Archbishop, top clergy named prime accused in violence against Adani Port

Protestors block movement of granite (rock stone) laden trucks to the Vizhinjam project site in front of the main gate on November 26, 2022. Photo: Manorama.

The top leadership of the Latin Archdiocese Thiruvananthapuram has been collectively arraigned as the prime accused in the violence that erupted after the Latin Church-led anti-port protesters blocked a convoy of 25 trucks carrying granite to the port site on November 26, Saturday.

The FIR drawn up by the Vizhinjam police shows Archbishop Fr Thomas J Netto himself as the first accused. The Auxiliary Bishop, Fr Christudas Rajappan, is the second accused and the convenor of the agitation Fr Eugene Pereira is the third.

The first 15 names in the FIR are the top spiritual leaders of the Latin community in the Thiruvananthapuram district. None of them, including Fr Eugene, was present at the protest venue when the violence broke out. According to the police, the conspiracy to foment trouble was hatched by the top Latin leadership. The police case is that the anti-port agitators, at the instigation of the Archdiocese, had swarmed the protest site in 30-odd vehicles with the clear intention of causing widespread destruction and violence.

The FIR has 96 names and 50 of them are priests. Earlier, the impression given by the police was that only Fr Eugene and some priests who were present during the fight between anti- and pro-port agitators have been booked under various sections. It was said that nine cases were slapped against anti-port protesters and one against pro-port agitators, both on the basis of complaints received from the local population. The police had said that there were complaints that many houses at Mulloor, the coastal village near Vizhinjam where the entrance to the port is situated, were damaged as a result of stone-pelting by the anti-port protesters.

Moreover, the police said that the High Court had ordered that nothing should be allowed to impede construction work.

The new development suggests that the police have acted suo motu against the top leadership of the Latin community. Various non-bailable charges like incitement to violence, illegal assembly, conspiracy and also under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act have been slapped on the priests. The FIR, after what it calls a preliminary assessment, states that public property worth Rs 2.10 lakh have been destroyed.

The Latin Church, on its part, accused the government of conspiring with certain sections of the locals to unleash violence on the protesters. It is said that violence was unleashed on a peaceful protest staged by the anti-port agitators. A source said obscenities and stones were hurled at the anti-port agitators, mostly poor fisherwomen, with the sole intention of provoking them. The Church says the intention was to subdue the agitating fisherfolk by force.

Against this backdrop, sources close to Adani Vizhinjam Port Limited (AVPL) said that work on the port would be halted. The company wants the Court to take a call as it was the assurance of the High Court that prompted the company to resume construction.

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