As Vizhinjam protests cross 50 days, panel formed to study port construction, erosion link

Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited under construction. File photo: Manorama

A day after the women took over the anti-Vizhinjam Port struggle from the men, Kerala Government has met one of the most important demands put forward by the coastal community.

An order was issued on October 6 constituting a four-member Expert Committee to study the impact of the port construction on the coast. The Committee will be chaired by M D Kudale, former additional director, Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune. The other members of the EC are: Riji John, Vice Chancellor, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Kochi; Tejal Kanitkar, associate professor, School of Natural Sciences and Engineering, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; and P K Chandramohan, former chief engineer, Kandla Port Trust.

Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court had on Friday asked the state government to remove the tents at the protest site in front of the entrance of the under-construction Vizhinjam Port after Adani Ports filed a contempt of court petition against the protesters.

The formation of an Expert Committee was a promise given by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the Assembly on August 30. However, the protesters are reluctant to welcome the EC as it did not satisfy a crucial demand they have raised. “Our demand was that the EC should have our representative. This has clearly been ignored,” one of the Action Council leaders told Onmanorama. He prefered to remain anonymous as the issue has not yet been formally discussed in the Council.

Nonetheless, the newly constituted EC has been asked to listen to the views of the representatives of the local population before finalising the report.

The protesters have also made it clear that the mere formation of an EC was not enough. They wanted the government to first halt the construction work and then conduct the study. The government, on the other hand, has categorically rejected all calls to stop construction. “Such a demand cannot be countenanced under any circumstances. It is illogical and unacceptable,” the Chief Minister had said in the Assembly on August 30.

What's more, the Chief Minister had told the Assembly in August that no scientific study had ever found a link between erosion and port construction. The October 6 order once again reaffirms the government stand that the erosion has nothing to do with port construction.

Fishermen protest on boats at Vizhinjam on Aug 22, 2022. Photo: Manorama

It says that the shoreline changes and other environmental parameters are being continuously monitored for over a distance of 20 km, though the National Green Tribunal had insisted on only 10 km. Further, the findings thrown up by this exercise are being reviewed every six months by the Expert Committee and Shoreline Monitoring Cell appointed by the NGT. “There has been no observation by the said Expert Committee or Shoreline Monitoring Cell so far that the construction of port at Vizhinjam has caused any coastal erosion at the North of the upcoming port at locations such as Valiyathura and Shanghumughom,” the GO states.

Just like the Chief Minister had told in the Assembly in August, the GO states that the EC has been constituted not because there was suspicion that the construction was causing coastal erosion but because certain sections representing the people residing in the coastal region felt so.

Such a request was also made before the Cabinet Sub Committee by the representatives of the protesters.

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
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