Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the government would task a three-member expert committee to study the coastal community's concern that the breakwater construction for the Vizhinjam port had accelerated shoreline erosion, displaced fishers, destroyed the marine environment and rendered widespread loss of livelihood. The committee will submit its report in November.
However, Mr. Vijayan rejected the demand by the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Catholic Archdiocese-backed agitators to halt port construction. He said the environmental assessment study and port construction would go hand-in-hand.
Mr. Vijayan repudiated the “disinformation” that the ongoing breakwater construction had caused beach erosion, choppy waters and sedimentation hazardous to traditional fishers. He said studies conducted by the National Green Tribunal and Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) testified otherwise.
The Congress-led Manmohan Singh government had endorsed the findings and sanctioned the port’s construction. Mr. Vijayan said some vested interests had spread the falsehood among shore dwellers to wring political gain. He urged fishers to withdraw from the path of agitation.
Mr. Vijayan made the government’s stance clear while replying to a calling attention motion moved by Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] legislator Kadakampally Surendran in the Assembly on Tuesday.
The local laity led by priests has been on the warpath for the past 15 days. They are blaming the breakwater construction for shoreline erosion, choppy waters that cause small fishing boats to capsize in the port mouth and waning catch caused by the destruction of the marine environment.
Local priests at the vanguard of the protest seemed unconvinced. They said the government remained incommunicado. Mr. Vijayan had read a handout given by officials in the Assembly, they said.
The Church had cautioned that the laity would block the capital's thoroughfares with fishing boats and nets during Onam celebrations if the government did not cede to their demand.
Mr. Vijayan said the government was open to talks with the protesters. The international multi-purpose port will operationalise in October. It would catalyse Kerala's development.
Any attempt to discontinue the project would entail significant financial losses for the State. It would mar its investment climate, he said.
Mr. Vijayan said climate change had made Kerala's coastline vulnerable to cyclones, raising sea levels and tidal surges. It was an irreversible global phenomenon. The government has sanctioned projects worth ₹5,300 crores to blunt coast erosion.
Moreover, the government had not acquired any land occupied by fishers for the Vizhinjam project. Hydrological surveys, conducted every six months, had revealed no sedimentation in the port mouth or off the coast of adjacent fish landing centres.
The government was sympathetic to the demands of Kerala's coastal community. Vizhinjam port envisages a special enclave for fishing operations. It would provide modern homes for fishers displaced by sea erosion and coastal regulation zone norms. The administration would help fishers shift from kerosene fuelled engines to those that could run on petrol or diesel to save on costs.