Adani Enterprises Limited on February 25 won the bid to manage and operate the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport after it quoted the highest price among all financial bids. However, four years ago, in August 2015, Adani group, the Gujarat-based corporate giant had signed the work contract agreement for development of the Rs 7,252 crore Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport project.
The first phase of the project, which fishermen of the area in Thiruvananathapuram had welcomed as their dream project, is expected to be completed within months. But the fishermen allege that the promises made as part of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of the project, have not been completely met.
The work of the project had been stalled in October 2017 owing to the local people’s protest. The protest was called off with the intervention of the authorities after deliberations with District Collector G Vasuki. Still, the locals say that the environmental impact as well as the effect on livelihoods of fishermen, are ignored by the port authorities and by the state government.
“The package announced for shore fishermen has not been fully disbursed yet. Though the rehabilitation package for the fishermen who are using Katta Maram (multiple pieces of tied wood) was fixed at Rs 5,60,000 and has been distributed in three phases, the amount for the fishermen using sea fishing nets has not been fully distributed yet,” says Pani Adima, the one who led the protests in 2017.
He adds, “The piling has caused cracks at several homes, on the walls and serious damage to some houses which are old. Proper maintenance for the houses should be done or alternative arrangements should be made for the people whose houses are damaged. The people were given Rs 5000 and Rs 1000 for maintenance of the houses but that is not even sufficient to buy the cement needed for the work.”
According to the leader of the fishermen community, there was a 20-item package which was announced to be implemented simultaneously along with the completion of the port project, which also hasn’t materialised so far.
“There was a promise for building Veli to Kollamkode coastal road; but Vizhinjam has been excluded in the alignment for that. There was a promise of setting up a self-help group for women, to address the water scarcity problem of Vizhinjam, along with other social responsibility projects in the 20-item list. The first phase of the port will be completed soon but several commitments to the fishing community are yet to be realised,” he further says.
Water scarcity is acute in the area during summer. Though the Adani group has installed water tanks to address the issues, the local people say that the water is not usable for drinking but is used for other purposes.
Though the port group had started a mobile health care centre for the local people, they complain that there are no doctors and a nursing assistant is doubling up as a doctor.
They also reiterate the allegation that the port construction was commenced ignoring the study reports on the environmental impact of the dredging on the coastal regions and on the marine life.
During last July-August, the seas were unusually rough, something which we haven’t ever experienced. As a result, the small boats anchored on the shore got damaged. The construction of breakwater walls has led to unusual behaviour of the sea, it is believed.
“The construction of 400-meter breakwater from Panathura to Valiyathura in the nearby regions is causing frequent accidents, and Adimalathura is a no-fishing zone now because of the changed behaviour of the sea. Then, imagine the impact of the four-kilometre breakwater walls they have constructed in Vizhinjam,” says Judin Jarlie, another resident.
Justin Zakharias says appropriate rehabilitation for the fishermen community is not being done.
“With dredging adversely affecting the marine life, some fishermen have switched over to other jobs. But that is not a permanent solution. How they will be rehabilitated in the long run is the big question. The small boats that are anchored on the shore get damaged in the rough seas. The fishermen don’t get much fish when they don’t venture into the deep sea. Hence, provide trawling boats to all of them,” he says.
The local people have been offered jobs like security guards at the port authority office. “However, there are graduates and even PhD holders in Vizhinjam, who have not been given jobs,” says Judice.
However, Managing Director and CEO of Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL), Jayakumar refuted the allegations. "There are annual reports on what all has been done for the fishermen community. It is not the Adani group but the state government which is doing rehabilitation and resettlement. For the livelihood assessment impact, the government has set up committees. There is a livelihood impact assessment committee and a higher committee of which the district collector is chairman. There are more than 18,000 applications we have received seeking compensation. The compensation package has been mostly disbursed. We are processing the rest of the applications. More than Rs 70 crore has been disbursed for livelihood loss of fishermen," he told TNM.
He also said that there is no sea erosion because of this developmental activity and the works are being done according to environmental clearance orders. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has very clearly given the go ahead, and a statutory committee has been constituted to submit a report to NGT once in six months. Regarding the allegation that no qualified people have been employed for work, he says that the port group has said that a list of people has to be submitted and local people will be chosen, given training and jobs once the port is functional and as per their requirement.