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Kerala’s ambitious Vizhinjam port project, led by the Adani group, is caught in protests and violence. The transshipment container terminal promises to reduce logistics costs and make manufacturing competitive. Mint explains how the project landed in controversy.

What is the Vizhinjam Port project all about? 

In 2015, the Adani Group signed a concession agreement with the Kerala government to build India’s first mega transshipment container terminal at Vizhinjam near Thiruvananthapuram. The 7,525 crore project — an all-weather deep-sea port with a depth of 24 meters — can service large megamax-sized container ships. This natural port has no littoral sedimentation, obviating the need for periodic dredging and lowers maintenance costs. The port, which is well-connected to the hinterland, will handle 1 million twenty-foot equivalent units in Phase-I and another 6.2 million TEUs when completed.

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How important is this project for India? 

Located just off the International Shipping Lane and close to the East-West Shipping Axis, the Vizhinjam Port holds the potential to attract a large share of container transshipment traffic that is now handled by Colombo, Singapore or Dubai. Also, a large share of India’s exports and imports that are now transshipped through these international ports can be handled at Vizhinjam, and that would mean a sharp reduction in shipping costs and lead time. This will go a long way in reducing overall logistics costs and making manufacturing competitive. It will also create thousands of jobs – directly and otherwise.

Why are people protesting against the project then?

Local fishermen fear displacement and loss of livelihood. They blame higher tides and increasing coastal erosion on the project. Protests turned violent after the Kerala High Court last week allowed the resumption of work. On 27 November, protestors attacked a police station. They want work to resume only after an expert panel studies the impact of the project. 

Have protests gained a communal angle? 

Yes; the Latin Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the protests. The police have charged the Archbishop and several priests in connection with the police station attack. Many Hindu outfits have thrown their weight behind the project and want its quick completion. They blame foreign funding for what they call ‘anti-development’ protests. The project has also created strange bedfellows – both the BJP and the ruling CPI(M) are surprisingly on the same side of an issue, and want the project to go ahead. 

What is the current status of the project? 

The Adani group claims that 70% of the project is complete. Protests have stopped work for over 100 days now. The attempt to resume work last week after a favourable court order sparked violence, stalling work again. An all-party meeting convened on 28 November failed to break the impasse. The state government is firm that the project should go ahead and most parties, barring Congress, support it. Protestors, on their part, say there is no going back on their plan to stop work. Courts may come into play again.

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