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Church protests India's apathy toward coastal erosion

Archdiocese of Trivandrum has launched an indefinite protest against delays in rehabilitating fisher folk in southern Kerala
A fisherman casts his net on the shore of the Arabian Sea in Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on March 18, 2022

Archbishop Thomas J Netto of Thiruvananthapuram speaking to the media in front of the state secretariat on June 20.(Photo supplied)

Published: July 22, 2022 03:22 AM GMT

Two Catholic bishops led some 100 priests and thousands of lay people as they launched an indefinite protest against government apathy toward the rehabilitation of families affected by coastline erosion in the Archdiocese of Trivandrum in the southern Indian Kerala state.

The life of common people, especially the fisher people, had become miserable due to the continued onslaught of natural calamities and disasters, said Archbishop Thomas J Netto of Thiruvananthapuram while leading the protest in front of the state secretariat on June 20.

Archbishop Netto lamented that the communist-led state government ignored their pleas for rehabilitation of the affected people and a permanent solution to coastline erosion.

The protest initiated by the Latin-rite archdiocese witnessed a huge turnout of laypeople including those from the fishing community living along the state’s coastline.

“We have at least 500 families who lost everything and have taken refuge with relatives and friends, besides the local schools and warehouses,” Auxiliary Bishop Christudas Rajappan told UCA News.

Several delegations met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and members of his council of ministers since 2018, but nothing came of it, he said.

A 2018 study by India’s National Centre for Earth Science Studies showed that 60 percent of Kerala’s coastline was under erosion due to urbanization, tourism, development of new ports and “unscientific shoreline protection methods” that have caused the beaches to become unstable.

“If this situation is allowed to continue we do not know what’s in store for the future,” Bishop Rajappan said while pointing toward the construction of privately-owned Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) at Vizhinjam in the archdiocesan area.

The mammoth port project started in 2015 and was expected to be completed within four years, but frequent natural calamities such as rains, floods and the Covid-19 pandemic delayed it.

The National Green Tribunal set up in the country to deal with cases of environmental concern, in April this year, ordered the coastal states of southern India to stall the construction of all hard structures across India’s coastline and recommended the provincial governments adopt eco-friendly solutions for protecting the coast and fishing communities.

Vijayan had told the state legislative assembly last year that his government was committed to protecting the coastline and its communities.

The 100 priests from the archdiocese who joined the launch of the indefinite protest have urged the government to implement the rehabilitation package that was announced in connection with the Vizhinjam port project in 2015.

They pledged to continue the protest until the government came up with a concrete and lasting solution to the problems threatening the very existence of the coast and its communities.

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