Fishworkers stage massive protest in Vizhinjam right before discussion with govt

Vizhinjam protest
Led by the priests of the Latin Archdiocese, the coastal community members including women have been flocking to the entrance of the multi-purpose seaport at Vizhinjam. Photo: Manorama

Hundreds of fishworkers mobilised by the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram stormed into the Vizhinjam International Terminal project site on Friday, their anger at times threatening to go out of control. The coastal folk, men and women of all ages, jumped over and pulled aside police barricades that were erected at two points along the path to the project site to prevent the agitators from swarming the main project area.

This was the most intense show of protest by the fishworkers after they launched their fourth stage of protest on August 16. The police, on their part, exercised utmost restraint. However, timely intervention by the 'samara samithi' leaders calmed tempers and goaded agitators to return to the venue of protest outside the gates of the project site.

This massive and unprecedented show of protest was staged on the day fisheries minister V Abdurahiman was scheduled to discuss the issue with the agitators. The minister would reach Kochi on Friday on his way back from a discussion with the Union minister of ports in Delhi. Sources said the minister would meet with the representatives of the Latin Church and fishworkers on Friday evening.

Government insiders feel that the ramped up protests on Friday was an attempt to pile on more pressure on the government before the Church leaders meet the minister. The Latin Church has made it clear that the agitation would not be called off until the Kerala government agreed to halt the port construction and institute a scientific study into the impact of the terminal construction on the coast and the livelihood of its people.

Though it was the fisheries minister who took the initiative to call the Church for conciliatory talks, the government is unlikely to halt the port construction works. Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, too, has said it was not necessary to halt the work on the project. "But it is a fact that their grievances are genuine and require support," Tharoor said. Tharoor said he had not been invited for the talks. Still, he said he welcomed the government's initiative. He also wanted the Chief Minister himself to talk to the protesters.

Fishermen protest at Vizhinjam. Photo: Manorama

At this point it is not clear if the Chief Minister would be part of the discussions on Friday evening. Nonetheless, most of the demands, except a stop of construction, could be conceded.

An expert study into the impacts of the port work on coastal life will be instituted as demanded by the Church. The government is also trying to fast-track rehabilitation measures. A high-level meeting of six ministers will be held on August 22 to thrash out issues related to land acquisition and rehabilitation of project-affected people. 

Here are the seven major demands that would be put on the table when the agitators meet the fisheries minister.

1. Halt the Adani port project and carry out a proper study on its negative impact on coastal erosion. The team should comprise experts and locals nominated by the protesters

2. Implement the rehabilitation package announced by the State government and extend it to all affected families. The government should provide temporary, rent-free accommodation to those who lost their houses.

Fisherfolk protest at Vizhinjam. Photo: Manorama

3. Take effective steps to mitigate coastal erosion and rehabilitate those affected by it

4. Pay speedy compensation for the fishers involved in sea accidents

5. Address their other livelihood issues including supplying subsidised kerosene

6. Address the dredging near harbour at Muthalapozhi

7. Pay minimum wages on days forced to stay off work (adverse weather warnings etc.)

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