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Peace should not be washed away in Vizhinjam

The strike by the people resident in the area of Vizhinjam port, near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala against the construction of a new port by Adani Ports under a public-private partnership project in collaboration with the Kerala government turned violent on Sunday. Protesters besieged the police station demanding the release of five people who were detained following Saturday's clash and clamouring for withdrawal of 'fabricated' cases against the protestors including priests. It resulted in a clash in the evening. The protesters barged into the police station, vandalized police jeeps and attacked the police. The forces had to resort to baton charge and teargas to disperse the crowd. 35 policemen and several protesters were injured. The anti-port protesters are adamant that there will be no retreat from the strike that has now crossed 105 days. The government, on the other hand, is stubborn not to compromise on speedy completion of the port construction, already delayed by strikes and litigation. Furthermore, with the protest intensifying, the CPM and BJP, both supporters of Adani's port plan, opened their new 'united front' against the protesters and the situation got out of hand. That can said to be the genesis of the mishaps on Sunday.

Spread over 4,000 square miles of Arabian Sea, the Vizhinjam marine zone is home to more than 200 species of fishes, 60 rare species of breeding marine beings and rare species of turtles. Filled with 12 unique coral reefs, Vizhinjam is known as the 'Forest under the sea' and is thus the 'breeding port' of India itself. It is in this area that the fish requirements of the Kerala coast, the Bay of Bengal, a part of the Indian Ocean and the Lakshadweep Sea are met. The nature of the sea for this huge fish resource is the reason why the Adani Group has set its eyes here. With a natural depth of 18-20 meters, bulk ships with large cargo capacity can anchor without additional dredging. Vizhinjam is only 10 nautical miles from the international route to the Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels. And 238 hectares of land is being handed over to Adani here. At one point, the Vizhinjam project was dropped on the realization any dredging including deep water dredging and dyke construction in Vizhinjam port would disrupt the ecological balance of the sea. Now that it has started again, the serious changes that have taken place on both sides of the embankment confirm the apprehensions of that time. Vizhinjam fishing harbor became unusable. Fishermen were unable to take their boats out for fishing, set nets or dry the fish. Those in areas like Vizhinjam, Valiyathura, Cheriyathura, Bimapalli, Kovalam and Shankhummukkam are in debt due to very low availability of fish. The local people went on strike when left with no choice.

The area being a stronghold of Latin Catholic sect, the church leadership naturally came to be in the vanguard of the struggle. What the fishermen are demanding is that there could be development activities but not at the expense of their livelihood. Negotiations with the government failed precisely because no such assurance could be given. The same formula that governments and corporates have recently discovered in the struggle against development projects is at play here – rallying a people's front against the struggle. Interestingly, in Vizhinjam it also led to a strange alliance between the ruling BJP at the Centre and the state's ruling party the CPM , which opposes tooth and nail the former's economic and development policies. Soon it gave way to the exercise of branding the protesters. There was no labelling of protesters as radical/terrorist here as in the GAIL and National Highway strike (which is reserved for the special community from Eranjimau to Avikal and Kothi!). But, there has been an act of identifying the religion of the agitators in Vizhinjam, the Latin Catholic denomination, and thus even the Latin Catholic Archbishop is added to the accused list. Sangh Parivar leaders also entered the scene with racist attacks and threats against the strike. Thus, Vizhinjam unfortunately saw the method of blocking ways to find a peaceful solution to the struggle in which the government clearly took a side with one party. It is for the government to take the initiative for a wise resolution. The poor fishermen and common people started the strike in a frantic run for their livelihood. It is hoped that the government by sympathizing with them, will come up with a feasible plan to sort matters out and to reduce the depth of rebellions amidst the thrust for development. This also has to be coupled with the realisation that the monopolies are digging further the lives of the poor. , Monopolies can very well achieve development by using weapons, entrapping protesters in cases, imposing compensation and making locals fight against each other. However, the left democratic government should not be a party to such vicious move of trouble makers.

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TAGS:Vizhinjam Port project private public partnership Adani Ports fishermen livelihood affected fish availability reduced Vizhinjam proltests policemen protesters injured Vizhinjam Port 
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