Pyrrhic victory for southern Indian fisherfolk

Govt has agreed to fulfill compensation promise, but the seaport project robs fishing community of its livelihood
Pyrrhic victory for southern Indian fisherfolk

Indian fishermen work on their nets in Kochi, southern Kerala state, in this file photo.  (Photo by AFP) 

Fisherfolk on India's southern coast have called off their protest against an ongoing multi-billion seaport project after authorities promised to protect their homes and livelihoods.

Hundreds of affected people, mostly Catholic fisherfolk on the Arabian Sea coast, began protesting Oct. 27, stalling the project's work. The disputed area marks the western border of Trivandrum Archdiocese in Kerala state.

The protest was halted Nov. 3 after district authorities promised to pay the compensation earlier announced by the government before the end of November, protest leaders said.

"More than 150 houses near the project area have developed cracks because of heavy piling works. And, many families have not yet got the rehabilitation and compensation packages promised," said Father V. Wilfred of Vizhinjam parish.

The US$11 billion Vizhinjam International Seaport, intended as an international deep-water multipurpose port, is being built by India's multi-national conglomerate Adani Group in collaboration with federal and state governments. 

The project began in 2015 with promises of compensation and rehabilitation. Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrumafter led fisherfolk opposed to the development.

"We felt betrayed by the governments as they did not fully pay the compensation to our people," said Adolf Jerome, a member of the church committee spearheading the struggle. He said a pressing concern was unpaid compensation to fishermen who lost income because of the project.

Essac Johnny, another Catholic leader, said the administration had assured a compensation payment of some US$9,000 to each of the 198 fishermen. But only about 100 of them had received that money so far.

K. Vasuki, the top local administrative officer, has agreed to visit the area to access damage to the houses near the project and consider further compensation.

The officer has also agreed to work out social security schemes for the benefit of fishermen who have lost their livelihoods, Johnny said.

The original project plan threatened to displace 50,000 families in 32 fishing villages along a 13-kilometer stretch of coast, Jerome said. 

Following the protests, the original plans were altered and no fisher family is being evicted, he said.

Jaya Kumar, chief executive officer of the project, told ucanews.com that the project requires 339 hectares of land, but so far only 96 hectares have been taken from residents. The remainder of the land would come from reclaimed sea areas.

Kumar said the project only displaces 88 families.

He said the protest cost the company 80 million rupees (US$1.2 million) a day as 950 workers and equipment lay idle.

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