By Munsif Vengatil and Jose Devasia
VIGHINJAM, India, Nov 29 (Reuters) – A Hindu group close to India’s ruling party will march on Wednesday in support of a $900 million Adani Group port project that has been halted by Christian protesters as tensions rise after clashes that injured 80 people.
Construction work on the project at Vizhinjam, in the state of Kerala, is stopped for almost four months by protesters from the fishing community, led by Catholic priests, blocking the entrance to the site with a makeshift shelter.
They blame port development for coastal erosion that has affected their livelihoods, a charge that billionaire Gautam Adani’s conglomerate denies.
Supporters of the port, including members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and Hindu groups, have set up their own shelters as the two sides clash across the street. They say the port will create jobs in the region.
The port is of strategic importance to both India and Adani, Asia’s richest man and the world’s third-richest. Once completed, it will become India’s first container transshipment hub, rivaling Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka for business on the lucrative east-west trade routes.
The Hindu United Front march on Wednesday will include more than 1,000 people calling for construction to resume, the group’s head KP Sasikala told Reuters.
The Kerala State Police has already sent reinforcements to the Vizhinjam area after the villagers broke into a police station late Sunday in clashes that injured 80 people, including 36 policemen.
A senior police official outside the port confirmed he was aware of the Hindu United Front’s march plans, adding that they remained on high alert to prevent any clashes between protesters and supporters at the port entrance.
The protests continue despite repeated orders by the Kerala state high court to allow construction to resume.
However, the police were reluctant to take action for weeks, fearing it would cause social and religious tension, Reuters reported earlier.
The first phase of construction was due to be completed by the end of 2024. The Adani Group said in court documents that the protests had caused “enormous loss” and “significant delay”.
The villagers refuse to budge, saying they will remove their shelter — a 1,200-square-foot structure consisting of pillars holding up a corrugated iron roof — only after construction on the project is called off.
“The protests will continue,” one of the protest leaders, Joy Gerald, told Reuters near the shelter on Tuesday.
The Adani Group says the port complies with all laws and cites studies that show it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government also says that any erosion is due to natural causes.
Adani has previously faced protests in Australia where environmental activists launched the Stop Adani movement to protest its Carmichael coal mine project in the state of Queensland. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to lower production targets and delayed the first delivery from the mine for years.
INSIGHT – Indian tycoon Adani’s mega port hangs in the balance as fishing community protests
Graphic: Adani Port Development in South Indiahttps://tmsnrt.rs/3GHvAyu
(Writing by Aditya Kalra; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Miral Fahmy and Alison Williams)
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