Why We Must Say No to Vizhinjam Project

The Adani-owned port is estimated to cost a huge loss to the public exchequer and go the way of the Vallarpadam Container Terminal, commissioned by 2011 at a huge public cost and today running at a loss

Kerala is a unique state having many characteristics, famed for the Kerala Developmental Model that ahs showcased the welfare development concept emphasising high human development indicators.

Gifted with a decent forest cover, green-ish hamlets, 44 perennial rivers, hills and valleys with the identity 'God’s own country'.  However, after inching towards the ‘neo-liberal concept of development’ Kerala, is, today, not an exception when it comes to giving a go-by to crucial issues related to livelihoods and the environment.

Once, one of the worlds’s sought after environmental hot spots, acclaimed for its bio-diversity, the Western Ghats, within Kerala today stands destroyed by trespassers. Sand mining continues to kill its rivers.  Paddy lands have been modified to commercial lands. Sea shores have been encroached upon by hotels that are brands in the Tourism Industry.

Irrespective of the different political spectrum within the politics of Kerala, all governments and their attendant systems are showing an eerie interest in ‘developmental schemes’ which can and will have the impact of ravaging the environment. 
Kerala, earlier had evolved a concept of developmental culture which was nurtured by the Revivalist, Gandhians as well as communist movements that was committed to sustainable development. Education and health for all, Land to the tiller and environmental farming formed the bedrock of the state’s polices.

At that time, Kerala saw a positive track record whether it was on the literacy front or in public health care (mother and infant mortality rates, secular politics etc). The eastern part of Kerala was protected by its ever green forests and different adjacent water sheds. Rarely did Kerala miss a monsoon, and droughts, extraordinary high temperature, etc were rare, rare happenings. 

Today that commitment has collapsed and even as temperatures soar to extreme heat, diseases like swine flu, dengue, chicken gunia etc are a threat to the state where the public health system is otherwise well equipped.

Since the 1990s, both the Kerala state machinery and the mindset of its vast and moneyed middle class population (75%) are being deeply influenced by the metro mode of global developmental strategies.  Even today, the creamy layers welcome the Hyper malls, golf clubs, toll gated roads, SEZ, air ports, water theme parks, self-financing institutions etc.

Kerala lies  shaped like a ribbon on the banks of Arabian Sea having 35 to 125 kms wide mountainous forests of the Western Ghats which is gifted by a rare variety of flora and fauna. Due to the monsoon rain from June 1 and over the next eight months,   muddy river water flows from 41 rivers to the Arabian Sea and results in the Chakara (harvest of fishes), a rare sight not seen in many other countries.

Though the length of the seas shores in Kerala is just 590 km, the total quantum of fishing totalled around 8.4 lakh tones, the highest of all Indian states. Due to the anti-environmental policies of governments, this output was reduced to 4.6 lakh by 2014.  As a result, today, as many as 10 lakh fishermen have been shorn of their income. This has affected the economy of the state as also the protein level in the nutritional diet of Keralites.

Since Kerala is one of the least industrialised states, there are a higher number of jobless educated youths. This has pushed the government in its eagerness to invite more and more investors.  At one point, what deliberately kept this class away was the allegation that labour strikes were more frequent and the high bargaining capacity of labour unions posed a threat to investors. Now these theories stand rejected.  Kerala has had the least number of labour agitations in the past 25 years and today, many companies especially IT conglomerates are active in the state. The state government is making and unmaking many rules and regulations to welcome the investors.  

Kerala has a number of ports along its Arabian Sea shore. Vizhinjam is situated very close to the famous Kovalam beach, has been a famous port since AD 100. It was the capital of the old dynasty called AAY RAAJA. There are around 50,000 people living in the surrounding villages, of which 15,000 people are engaged in fishing.  The state government was planning to start a trans-shipment port here many years back. This idea was sought to be fulfilled by the UDF government  and Adani groups through an MOU signed in 2015. There are different and serious environmental and economic threats to this new project.

The Vizhinjam International Sea port project has been conceived under the PPP mode of construction (Design, Build, Finance,   Operate and Transfer). The total cost of the project is an estimated Rs 7525 crores and the share of the state government is 67% (3436 crores +viability fund Rs 1635 crores) and of the Adani s’ is only 33.% .( Rs 2454 crores ).

The state government agrees that Adani group can get the loan from nationalised banks with a public guarantee.  Moreover public funds will further also be used to construct a fishing harbour at the cost of Rs 1463 crores. The road, rail and other facilities will be constructed by spending another Rs 1975 crores from state government coffers.

After 15 years of operation, the state government  will be able to enjoy 1% of the benefit and Adani will get a substantial 99%  of the profits. The state government will allow a hand over a precious 93 acres of land to the private corporate giant  with SEZ facilities of more than 650 acres  so that fancy five star hotels, flats, commercial institutes will come up and which will be the major attractions for the investor. 

In this connection, the state government has agreed to extend the PPP contact for a further 10 more years.  The CAG report says that the MOU signed between the state authority and Adani groups will get the Adani conglomerate a further whopping benefit of Rs 29217 crores. If we calculate the value of the investment made in government aids and other public supports, the net loss to the state will be around Rs 2,90,000crore over 40 years.

The environmental impact will be worse. The Vizhinjam Sea Shore has the maximum sand erosion. The area has more than a dozen of endangered corals, muscles and 40 to 50 kms of the sea is famous for the WEDGE BANK . There are 15,000 men and women engaged in fishing throughout the year. The average fishing quantum per person is 2000 kg of fish per year.

The new port will drive away thousands of fisher folk from their livelihood incurring a loss if no less than Rs 1,000 crores. Around 25,000 self-employed persons will be adversely impacted. The port will demand the construction of a water break stretching over 3.8 kilometers, the northern part of the wall will be swallowed by the waves and the Southern part will be projecting to sea . Both phenomena can seriously damage the ecology.  Since the Kovalam beach is near the port, this beach famed internationally will be condemned to history. 

To make the water break, the construction of the port will need more than 10millions tones of stones that will destroy the Western Ghats which have already been weakened.

For the Kerala government, the Vallarpadam Container Terminal, commissioned by 2011 is  good lesson.   The SEZ included port was launched, selling many dreams. But even after diluting the Cabottash rule of India, one of the dream projects of the state is today running at a loss. As the world cargo business lies in the doldrums, the fate of Vizhinjam could be far, far worse than that of Cochin Vallarpadam Cargo Terminal.

 The Adani group of companies has a dubious history within the Indian democratic system. Their influence on Mr. Modi and his party has been close, and even controversial at several junctures. Retired IPS officers who had played a pivotal role in inactivating the police during the Gujarat 2002 riots, were absorbed in the Adani group of companies, signalling a dangerous phase in our democracy and for our society.

Kerala does not need more PPP projects like shipping Terminals, international air ports, shopping complex etc. These are not the answer to the sustainable development of the state. Since the days of the national movement for independence, Kerala has been the land of radical thought and revolutionary movements. Looking the facts and figures dispassionately, it is the duty of Keralites to say ‘no to Vizhinjam’ .



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