Kerala's under-construction Vizhinjam port on Monday witnessed an unprecedented style of agitation with protesting fisherfolk surrounding the strategically important site from the sea on boats, even as others on land entered its premises by breaking open its huge gates.
On Monday, the fisherfolk not only blocked the port from the sea but on land. Many climbed over the gates and broke the locks from the inside, letting through the horde of protestors waiting outside.
Visuals aired on TV showed how the police, who had been deployed there since morning in huge numbers, stood helplessly as the protestors climbed over the gates and broke the locks.
The protestors were then seen jubilantly dancing around after breaking through the gates.
At the same time, hundreds of fishing boats were also seen surrounding the port from the sea.
One of the priests of the Latin Archdiocese, who are leading the protest, had a day ago said that while the state government said it would meet five of their demands, it was only an oral assurance, and they wanted it in writing.
The priest had also said that the construction of the port should be stopped and a study be carried out regarding its environmental impact and representatives of the fisherfolk, experts in such matters, also be consulted.
On Sunday, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), a powerful church body, declared its full support to the coastal residents "who are fighting for their survival and the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Archdiocese which is leading their struggle".
Earlier, Black flags were hoisted in churches of the Latin Archdiocese in the state capital.
Latin Archdiocese archbishop Thomas J Netto said the sea is their mother and would not allow any construction activities that destroy its shores.
Significance of Vizhinjam Port
The deep-water, multipurpose, international seaport and container transshipment terminal at Vizhinjam is being constructed by Adani Vizhinjam Ports Pvt Ltd (AVPPL). It is expected to boost India's maritime ambitions significantly.
The port project was signed during the tenure of the Congress-led UDF government led by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The Adani Group and the Kerala government signed a Rs 7,525 crore deal, but the project hit several roadblocks and controversies.
When construction began on December 5, 2015, group chief Gautam Adani claimed that the first ship would berth there on September 1, 2018, in less than 1,000 days.
Cyclone Okchi devastated the region in 2017, destroying a portion of the built breakwater. Since then, a further delay has been brought on by the lack of limestone, the project's most important raw material.
Phase 1 of the project is now close to 80 per cent complete.
Once complete, Vizhinjam will emerge as a significant competition to the transshipment ports of Colombo, Singapore and Dubai as it is the only transshipment hub in the Indian subcontinent, closest to the international shipping routes, and is centrally located on the Indian coastline. It has a natural draft of 20-24 m and minimal littoral drift.
The port will also offer infrastructure to handle Megamax containerships. Its capacity in phase 1 is 1 million TEUs; in subsequent phases, another 6.2 million TEUs will be added.
Once completed, the Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport project will be one of India's deepest ports, with 80 per cent of the country's cargo trans-shipments passing through here.
(With inputs from PTI)
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