THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Resentment is brewing among the local residents and fishermen as the construction of the Vizhinjam International Deepwater Seaport project progresses. With the shoreline facing massive destruction along the coast of the capital, a large section of the fishermen from various parts are coming to Vizhinjam for doing fishing activities. It is learned that an average of 2500 to 3000 fishermen fish at Vizhinjam every day. During crew changes at the Port, the fishermen are asked not to venture into the sea and take extra care while doing fishing activities.
Though a large section of development activists stand by the port project, apprehensions are mounting among thousands of people residing in areas surrounding the project area. The worst affected are the traditional fishermen in the capital as the future looks bleak for them as the entire coast is battered by sea erosion and sea advancements, which is also claimed to be the impact of the port project.
The Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd (VISL) is gearing up to resume the breakwater construction which has been stalled owing to adverse weather and unavailability of rock. Now efforts are on to resume the construction of the breakwater and the fishermen community is more concerned as the resumption of the breakwater construction would adversely impact their livelihood. According to the fisherfolks and the local people they are being ignored and many of their issues remain unaddressed.
'Port project ruining the livelihood of fishers'
Kottappuram ward councillor Pani Adima John said that the unscientific breakwater construction is ruining the livelihoods of thousands of people in his ward. He said that some of the families in his ward migrated to neighbouring wards because of this. “Fishing activities are getting affected and the project is threatening the livelihood of scores of traditional fishermen. Their boats and fishing equipment are getting damaged when ships arrive at the port for crew changes. This is becoming a threat to their lives too. When the mother port becomes operations huge vessels would be arriving at the port permanently putting an end to traditional fishing activities at Vizhinjam,” said Pani Adima John.
He alleged that the government or the Adani Enterprises Ltd have failed to implement any of the welfare projects promised for the development of the local people when the project was announced. “The project has progressed more than 35 percent but the authorities have failed to do even 5 % for improving the life of people actually affected by the project. They haven’t utilised CSR funds for the welfare of the local people and none of the activities taken up by them under CSR initiative is directly benefiting the local people,” he added.
The VISL has announced the construction of a fish landing centre worth Rs 63 crores near the breakwater. Pani Adima John said that the development is being imposed on the public without giving any consideration for their wellbeing or future. “The fish landing project is not going to benefit the fishermen as the space would be enough only for a limited number of boats and they are planning for other developments attached to the fish landing centre. Many promises remain on paper and no efforts are being taken to give special coaching classes for the education of the children, skill development for the fishermen. We have raised various demands earlier including drinking water project, waste management, playground etc but nothing has happened on the ground,” he added.
‘Resentment among local people to worsen’
Recently, a dispute erupted at Vizhinjam over the relocation of a cupola to facilitate the Port project. A meeting has been convened on August 26 to resolve the dispute and the stakeholders are planning to raise their concerns in the meeting. According to many, it's not a religious issue but a larger resentment among the local people against the port project, which is adversely impacting their livelihood.
A J Vijayan, spokesperson of Coastal Watch - an NGO working for the welfare of the fishermen community, said that local people and fishermen are at the receiving end as livelihood is getting impacted by the project.
“Fishing activities at Vizhinjam will become dangerous as the project progresses. Accidents are likely to happen. The shoreline is depleting drastically ever since the launch of the Port Project. There is shore formation in Poovar - Pulluvila area but the southern part of the coastline is facing massive destruction. Only 40 percent of the dredging has been completed and more dredging will happen soon and we will lose more shore. Recently, more crew changes are happening at Vizhinjam and this is one of the reasons for the raising apprehensions among the local people,” said AJ Vijayan. He said that people have started reacting to even small issues.
“There is huge resentment as their livelihood is in danger. We have to anticipate more issues in the future as the project is going to get implemented anyway. The promises and compensation packages are only temporary relief for the public and that will not be enough to cover the loses they are going to face,” he added.
A senior official associated with Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd (VISL) said that they have received around 18,000 applications from local people for various welfare schemes announced by VISL. The official said that they are implementing a slew of projects, welfare schemes for the welfare of the people. “We have tied up with various government agencies to implement welfare schemes and infrastructure improvement projects for the local people. We are upgrading the community health centre to Taluk level hospital. Efforts are ongoing to construct 3.3 mld plant for water supply scheme,” said the official.
The official said that dredging has been stalled for the past four years. “People are raising concerns without any grounds. We have distributed more than 94 crores among the people affected by the project. There are ineligible beneficiaries among the applicants and we cannot give compensations for ineligible beneficiaries. The government agencies fisheries and revenue departments will be looking into the beneficiary list. People may raise concern if they don’t make into the final list. We hiked the compensation for Karamadi fishermen. We will continue addressing the issues and concerns of the local people during and after the completion of the project. We are starting a skill park to give port-related courses for youngsters and local people so that they get employment when the port becomes operational. It's impossible to satisfy everyone,” said the official.