The fisherfolk in Thiruvananthapuram have intensified their protest against alleged neglect of their demands by the Kerala government. The protesters, mainly youth, gathered outside the under construction Vizhinjam port on Tuesday wearing black clothes and carrying black flags.
Black flags were hoisted in churches of the Latin Archdiocese in the state capital and a bike rally to the port's main entrance was also held.
The fisherfolk's demands include stopping the construction of the port which, they say, has put their lives at risk.
Following the protest, the Adani Ports which is building the port on Tuesday put on hold the works for the day. The company was forced to stay the works as it was unable to take materials to the construction site.
Monsignor Eugine H Pereira of the Latin Archdiocese, to which a large section of the fishing community belongs, told media that the fourth phase of the protest was being held with the slogan 'Vizhinjam chalo'.
Meanwhile, State Ports Minister Ahammed Devarkovil said those from outside were involved in the protest. This further provoked the protesters.
An angry Monsignor Pereira said the minister was out of his senses. “ The minister makes such statements because he is not aware of the problems the port construction is causing to the fishing community,” the priest said.
State Transport Minister Antony Raju said steps were being taken to allocate land for constructing flats for those who lost their homes to the sea.
“One of the main problems being faced by a large section of the fishing community was the loss of their homes to the sea and to address that directions have been issued to allocate land by August 22 for construction of flats for them. The objective is to provide homes without any further delay,” the minister told reporters.
"Actually they (fisherfolk) are facing various problems which need to be addressed in a time bound manner. In the coming days, the government will take a final decision on ensuring housing for those who lost their homes," he said.
On stopping the port construction, which is one of the demands of the protesters, Raju said the state government cannot take such a decision on its own as the Centre is also involved in the project regarding which orders were also issued by the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal.
A large number of police personnel were deployed outside the port in the morning in anticipation of the protest.
Monsignor Eugine H Pereira said the protest was not just confined to the problems being faced by members of the fishing community in Thiruvananthapuram, as those in Kollam, Alappuzha, Kochi and other coastal areas were also facing various issues, including coastal erosion.
Successive governments made various promises and announced several relief packages and projects, but either they were not properly implemented or in some places nothing happened at the ground level, the priest claimed.
He alleged that the successive governments were more interested in taking the port project forward rather than listening to what the fisherfolk had to say.
He also alleged that the contract with the Adani group for construction of the Vizhinjam port was a "fraud".
Another priest of the Latin Archdiocese told reporters that the agitation was against the government's "arrogant belief" that they can do anything in the name of development without taking into account the plight or suffering of a section of society.
The protesters have been alleging that the unscientific construction of groynes, the artificial sea walls known as "pulimutt' in local parlance, as part of the upcoming Vizhinjam port was one of the reasons for the increasing coastal erosion in the district.Last week, hundreds of fisherfolk had taken out a massive protest rally in the state capital and laid siege to the Secretariat with boats and fishing nets, alleging that the Left government was neglecting their demands.
(With inputs from PTI)