Why Vizhinjam agitation looks set to extend for another 50 plus days

Fishermen and locals holding black flags stage a protest against Adani Groups' port development project at Vizhinjam, outside the main entrance of Adani Port in Thiruvananthapuram, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. Photo: PTI

It looks like the anti-port agitation of fisherfolk at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram will last longer.

Not only has the government shut out any discussion on the primary demand of the protesters, the junking of the Adani project, but it is also unwilling to concede more than four of the seven demands raised by the fisherfolk.

Official orders have been passed only in the case of four demands.

One, for the handing over eight acres of the 17.43 acres in the possession of the Animal Husbandry Department to the Fisheries Department for the rehabilitation of fishermen families that had lost their homes to coastal erosion and other natural calamities.

Two, for deputing the Central Water and Research Station to study the defects that plague the Muthalapozhi harbour where accidents occur with alarming regularity.

The order has also tasked the chief engineer of the Harbour Engineering Department to expedite the completion of the study and submit the report in quick time.

Three, for fixing a monthly rent of Rs 5500 for coastal families who are forced to live in relief camps but would want to shift to rented homes. Four, for constituting a four-member Expert Committee, led by M D Kudale, former additional director, Central Water and Power Research Station, Pune, to study the impact of the port construction on the coast.

However, the agitators are not pleased with these concessions as they say these are "arbitrary" decisions taken by the government without taking the coastal folk into confidence.

In fact, the fishers wanted the Expert Committee formed only after stopping the construction work on the port. The government had categorically said no to a stoppage.

Even otherwise, the agitators are not excited by the government moves. For instance, they wanted an expert from the fishing community in the official Expert Committee. The government had turned down the idea saying it was technically not feasible.

In response, the agitators formed a parallel panel to study the impact of port construction on coastal life. They are also disappointed that the government had not yet fixed the terms of reference for the Kudale Committee. Government sources said the ToR would soon be drawn up.

The agitators also consider as inadequate the Rs 5500 the government had agreed to provide as monthly rent for homeless coastal families to move into rented homes. "Just show me one place along the coast where a family can rent a house for Rs 5500," said Fr Eugene Pereira, the action council convenor.

There are two demands the government has expressed sympathy for but still has not translated agreement into action. One is the galloping kerosene prices. The government has washed its hands of the responsibility by saying that it was up to the centre to reduce the price.

The agitators want the state to at least do its part by increasing the subsidy. The existing subsidy of Rs 25 was fixed during the UDF tenure when kerosene cost Rs 50 a litre. Now, it has crossed Rs 130 a litre. Given the miserable state of Kerala's finances, sources said that the government has no intention of increasing kerosene subsidy.

A number of fisherfolk Onmanorama talked to said that the Latin Church would be forced to call off the strike even if the government did nothing more but increased kerosene subsidy.

The other major demand was the need to compensate fisherfolk on days they are prohibited from fishing on account of bad weather. The government has agreed to the demand in principle but has not worked out a minimum wage formula.

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