round of discussion had ended on a positive note but the next day they seemed to have intensified their agitation.
Apparently referring to the Latin Church, which leads the agitation, he said "it was natural to suspect whether there were any external forces to control the stir from outside."
The Latin Church used to take a positive stand on development and social issues of the state and has a cordial relationship with the government, he said.
It was understandable the stand adopted by the Vizhinjam protest committee was not the general stand of the Latin Church on the matter, he added.
Considering the problems and crises being faced by the fisherfolk, the government and the police had shown utmost restraint when violence erupted in Vizhinjam last month, he said.
The CM criticised the attack on the police station by the agitators and said a total of 54 police personnel suffered injuries and vehicles and documents were destroyed widely.
Justifying the cases slapped against protesters and priests, he said it was the responsibility of the police to register cases as the protest committee had violated the High Court order not to obstruct the construction of the port.
It was part of the contempt of court case that some priests also had been booked by the police, he explained.
He also urged the anti-seaport agitators to refrain from provocations that may trigger unrest and hatred in society.
Meanwhile, the opposition members who took part in the discussion, vehemently criticised the handling of the issue by the LDF government but said they were not favouring the abandoning of the multi-crore project.
Opposition leader VD Satheesan said the fishermen community was the one facing hardships including issues like loss of houses and means of livelihood due to coastal erosion, soaring prices of kerosene and diesel and so on.
He expressed doubt whether there was any secret tie-up between the government and the Adani group and the recent violent incidents were part of plans to get a favorable judgement from the high court in this regard.
Like Satheesan, senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala also criticised the chief minister for his alleged silence over the issue. He said it was a shame as an administrator not to talk to the agitating fisherfolk.
Kovalam MLA M Vincent who moved the notice for the motion alleged the Left government adopted a "hostile attitude" towards the fishermen and demanded a judicial probe into the recent violent incidents in connection with the anti-seaport stir.
"A judicial probe should be ordered to bring out the truth regarding the violent incidents reported on November 26 and 27 as part of the stir. But that investigation should be to bring out the real truth and not to cover up the facts," Vincent said.
Saji Cheriyan, PK Kunhalikutty, Anoop Jacob, Mons Joseph, V Joy and others were among those who took part in the over two-hour-long discussion.
Fisherfolk of Vizhinjam and other coastal areas have been protesting for more than four months against the under-construction seaport, which also led to violence on November 26 and 27.
The protesters attacked Vizhinjam police station on the night of November 27, injuring several policemen.