Latin Church objects to public hearing on Vizhinjam Seaport expansion

Vizhinjam port
Vizhinjam port. Photo: Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram Matsyathozhilali Forum, under the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum, has opposed the public hearing on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) draft of the second and third phase of the Vizhinjam project on various grounds including insufficient communication to the affected public, violation of norms and non-urgency of a hearing at this stage. The Latin Church-backed forum said that the public hearing was being hastily conducted to promote the vested interests of the Adani Group.

The State Pollution Control Board, however, has brushed aside the objections and would hold the public hearing on June 19, Wednesday. The Forum - led by vicar general Fr Eugene Pereira, Fr Lucians Thomas and Kerala Latin Catholic Association president Patrick Michael - had listed eight grounds for setting side the public hearing on June 19.

One, the affected were not properly intimated. Though the notice was published in a vernacular newspaper as required, the forum leaders said that the locals, particularly the fishing community with low literacy rate and in the worst affected in areas like Adimalathura, Pulluvila, Vizhinjam, Panathura, Poonthura, Cheriyathura and Valiyathura, were not aware of the hearing.

Two, hearing for the project expansion is held when the first phase itself is incomplete. The first phase is expected to be commissioned only in January 2025. According to the forum, expansion is based on the success of the first phase. The leaders point out that the second and third phase of the Vallarpadam Container Terminal in Kochi has been put off indefinitely after it was found that even 30 per cent of the terminal's first-phase capacity could be utilised.

Three, the EIA draft was drawn up in an impossibly quick time. The forum argued that Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL) received the terms of reference (ToR) for the second and third phase only in October 2023. There are 61 components in the ToR to be studied and complied with before the EIA draft is prepared. The forum says that this would take at least a year to complete. They ask how all the elaborate and intricate steps - selection of various agencies and experts to conduct specialised studies and survey, preparation of reports, analysis and production of draft EIA report, submission of this draft to the MoEF&CC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change), appraisal of this draft by experts at MoEF&CC, its subsequent submission to the Pollution Control Board and then the issuing of public notice - could be done and dusted in a span of just six months.

Four, suppression of facts. As per the ToR, the project proponent has to provide details of litigation pending against the project. But in the draft EIA it is said that there are no pending litigations. The forum leaders contest this, saying that a writ petition filed by 128 households affected by erosion, supposedly an after-effect of the port construction, is pending before the High Court.

Five, non-compliance with the directions of the National Green tribunal. In 2016, the NGT had constituted an expert committee to monitor the conditions laid down in the Environment Clearance. The Forum said that the expert committee was yet to submit its report as it has still not been able to assess the impact of breakwater construction on shoreline changes and erosion. The Forum wanted to know how further expansion could be done without fulfilling the conditions set forth by the NGT.

Six, delay in the completion of the first phase. The Forum said that the draft EIA itself says that by February 2024 only 34 per cent of container yards, 81 per cent of container terminals, 50 per cent of road connectivity and 85 per cent of breakwater have been completed.

Seven, mysterious closure of arbitration proceedings. The delay in the project had caused VISL to initiate arbitration proceedings against the Adani port in 2021. However, the proceedings were called off in March 2024 and the Kerala government extended the completion date from December 3, 2019, to December 3, 2024. In addition, the concession agreement was extended by five years to 2060. The forum suspects that there is an "undisclosed deal" in favour of the Adani Group, and is of the view that the public hearing is a way to further the deal.

Eight, public hearing called before resolving the concerns of the fishing community about the first phase. The Forum said that the committee constituted by the government to study the impact of the port construction on the Thiruvananthapuram coast was yet to submit its report.

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