For three months, a fishing community in India's southern state of Kerala has blocked construction vehicles from entering the site of Adani Group's Vizhinjam seaport.
A $900-million port project of the Adani Group in India's southern state of Kerala is up against the region's fishing community, who allege that the project’s development has caused coastal erosion and threatened their livelihoods.
The Vizhinjam seaport has been in development since 2015 and is expected to be completed in September 2023. However, protests have put the project on hold for more than three months.
The growing unrest is a major obstacle in the way of Adani's ports and logistics business worth $23 billion.
Through construction of the Vizhinjam seaport, the multi-industry company aims to win business from ports in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka and seeks to plug into the lucrative shipping trade flowing between manufacturers in the East and wealthy consumers markets in the West.
The Adani Group had earlier courted controversy over the Carmichael coal mine in north-eastern Australia over similar environmental concerns.
Protesters, however, are concerned that further construction will wreak havoc on the livelihood of their fishing community, which they say numbers some 56,000.
They want the government to order a halt to construction and order an independent study on the impact of the port's development on the marine ecosystem.
Many of the protesters are Christians led by Roman Catholic priests.
Tension gripped the construction site of Vizhinjam International Seaport in Thiruvananthapuram after fishermen protesting against the project came face to face with activists of various pro-seaport outfits who want immediate completion of the project@vivekkarindalam shares more pic.twitter.com/EOt7Y6T6CV— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) November 28, 2022
'Indefinite day and night protest'
On the main road to the port project, a small 1,200 square-feet shelter built by the coastal region's fishing community has blocked the entrance since August, preventing further construction.
The shelter is decorated with banners proclaiming "indefinite day and night protest" and provides cover for roughly 100 plastic chairs, although the number of protesters taking part in the sit-ins on a daily basis is normally lower.
Kerala state's top court last week ordered that construction should proceed unhindered and that vehicle movement should not be blocked.
Despite the court order, over the weekend, protesters blocked Adani's construction vehicles from entering the port, prompting police to begin making arrests.
Around 25 trucks had tried to enter the port on Saturday and were forced to turn back after two were hit by stones thrown by the protesters, Adani Group’s spokesperson explained.
The arrests spurred hundreds more to gather at a police station on Sunday night demanding the release of one of those arrested, leading to clashes with police and damage to some of their vehicles, television news images and a police document showed.
"They came with lethal weapons and barged into the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if people in custody were not released they would set the station on fire," the police said in the case document on the incident.
Police attacked the protesters, among whom were some priests, said a clerical official, Eugine H. Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese.
"Stones were pelted from even the station," said Pereira said, who called for a judicial inquiry into the incident.
The Adani Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. It has earlier said the project complies with all laws, citing studies in recent years that have rejected accusations linking it to shoreline erosion. The state government blames the erosion on natural disasters.