Talks begin to end impasse on construction of Vizhinjam port

Published on Dec 04, 2022 11:59 PM IST

The Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and Malankara Orthodox Church head Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis have started informal talks with the government and the Latin Catholic church which was leading the four-month old stir.

Police officers stand guard near the barricades during a protest rally by the supporters of the proposed Vizhinjam port project in the southern state of Kerala. (REUTERS)
Police officers stand guard near the barricades during a protest rally by the supporters of the proposed Vizhinjam port project in the southern state of Kerala. (REUTERS)
By, Thiruvananthapuram

Over a week after violent clashes against the construction of a port left 36 police personnel and 30 protesters injured in Vizhinjam of south Kerala, the reconciliation talks have started at multiple levels to end the impasse over the construction work, persons in the know of the development said on Sunday. However, the pastoral letters read in Latin Catholic churches on Sunday blamed the government for last week’s violence.

The Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and Malankara Orthodox Church head Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis have started informal talks with the government and the Latin Catholic church which was leading the four-month old stir.

The government also decided not to precipitate the issue and go slow on the 180 cases registered in the wake of last Sunday’s violence. Though police have identified the trouble-makers who stormed the police station in Vizhinjam on last Sunday, no arrests have been made so far.

State ports minister Ahammad Devarkovil said on Sunday that Adani Group, which is carrying out the construction, has sought the central forces not the state government. An official working with Adani refused to comment saying the issue was sub judice

“We do not need central forces to maintain law and order in the area. It is Adani group which has sought the central forces,” he said.

“Now the state is threatening us with central forces. You cannot trample a popular movement like this. Now both Adani and government speak same language,” said vicar of the Latin Catholic church Eugine H Pereira.

Meanwhile, the state government before the high court on Friday supported the move to deploy central forces but had second thoughts after inviting widespread criticism against the move.

In another development, several stakeholders have came forward to broker peace. “We have started talking to all the parties involved in the issue. We will try to arrive at a settlement to avert clashes and bloodshed,” said Gandhi Smarak Nidhi leader N Radhakrishan. He said the outfit has already entrusted three important personalities to engage all the protesters, the church members, the Adani group and representatives of the government. Similarly Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis also met chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday.

Fishermen of Vizhinjam (20 km south of the state capital) and nearby areas led by Latin Church have been protesting for more than four months against the upcoming mother ship project complaining that its work increased sea erosion and their livelihood was affected badly. They also said that many houses along the shore were washed away as the sea turned rough after large-scale constructions and breakwater channels along the coast. But the government and Adani Ports denied it.

Meanwhile, the pastoral letters read in all shrines under the Latin Catholic church squarely blamed the government for the clashes and said some of its wanton actions provoked protesters. It also alleged that ministers were in a race to dub “fishermen anti-nationals.” Interestingly a major section of natives of Vizhinjam is against the stir and they have pitched tent near the protest site demanding early construction of the port saying it will bring all- round development in the area.

The idea for the country’s first mother ship port was conceived more than three decades ago but it was mired in many controversies. Strategically located, Vizhinjam has 20-meter natural depth and is 12 nautical miles close to international ship channel. The project was finally awarded to Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd under a PPP agreement. The work for the 7,525-crore project began in October 2015 and deadline for the first phase was 2019. But the company said cyclone Ockhi and scarcity of stone boulders delayed the project and now it is expected to be commissioned by October 2023.

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