Adani’s port project in Kerala capital might be threatening ancient coastal villages

Building breakwaters will only transfer the crisis to another village.
Adani’s port project in Kerala capital might be threatening ancient coastal villages
Adani’s port project in Kerala capital might be threatening ancient coastal villages
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The drowning of an entire fishing village called Valiathura in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram may appear a distant disaster to those living in more cozy areas of the historic capital city. But at the rate at which the sea is devouring Valiyathura this monsoon, the day won’t be far when the effect will be felt at the Chief Minister’s residence, Cliff House, which is less than 10 km away. 

The United Nations Global Environmental Outlook report says 40 million people in the coastal regions of South Asia will be displaced by rising sea levels. At a time like this, one would expect policy makers would do more to delay the apocalypse. But a government of Kerala backed PPP project involving Gautham Adani’s Adani Ports and SEZ Private Ltd is perhaps just the thing needed to hasten the impending climate disaster. 

The plan to modernise the Vizhinjam port, which is believed to be more than 2,000 years old, is already in the middle of a scandal after the Comptroller and Auditor General found that that the Adani group stood to make undue profits of nearly Rs 30,000 crore! 

Stellas, Marykutty and Alphonsa are from fishing families living in Valiathura for generations. They say that when the dredging for the Vizhinjam port began in 2015, there was land erosion in the fishing villages of Punthura and Bheemapllay. To contain the erosion there, the government built massive breakwaters. But that only redirected the hungry sea to Valiathura. 

“If we also demand a breakwater, the sea will start tearing down another village a few kilometres from here,” says Marykutty. It seems to make no sense. “This is happened in other parts of the world too where breakwaters have been built. We have raised this issue several times but nobody in the government wants to listen,” said T Peter, General Secretary of the National Fish Workers Forum. 

The fisherfolk in the Valiathura used to take shelter at the Government Fisheries School whenever their houses were flooded thinking it was a temporary thing. But some are leaving before things get worse. “We stopped living there as there were not even the minimum facilities and leak in the roof. Some of the officers used to make money by faking documents of distributing food items to us in the fisheries school. The government has spent two crore rupees to renovate the sea bridge in Valiyathura but nothing has been spent on safeguarding or rehabilitating us,” says Alphonsa. 

She says that the previous United Democratic Front government had promised that they would acquire land and build flats to rehabilitate those displaced but nothing happened. “When the Left Democratic Front came to power, Fisheries minister Mercykutty came here and promised that we will be rehabilitated in six months. Nothing has happened,“ Marykutty says. 

The seaside villages are densely populated and no house has a courtyard. All the houses are built a few feet away from the other. Alphonsa’s brother Jerald’s house, for instance, shares two walls with other houses. In this tightly knit community, the fear is that if one house falls, the whole neighbourhood will fall. 

One had to cross a 60 meter beach to get to the sea in Valiathura till five years ago. Now, the waters are just 10 metres away in some places and in some places, there is no beach. Although activists and fisherfolk blame the port project for this disaster, the officials are in complete denial. Dr K V Thomas, former director Marine Sciences, Centre for Earth Science Studies said that there was no scientific proof to link the port project with sea erosion. 

Meanwhile, minister J Mercykutty Amma told The NewsMinute that the work for the flats to rehabilitate the people has started. “Construction work has begun for the flats at Muttathara on 3.5 acres of land which is owned by the government. At the first phase 192 flats will be built. The project cost Rs 18 crore. The work of the first phase will be completed within five months,” she said. 

Pics: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

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