Why 20,000 families of Kanyakumari are angry about the Enayam port project

There was a protest at Enayam in which more than 40,000 people participated.
Why 20,000 families of Kanyakumari are angry about the Enayam port project
Why 20,000 families of Kanyakumari are angry about the Enayam port project
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When we arrive at the villages that now stand on the proposed site of the central government’s Enayam Port project in Kanyakumari, and are mistaken for government officials, the hostility from the villagers is easily evident. Anger and frustration are writ large on the faces of fishermen and their family members as they look at a future bereft of land and livelihood when the project comes into being. 20,000 families who live in eight villages could  be affected adversely by the project.

The Enayam port will be built at an estimated cost of Rs 21,000 crore and emerge as a southern gateway of transshipment in the country. It will mainly cover the area from Kurumpanai to Thengapattinam, 12 km apart. The project also consists of a railway line and four-lane roadway to increase connectivity. The four-lane road will run from Nattalam to Enayam.

The port is being touted as a way for Tamil Nadu to develop as a major destination for international cargo movement. At the moment, large vessels dock at large facilities in Colombo and Singapore, from where cargo is then sent to smaller ports by feeder vessels. To counter this and create a major gateway into the country from the south this project has been initiated.  

However, the villagers say that the Enayam project will mean the destruction of homes and religious places, loss of agricultural land and waters for fishing, and drastic changes to the local coastal landscape.

Homes and religious places to go

In Chemmuthal village in Kanyakumari, the four-lane road will run through not only houses in that area but also religious places like temples and churches, agricultural lands and ponds which provide water to agricultural lands.

“There are about 180 houses in this village and everyone has about 5 to 10 cents of land. If that goes away, what will we do? How do you expect me to rebuild a house at this age even if the government provides some compensation,” said Velayuddin Pillai, a 68-year-old retired government employee?

“Sridharmasastha Krishnan temple, Iskayammal temple, the church in Pullani and the Devi temple all will be destroyed due to this project,” said 33-year-old Padma Prasad, a resident who is working in the Defence sector.

Earlier, the port was proposed to be built in Colachel, 10 km away from Enayam. Three feasibility reports were published in 1998, 2000 and 2010 for a commercial port at Colachel, but later Enayam was finalized as the location. Velayudin said, “Colachel is the best place to build the port as it is a natural harbour. There had been various feasibility reports also regarding that. But we do not know the reason behind why the project was suddenly shifted from Colachel to Enayam.”

Livelihoods at stake

The central government has already initiated the first steps towards building the four-lane roadway by marking off the area using stones and numbers in these areas. For the people of Chemmuthal village, the concern is not only about houses, but also a pond called Thodakulam which has been providing water to their agricultural lands for years, and without which working on their lands will become impossible.

While the road is set to put agrarian livelihoods in jeopardy, the fishing villages in the area will be most adversely affected by the port itself.  

The feasibility report of the project states that the project will be a three-phase project. The first phase of the Enayam port project begins from Melmidalam and will cover about 4 km. The first phase is proposed to begin by 2018.

Helen Nagar, a fishermen village, consists of more than 314 fishermen families. “We have not got any official information regarding the project. A few people came and put stones when we asked for official permission they showed us a fake document which had the signature of Thiruvananthapuram collector,” said Chrispin Bonifus, a Catholic priest, whose church maintains a fishermen grievances Cell. More than two lakh people will be affected by this project, he said.

On February 29, 2016, there was a protest at Enayam in which more than 40,000 people participated.

The Enayam village, which is on the seashore has more than 1468 fishermen families residing in it. We earn our livelihood through fishing. We do not know anything else other than fishing. What will we do if the port comes up here?” asked 62-year-old Paravel, a fisherman.

Pointing at a rock in the middle of the sea, Paravel said, “Most of the fish are near that rock and if the port comes, ships will keep coming and the fish will not be found there after that.”

The fishermen claim that after the port is set-up in this area, it will be made a No-fishing zone. “All our boats and everything will be taken away. We cannot even be here. What work will they give us?” asked 62-year-old Thasan, another fisherman.

“The government claims that this port will create job opportunities for the locals in the area but what will these fishermen do? They have been doing this for generations,” said Godfree, priest of a Catholic church in Enayam.

“I have been fishing from the age of 18, this is how I earn my living. Even my grandfather was a fisherman. If they let us continue our fishing in this place, we do not have any issues with the project,” said Lenadimay, a 74-year-old fisherman.

Drastic changes to the local coastal landscape

Many in the region are also concerned with the long-term irrevocable changes to the local coast and seabed that will result from building the port.

Talking about the environmental issues that can be caused by this project, Lal Mohan, Chairperson of the Conservation of Nature Trust and former Principal Scientist of Central Marine Fisheries, said, “There will be an accumulation of sand on one side and there will be a decrease of sand on the other side. There is always a lateral and vertical movement of sand. One area will become like a football ground; no activity can be carried out on one side later. The surrounding villages can also get drowned.”

Many problems are also expected because the area is to be dredged in preparation for the port. “They want to make the area deep for about 20 meters. When they are dredging such a deep area, all the sediment will be disturbed here on the coast. The whole area will get sedimented for 6 to 7 kilometres. The fauna will be badly affected and most of the area will become non-productive,” he said.

Asked about water issues, he said, “There is major water scarcity in this area and there is salinity incursion also in the water. If they dredge for about 6 km, salinity will further incur into the water.”

The damage will not be restricted to the immediate vicinity of the port either. “The Vizhinjam port is coming up about 20 kilometres away, so how can two major container ports feasibly come up. To construct breakwaters, thousands of loads of huge rocks will be required. For this, they will break several hillocks in the district, which in turn will affect the highly fertile district,” he said.      

Are authorities taking account of these costs?

According to the final techno-economic feasibility report prepared by a Spanish firm, Enayam has been finalized as the location due to low impact on the property due to its low population, ease of construction and expansion, road and rail connectivity, lower environmental and social impact, and low population.

The feasibility report also states, “The activities during the construction phase might have some other potential impacts on the socio-economic environment which includes dredging, reclamation, transportation of quarrying materials, construction of terminals and breakwater as well as the establishment of labour camps.

During the operation phase, the operation of terminals, marine traffic, road and rail traffic and the establishment of labour/employee colony might have the potential impact on the socio-economic environment of that region. However, as the port is planned to be developed entirely on the reclaimed land, no land acquisition is envisaged for the port development. However, some properties would be directly affected by the implementation of the railway line and road connections.”

Sources from the Kanyakumari Collectorate office confirmed that the Enayam project is coming up in these areas. They said that preliminary surveying of the areas has also begun. Sources said that many complaints from the fishermen community and other areas have been filed at the Collectorate.

However, the collector has promised to carry out the project taking into consideration people’s interest and their needs.

The Enayam port project will be carried out by the Tuticorin Port Trust. They refused to comment on the project. 

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