Fisherfolk in Kerala's Vizhinjam, about 20 kms away from Thiruvananthapuram have been protesting against Adani Group's port development project here. The protests intensified late last month with fisherfolk laying siege to the port.

The protestors say that the proposed Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport could be harmful to the environment. They have listed out their demands, which include a thorough study of the environmental impacts and an appropriate compensation and rehabilitation of the families affected. While talks are on between the government and the protestors, there has been no solution yet.

Father Eugene Pereira, a representative of the Latin Archdiocese, which has been backing the protestors said, "from the inception of the planning of the port, the local fishermen and community members have been raising their voices against. The port will create environmental degradation, coastal erosion and coastal attrition to the extent that a lot of houses will be destroyed.

"In the last five years, people have experienced the damage it has caused. The Shankamugham beach which used to be accessible to the people in the city is no more. Around 600 metres of the beach is already eroded. The road was eaten up by the sea.

"People travelling to the airport were affected because there was no road. There was an intervention by the government to protect the road by installing a diaphragm wall. In 2021, the diaphragm wall was installed and gradually the sea intruded into the road. It indicated that year by year, the road will be eaten up.

"We are also worried that the airport facility will be damaged. There are also over 500 people in the adjacent villages, they have lost their homes and around 350 people are lying in the cement go-downs. That's the situation of the people here and there has been no attempt in the last four years to address the issue on the part of the government.

"The tourist centre in Kovalam, a huge source of income for the Kerala government is also getting eroded and damaged. After the construction of the breakwater, the fishing harbour, which almost 40,000 fishermen use during rough season, is experiencing sediment movement and is getting filled in. The water is becoming shallow. At least five fishermen have died in the recent past due to accidents caused by this.

"A lot of boats in the harbour got damaged as well. The artificial breakwater construction is about three kilometres and a lot of hard material like stones gets deposited in the sea. Over time, there will be environmental degradation because of heavy destruction of the western ghats.

"There is dredging happening as well, because of which it is said that more than 160 acres of sea will be reclaimed. Already 50 acres have been reclaimed and on the northern side, there is heavy erosion. The damage would be massive. Vizhinjam is rich with fish resources. It is a fertile breeding place for fish. If the port is constructed, fish resources would also be reduced and fishermen would have to go hungry."

The protestors are demanding that immediate steps should be taken to accommodate over 350 people living in the cement godowns. It has been demanded that these people be given them rent for houses, and that they be rehabilitated in the long run.

There has also been a demand for subsidies for kerosene. Fr Eugene said, "kerosene price is shooting up. In Tamil Nadu, fishermen are getting upto 300 litres of kerosene for a minimum price of 25 rupees. We are demanding that the fishermen be given a subsidy."

The other demands include: steps taken to mitigate coastal erosion, financial assistance to fishermen on days that weather warnings are issued and compensation for families of fishermen who lost their lives in accidents.

The biggest demand however is that the port development project be halted altogether. While the government has accepted most of the demands, it has said that halting the project is not an option. The government has also announced an expert study on the geological and social impact of the port construction.

Responding to a query in the Assembly, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, "we cannot stop the project at a crucial stage, it is unacceptable." He added that "certain sections of protestors" were trying to portray the government in a bad light.

However, according to Fr Eugene "people are very anxious, it is life or death for them. The governor wanted to have a dialogue with us, and assured us that he will take the matter up with the Centre."