Concern about the growing power of Indian ‘corporates’ and the impacts on local farmers and fishing communities has grown in India’s south-west state of Kerala.
In mid-January, Kerala’s fishing communities carried out a huge water-borne protest against Adani’s troubled Vizhinjam port development. The state government has also issued a penalty notice to the Adani Group following the missing of a construction deadline for the troubled port. Earlier, the Kerala state government passed a resolution condemning new national farm laws that benefit large corporations such as Adani at the expense of small land-holdings.
Kerala has passed a unanimous resolution condemning the controversial Farm Laws and the Modi Government’s favouring of corporates. The resolution was passed in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of farmers that have protested against the Farm Laws in the national capital New Delhi. A special Legislative Assembly session was convened on 31 December 2020 to pass the resolution. During the debate, a Kerala MLA strongly criticised the Modi-Adani relationship, saying it had propelled Gautam Adani from 10th richest to 2nd richest person in India.
The Kerala Government has asked the Central Government to accept farmers’ demands and immediately withdraw the anti-farmer and pro-corporate Farm Laws, which were hurriedly passed without being sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. The state-government resolution was passed unanimously in the session which was attended by the sole member of the BJP, the party of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The deeply contentious Farm Laws, which deregulate India’s agricultural sector, are seen as beneficial to the corporate sector, including the Adani Group.
While presenting the resolution, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan praised the ‘historic’ agitation by the farmers, which completed 35 days on 31 December. The resolution paid tribute to the 32 protesters that had died in the severe winter conditions.
‘India is second in the world when it comes to COVID-19 infections. The central government should not have acted in a way to provoke public ire in this juncture. The law-making bodies are obliged to clarify all the apprehensions and doubts while formulating new laws. According to recent central-government figures, 43.3 per cent of the nation’s labour is utilised in the agriculture sector. Farming is our nation’s culture. Therefore, agricultural reforms have to be implemented with care,’ the Chief Minister said.
‘The bargaining power of farmers is mostly weakened by powerful corporates. A major cause of concern is that there are no clauses in the laws to safeguard the interest of the farmers. And the farmers do not have the resources to engage corporate giants legally. The existing system where the government procures agricultural products from farmers and distributing it to customers at a fair price must continue. Instead, corporates are being allowed to take over agricultural products business fully. And the central government is washing its hands of the responsibility of ensuring fair prices for the farmers,’ he added in the resolution.
Sole voice against Adani
Poonjar MLA P C George strongly criticised Adani during the session. He spoke openly about the Modi-Adani ‘alliance’.
‘We know when the Modi government came into power. Just see how Adani jumped from tenth position in the list of Indian billionaires to the second during this period. This shows how strong these corporates have become in comparison to the common people. We (representatives of the people) have an obligation to seriously inquire into this matter. Is this a trivial issue?’ PC George said.
He was the only member of the legislative assembly who showed the courage to explicitly criticise Adani. (Other MLAs made generic criticisms of ‘corporates’) The Adani Group is constructing the Vizhinjam deep-sea port touted as Kerala’s ‘dream project’ in the state’s southern district Thiruvananthapuram. The central government recently granted the Adani Group the management of the international airport at Thiruvananthapuram. The state and the central governments are still at loggerheads over this decision.
The state government sees the port as its prestige project. But the fisherfolk residing in the vicinity of the port site vehemently oppose it. The opposition stems from the belief that dredging and breakwater construction for the port are damaging fisheries and causing serious coastal erosion.
Even the government has officially accepted that reefs were destroyed due to dredging and that the fisherfolk are losing livelihoods. The government has vowed to build 400 artificial reefs in the sea, according to another document.
Fisherfolk agitation takes the sea route
Fisheries Minister Mercykuttiyamma has expressed concern over the impact of the fully completed breakwater after witnessing the devastation caused with just 20% of it built.
With a huge chunk of the 3.1-km breakwater construction and dredging still pending, the fishing community is terrified at the prospect of the total destruction of the Thiruvananthapuram coastline. They have therefore protested against the government and Adani from the sea. This protest was also held in solidarity with the farmers’ agitation in Delhi.
Fisherfolk criticised the government for harming farmers and have also accused the government of bequeathing the seas to corporates. Mussel collectors have said that dredging has muddied the seas and resulted in the mass destruction of mussels.
The Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Federation led the mussel collectors’ sea protest that left Leela beach at Kovalam on 16 January 2021 to head to Vizhinjam Harbour. The preliminary meeting in this regard was held on 10 January 2021. The National Fish Workers Forum had also conducted a march to the Accountant General’s office on 18 December 2020 in solidarity with the farmers protesting in Delhi.
According to the fishing workers’ unions, the central government’s ambitious shipping channel project in south-western India is a ploy to give away the seas to corporates. The central government aims to utilise the nation’s 7500-km coastline and 14,500 km of inland waterways along with international sea trade routes for the Sagarmala project. The Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (Independent Fish Workers’ Federation) and the National Fish Workers’ Forum have been organising protests across the country against this. The fisherfolk claim that this project will destroy five main fishing grounds in Kerala. During 2020, the Fishing Workers’ Union conducted protests in 50 villages all over Kerala, demanding the repeal of this project. The Kerala state government had also raised opposition to this project. With its string of ports around India’s coastline, the Adani Group will be one of the main beneficiaries of this huge project.