Kerala government hopes to achieve rapprochement with Church-backed action council protesting against Vizhinjam port construction

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan chairs meeting of Cabinet sub-committee on the port project

Updated - December 05, 2022 09:15 pm IST

Published - December 05, 2022 08:54 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

The Kerala government appeared to move closer to achieving rapprochement with the Latin Catholic Church-backed fishers and coast dwellers agitating against the Vizhinjam port construction, citing livelihood and environment concerns. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan chaired a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on the port project late on Monday.

The administration sent out a clear signal that it was willing to accommodate the majority of the demands of the agitators allied under the banner of Vizhinjam Action Council (VAC), except abandonment of the State’s flagship project. 

The VAC demanded their nominee on the independent committee constituted to study the environmental and social impact of the port. It also requested a monthly honorarium of not less than ₹8,000 for fishers displaced from their dwellings by the encroaching sea.

The VAC reportedly ruled out any direct talks with the government till both parties struck an understanding away from the public glare. The government was yet to put its cards on the table. 

A possible stumbling block to breaking the deadlock might be the prosecution of criminal cases registered against church leaders and hundreds of VAC activists in connection with the Vizhinjam police station attack and the violation of the Kerala High Court’s order not to blockade or trespass on the project site.  

The government appeared keen on fast-tracking the negotiation process to improve the possibility of speedy reconciliation with the Church and the fisher community. It also wanted to take the steam out of the Opposition’s move to raise the highly emotive Vizhinjam issue in the Assembly. 

The government was also worried whether the agitation would acquire a communal edge, given that another set of residents vehemently opposed VAC’s attempt to halt the port construction and blockade the project site.

The government hoped to build on the back-channel peace-making efforts of Baselios Cleemis, Major Archbishop-Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The archbishop met the leaders of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese on Sunday. The closed-door confabulations paved the way for a peace mission to Vizhinjam on Monday.

The peace ambassadors talked to groups for and against the port. Former Archbishop of the Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram Soosa Pakiam M., imam of Palayam Juma Masjid V. P. Suhaib Moulavi, and Santhigiri Ashram general secretary Swami Gururetnam Jnana Thapaswi led the peace mission. The former archbishop called for a peaceful resolution to the issue. 

The communally sensitive coastal locality has remained restive since VAC activists stormed the local police station on November 27. The mob vandalised the station house and smashed the windscreens of public transport buses. Nearly 35 police officers and scores of residents were injured in the attack. 

The clash capped months of brewing resentment swirling around the Vizhinjam port’s breakwater construction.

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