140-day-long protest against under-construction Vizhinjam seaport in southern Kerala ends after a temporary consensus
Catholic priests sit on a boat atop a truck as part of a protest in Kerala’s state capital Thiruvananthapuram on Aug. 10 against a multi-billion-dollar port project which they say endangers the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen. (Photo: supplied)
A marathon protest by Indian fishermen led by a Catholic archdiocese against an upcoming international seaport has been temporarily called off after a consensus was reached with the provincial government.
Father Eugene Pereira, vicar-general of the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum and convener of the 140-day-old protest, made the announcement after meeting Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Dec. 6.
"For now we are calling it off. Protests do not always come to an end only after achieving their objectives. Each protest has several phases. One such phase of the protest has ended in a consensus," Pereira told reporters.
Father Pereira though looked upset and said the decision did not mean “they were satisfied with the steps taken or promises made by the state government” while adding that “it’s only a temporary truce.”
The government has promised to meet most demands of the protesters. It agreed to pay a monthly rent of 5,500 Indian rupees (about US$67) to families of fishermen who have lost their homes due to port construction activities, compensate them for the loss of livelihood, grant fuel subsidies for their fishing boats, and expedite the ongoing rehabilitation work.
The fishermen had demanded 8,000 Indian rupees as rent and the government assured them the rest, 2,500 Indian rupees, will be paid by the Adani group, which is constructing the port. But the protesting fishermen declined to accept money from the private corporation.
"Construction activities so far have rendered homeless around 500 fisher families"
A government committee under the state chief secretary, the chief of state's administrative officials, will be set up soon to look into the concerns of the fishermen.
The government, however, refused to accept the original demands of the protesters which included halting the port’s construction for three months and allowing their representatives in an official panel of experts to study the environmental and human impact of the project.
The fishermen have concerns over the erosion of the fragile shoreline, which could adversely impact their lives and livelihood, and appointed a separate panel of experts to study the damage.
Construction activities so far have rendered homeless around 500 fisher families whose homes were destroyed, the protesting fishermen claim.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, reportedly played the mediator between the protesters and the government after violence flared in the last week of November.
A mob attacked Vizhinjam police station which was followed by violent clashes that left 90 protesters and 36 police officers injured.
"The unexpected and violent turn of events put the clergy and fishermen under pressure"
The fishermen accused the Communist-led Kerala government of orchestrating the violence to tarnish their peaceful protest by portraying them as “traitors” who were “anti-development.”
The government registered six criminal cases against Archbishop Thomas J Netto of Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram — who was not even present where the violence took place. Cases were also filed against Auxiliary Bishop Christudas Rajappan and some priests, besides some 3,000 protesters including women and children.
The charges registered against them included hatching a conspiracy, incitement to violence, attempted murder, and trespassing in a protected area in violation of a high court order among others.
The unexpected and violent turn of events put the clergy and fishermen under pressure to end the protest, a priest said on the condition of anonymity.
The indefinite protest against the multi-billion dollar Adani Vizhinjam International Seaport in Thiruvananthapuram district commenced on July 20, due to the adverse impacts of the construction activities started in 2015.
Fishermen's leaders said the government did not pay heed to their demands. As Father Pereira told reporters, the discussions did not produce a satisfactory resolution with regard to the fishermen’s seven original demands, they said.
The Press Trust of India news agency, quoting a source in the chief minister's office, reported that several rounds of discussions were held on Dec. 6.
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