In India’s southern state of Kerala, the community is mobilizing against a massive port development by the Adani Group. As damage to the coast escalates, so does opposition to Adani’s container port at Vizhinjam. In the last month, community groups have organised a program of protests against the colossal project which has been condemned by conservationists, scientists and fishing communities.
On 30 May 2022, in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, farmers, fishing communities and environmentalists convened a committee to coordinate protests against Adani’s Vizhinjam port expansion.
Plans are now afoot to hold protests outside the Adani-managed Thiruvananthapuram International Airport. Nearby Shanghumugham Beach will also be a focal point due to the severe beach erosion that has occurred there. A joint farmer-fisher action council held a strike-call gathering at Vizhinjam on May 21 demanding similar action.
These gatherings alleged that the Vizhinjam commercial port project has led to the destruction of the livelihoods and homes of coastal dwellers.
Pointing out the damage that has already occurred on beaches such as Shanghumugham and Kovalam, they also expressed fears that the level of devastation would escalate throughout the coastal region once dredging and construction of the breakwater are completed.
Adani was contracted for the project by the United Development Front (UDF) government over 10 years ago, and the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) is providing all the necessary assistance to complete the project. Since neither party is going to oppose the project, the protest council is calling upon every individual and organisation that wants this disastrous endeavour to stop. Kerala Swathanthra Malsyathozhilali Federation, Rashtreeya Kisan Sangh, Sewa Union and Coastal Watch have come together to form the joint protest council.
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Over 1800 metres of the proposed 3.1-km breakwater have been completed. Parts of the L-shaped breakwater have been destroyed in recent years by rough seas. Meanwhile, the ports minister, Ahammad Devarkovil, has claimed that the first commercial ship will make port at Vizhinjam in December 2022.
The seas adjacent to Kerala's 589.5km coastal area become turbulent during monsoons. AdaniWatch has reported that the Thiruvananthapuram coast has been facing rampant beach erosion and destruction of homes since the port expansion commenced. Weather reports say that this year's monsoon was due to begin in the last week of May. The fishing community is dreading the possibility of aggravated tidal surges, more destruction of homes and property, and the relocation of displaced people to relief camps again.
The erosion has led to the destruction of the Kovalam beach, one of Kerala's most acclaimed tourist hotspots. Shanghumugham, another major beach in Thiruvananthapuram was also destroyed. The road adjacent to the beach has been closed for over a year. Visitors have been banned from this beach for over three years.
The destruction of the road leading to Thiruvananthapuram International Airport due to coastal erosion led to widespread protests. The state government repaired the road and opened it with great fanfare on 15 March 2022. But it was destroyed again in under two months due to soil erosion. This road was fitted with diaphragm walls to ensure better safety and was built with a budget of 12 crore Indian rupees (US $1.5 million). There are reports that the latest technology in reinforced concrete diaphragm walls will be used to build a protective wall that will be eight metres deep, 50cm wide and 260 metres long.
Since the road has already given way, local inhabitants fear that the bigger waves of this season's monsoon will lead to bigger catastrophes.
Meanwhile, a highly influential scientific organisation, Kerala Shastra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP, a council of intellectuals, revolutionaries, scientists, teachers and researchers), has urged the government to initiate emergency coastal-protection measures. Instead of hard structures such as sea walls and groynes, KSSP advocates beach nourishment and offshore submerged reefs. They also highlighted how the Vizhinjam and Muthalappozhi fishing harbours and the international port projects have led to extensive erosion in the Thiruvananthapuram coast. They have warned that artificial structures have adversely impacted the natural processes of the coast by disrupting the natural movement and deposition of sand. The impact of human intervention has been aggravated by climate change and the associated rise in sea level.
‘The Thiruvananthapuram coast is undoubtedly suffering from a man-made catastrophe,’ the KSSP resolution said.
In recent years, about 25 kilometres of sea walls have collapsed and been replaced by the ever-shifting sands. According to warnings issued by the KSSP, coastal areas with high population densities such as Kollankod, Pozhiyoor, Panathura, Poonthura, Beemaapalli, Valiyathura, Kochuthoppu, Shanghumugham, Thazhampalli and Anchuthengu are facing the wrath of rough seas for years to come.