The story so far: Vizhinjam has been on the boil for the past four months with protesters mainly fisherfolk and their families laying siege to the under-construction Vizhinjam port. The protestors led by the Latin Archdiocese have been demanding the halting of the construction work of the port by Adani Vizhinjam Port Private Limited.
According to protesters, the port work has aggravated the coastal erosion along the coast of Thiruvananthapuram. They have raised seven demands which include, a scientific study to assess the impact of the port work on the shoreline after stopping the construction of the port. Further, around 300 families along the coastline were shifted to relief camps after their houses were destroyed due to high-intensity coastal erosion. The protesters demand a comprehensive rehabilitation package for the fisherfolk in the region, an assured minimum wage when the sea turns rough due to inclement weather, and subsidised kerosene for boats.
All types of construction work along a coast, aggravate sea erosion (loss of beach) and accretion (gain of beach). Any structure — be it groyne, seawall, or breakwater — intensifies erosion on one side and accretion on the other. Although coastal erosion is dominant in all coastal districts of Kerala, it is more severe along the coastline of Thiruvananthapuram. A study conducted by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, Society of Integrated Coastal Management, and the Ministry of Environment and Forest had noted that the erosion is minimum at Thrissur (1.5 %) and maximum at Thiruvananthapuram (23%), even before the port construction. In Kerala’s case, the seasonal shoreline changes would be more severe during monsoon months due to the high-energy short storm waves that lash the coast almost in a perpendicular position moving the sand offshore. The latest report of the expert committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal and Shoreline Monitoring Cell observed that erosion in spots such as Valiyathura, Shanghumugham, and Punthura remained the same as before and after the commencement of the port construction (December 2015). However, during the October 2020–September 2021 period, spots like Kochuveli and Cheriyathura to the north of Valiyathura suffered erosion. The report noted that the relatively high number of cyclones formed over the Arabian sea after cyclone Ockhi in 2017 was the main reason for the recent erosion and accretion and that the impact of the port activity on either side of the coast had less significance.
The Kerala Government made it clear that since the coastal erosion is due to climate change as reported by various agencies, the demand for stopping the port construction cannot be conceded. Officials argue that the Vizhinjam seaport is being constructed inside a natural sediment cell which is a pocket-like area in which interruptions to the movement of sand along the coast do not significantly affect the adjacent coastline.
Located on the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula, just 10 nautical miles from the major international sea route and east-west shipping axis, and with a natural water depth of more than 20m within a nautical mile from the coast, the Vizhinjam port is likely to play a pivotal role in the maritime development of the country and Kerala. The port is expected to leverage the growth of minor ports in Kerala and other regional ports, creating thousands of employment opportunities.