An Adani port development in the south-western Indian state of Kerala has been beset by delays, court actions, inquiries, government penalties and protests. Construction of the port’s massive breakwater requires millions of tonnes of rock sourced from the hinterland. However, a local movement has developed against new quarries that threaten ancient heritage sites, natural features, rainforests and the stability of the ground itself in an area prone to deadly landslides.
Completion of Adani’s troubled port re-development at Vizhinjam is well over a year behind schedule. The Adani Group has blamed natural disasters and a shortage of rock for the harbour’s new breakwater.
In January 2020, it was reported that a government committee had called for completion of the project within six months, ruling out further extensions to the deadline. The Committee had conducted an inspection of the port site after Adani failed to finish the project in December 2019. The Committee observed that only 600 m of the proposed 3.1-km breakwater had been constructed. The Adani Group said it needed seven million tonnes of rock to complete the project, blaming the delay on a scarcity of suitable rocks. It said that the government had failed to approve sufficient quarries in the state of Kerala and demanded the issuing of more quarry licences.
In response, the committee proposed to allow accelerated rock quarrying for the port construction and suggested that a panel headed by the chief minister and senior government officials should convene a meeting in this regard.
The issue of quarrying in the hilly, forested and populated region inland of the port is a vexed one. In November 2020, Mongabay reported on landslides and fatalities caused by quarrying in the area. Recent developments indicate that Adani’s Vizhinjam port development is a major driver of this damaging form of exploitation.
In 2019, it was reported that the government had issued 19 quarry permits to Adani in Kerala. However, following the August 2019 floods, the state government temporarily banned quarrying in the state fearing further landslides.
The Kerala State Biodiversity Board’s report, published in the wake of the floods, concluded that quarrying activities in the Western Ghats were one of the causes of the landslides. Parts of the Western Ghats constitute a UNESCO World Heritage property, adding to the seriousness of the impacts. Another report, by the Environmental Committee of Kerala’s Legislative Assembly, also identified the adverse environmental impact of Kerala’s rock quarries and crusher units.
The Environment Committee proposed no further permits be issued beyond the existing 723 quarries. The report also recommended that there be a distance of at least 200 metres between the quarries and residential areas.
The conflict between quarrying and the environment frequently erupts at the local level. In October 2020, the state pollution-control board convened a public hearing as part of the procedure to issue an environmental approval for an Adani Group company to expand quarrying activities in the vicinity of the town of Kadavila. Local people had complained that quarrying was being conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was damaging houses and places of worship. They also complained of debris hurtling towards residential areas only 50 m distant, saying that pollution, noise, resultant health effects, and water scarcity were problems. But the Adani Group claimed that the quarry was 300 m away from residential areas and denied allegations about flying debris and damage to houses.
Another public hearing pertaining to proposed quarrying by Adani, held on January 2021 at the town of Kalanjoor, led to physical altercations. Ninety-five percent of the residents opposed quarrying. Clashes occurred when quarry supporters, including the owners of tip trucks, turned up. The residents of Kalanjoor raised the same issues as those of Kadavila – noise, pollution and impacts of blasting. The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority is studying the feasibility of this quarry. According to the approved mining plan, the proposed quarry occupies five hectares but critics argue that the impacts will be far more extensive.
An online portal named Green Reporter has posted images of Rakshasan Para (‘Monster Rock’), one of the locations at Kalanjoor proposed for quarrying by Adani. It shows green hills, forests, villages and a spectacular outcrop. In October 2020, a people’s movement was organised to oppose the move to allot Thattupara, another spectacular outcrop with local cultural significance, to Adani. The movement was supported by environmental groups, artists and poets.
Adani’s port expansion at Vizhinjam has already attracted the ire of fishing communities whose livelihoods are placed at risk by the development’s impacts on coastal ecology. Now, the otherwise tranquil settings of hill villages in the Western Ghat ranges are similarly threatened by this destructive development.