Fisher folk in Kerala’s coastal village of Vuzhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram began their protest against the construction of the Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport project by Adani Enterprises Ltd on October 5 for the second time. The fishermen say that the construction activity and the debris due to dredging, has impacted their ability to find fish in the area, thus affecting their livelihood and of those who sell fish at the local markets.
The fisher folk allege that the Rs 296.6 crore compensation package announced for the farmers in 2015 has not been disbursed adequately, leaving many of them out of the compensation scheme.
The first protest was held in 2016, followed by a one-day agitation in 2019. With no proper response from the government, the fishermen have begun the protest again, which still continues. Four fishermen sit down in protest at a time, near the construction site, in order to follow the physical distancing norms.
“One of the major promises made to us that we would get jobs. There have not been any jobs. The fishermen who engage in fishing without venturing far into the sea have no income because we can’t find fish here anymore because of the dredging and piling activity due to the construction. This has affected the women fish vendors who buy fish from the fishermen too,” said Pani Adima, who has been in the forefront of the protest.
The fisher folk claim that the dredging has affected the natural habitat of the fish located closer to the shore, especially in Vizhinjam and nearby regions like Muthalappozhi. “This has been caused by the unscientific dredging. This has also in turn affected fishing and the livelihood of fishermen,” Pani Adima says.
However an official with the Port implementing agency said that Rs 83 crore of the compensation had already been disbursed and the government is in the process of compensating the rest of the fishermen.
“No one is against giving the people the benefits they deserve, but there are certain criteria set by the government. There is a committee headed by the Revenue Divisional Officer and another headed by the District Collector in which Fisheries Director and Matsyafed Managing Director are members to redress the complaints of the people. Rs 83 crore has been dispersed as compensation. Those who are left out are those who didn’t present documents,” the official said.
The official further stated that a decision was made to distribute free kerosene to the fishermen and it was distributed for two years. However, for the last 10 months, the distribution stopped as the price of kerosene rose. “Compensation should be within the limit of the amount that has been fixed,” the official added.
The protesters claimed that the drilling activity has resulted in damage to several houses in the village. Pani Adima said that 242 houses have been damaged so far but no compensation was given to the home owners.
“The compensation package was announced in September 2015 and it has been years now. It has not been disbursed properly. Affected people haven’t been rehabilitated, no jobs have been given for those who lost their livelihood, no compensation has been given, affected people haven’t been rehabilitated, no colleges were built, no new courses were introduced and schools were not upgraded as promised,” Pani Adima added.
However the official denied the protesters claims that their houses were damaged and said that an inspection team had found “crack” on several houses.
“There was a test done before the work began and there were cracks on houses. A team of experts examined the cracks but found that the piling vibrations were well within the permissible limits, which couldn’t have caused the cracks. But compensation has been given to them and they are not happy with the amount. There is no stepping back. Only genuine concerns of the people will be addressed,” the official said.