More than 400,000 fishermen on the southern Indian coast are divided over a proposed international seaport, which many believe will destroy their livelihoods and put their future in jeopardy. The US$11 billion Vizhinjam International Seaport -- a dream project of the Kerala government -- will be completed in three phases. While construction of the port has not yet started, roads leading to it have been laid. Though the state government has promised jobs in the port to the affected fishermen, there are those who doubt the government’s promises. Thankappan Appavi Nadar, 68, of Mulloor Beach has spent over five decades harvesting mussels but believes his harvesting days will end soon as his hamlet is the gateway to the proposed port. “They have set up their office here. When the construction activities start, we will have to leave this beach,” Thankappan told ucanews.com. His sunburnt face tells of his long years of struggle for a meager livelihood. He had spent all his years on the beach watching the countless waves and diving deep to the seabed to catch mussels. Another local, 32-year-old Satishkumar said that the job guarantees are a way of misleading people to support the proposed deep water port. He claimed that local residents have already begun experiencing the project’s dark side. “The authorities have constructed a road to the port entrance by destroying the watershed area of the village. Now we are facing an acute shortage of drinking water in the area,” Satishkumar said. While water issues in the southern part of Kerala were aggravated by a drought, the roads and other development activities in the area have put a further drain on water resources. Local residents also complained that they are prohibited from selling their property in case the government needs their land to expand the port project. In Vizhinjam, about 243 hectares have been set aside for the construction of hotels and office buildings connected to the port. “If the government acquired it, the owners would get compensation but now they are not able to sell it,” Satishkumar said. However, a state government official has denied these allegations. K. Babu, minister for ports and fisheries told ucanews.com that the government has not issued a ban on land transactions and has set up a grievance committee to sort out complaints.
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“So far land acquisition for the port has been a smooth affair,” he said. Meanwhile, 46 fishermen families in the area have already been displaced due to the project, while 3,000 others in Adimalathurai in neighboring Tamil Nadu state will be shifted once the project is completed. “When the port starts operating, we will be forced to evacuate from the beach. Many foolish fishermen think that port is going to be a money spinner for them. But they don’t realize that they will have no means of livelihood,” said Maria Soosa, a fisherman from Adimalathurai. T. Peter, the secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum, told ucanews.com that the fishermen community is threatened by a “development mafia” that is taking control of the coast. He said a series of government regulations has made life miserable for fishermen by preventing them from building homes or expanding their businesses. “But then the government clears mega projects like this, violating all norms,” he said. Despite increasing fears among the fishing community, some residents believe the project will offer their children better career prospects. “The government has assured us that our livelihoods would be protected. Our people will have good opportunities. We are waiting eagerly for the port to come to the area,” said Fredie Soosamarian, 28, a fisherman in Vizhinjam. “I don’t want my children to end up as fishermen,” Fredie said. Selvaiyyan Aruldasan also believes the project will prove a blessing for fishermen. “Now our lives are pitched in total uncertainty. Sometimes we get a good catch, most times we return from the sea empty handed. If I get employment in the port, I will quit fishing,” Aruldasan said.