The US$900m (£750m) project is designed to tap into the lucrative shipping trade between manufacturers in the Far East and wealthy consumer markets in the West.
The protesters are from the fishing communities located along the Kerala coast in southern India who allege that marine dredging since December 2015 has resulted in significant erosion of the coast and that future construction threatens their livelihood.
They are calling on the local government to order construction to stop until independent studies have assessed the impact of the port’s development on the marine ecosystem.
The Vizhinjam International Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport, near the city of Trivandrum, is being developed in three phases, the first of which is scheduled for completion towards the end of 2023.
The port’s developer is the Adani Group, a multinational conglomerate owned by billionaire Gautam Adani, Asia’s richest person and the third-richest in the world, according to Bloomberg.
According to the Reuters news agency the protesters, most of whom are Christians, are led by Eugine H Pereira, vicar general of the archdiocese of Kerala. The protesters have erected a large temporary shelter directly in front of the main entrance to the site where they maintain a 24-hour sit-down blockade.
Adani Group plans to send heavy construction equipment onto the site this Friday (25th November) following a court ordered that vehicle movements should not be blocked. Pereira told Reuters: “We are will to be arrested in large numbers if need be.”
According to the Adani Group, the project is fully compliant with the law and studies conducted by experts, including the Indian Institute of Technology, have rejected allegations that the project’s dredging is responsible for coastal erosion.
“In light of these findings by independent experts and institutions, we feel that the ongoing protests are motivated and against the interests of the state and the development of the port,” it said.
Gautam Adani, whose business empire is valued at around US$23.5 billion, says that Vizhinjam is an “unmatched location” on one of the world’s main shipping routes and will act as a transhipment port in competition with Singapore, Dubai and Colombo in Sri Lanka, where China has invested heavily in port infrastructure.
The Adani conglomerate has sued the Kerala government for failing to take action against the protesters. Local police and government leaders are said to be reluctant to provoke unrest in the region where relations between the mostly Christian fishing community and the rest of the population, who are mainly Hindu, are already fragile.
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