More than 80 protesters and police were injured in India as villagers demonstrating against the construction of a $900m (£744m) port project by the Adani Group clashed with police in Kerala state, the latest escalation in a months-long strike.
Protests by a predominantly Christian fishing community against the $23 billion project spearheaded by billionaire Gautam Adani’s port business have forced the latter to suspend work at the Vizhinjam port, seen as a potential and lucrative rival to those in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Joseph Johnson, one of the leaders of the protest, said at least 46 protesters were injured. A senior local police officer, Mr Ajith Kumar, told Reuters that 36 officers were injured in the clashes.
Construction has been halted for more than three months after villagers blamed the port’s development for eroding the banks and depriving them of their livelihoods. They have blocked the entrance to the site by erecting a 111 square meter (1,200 square foot) shed.
Over the weekend, police arrested some protesters who blocked Adani construction vehicles from entering the port despite a court order to resume work.
The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Catholic priests, to march on the police station Sunday night, clashing with staff and leaving police cars damaged, according to a police document and local television footage.
A police official, who did not wish to be named, said security had been beefed up after the recent incidents, with over 600 personnel deployed in Vizhinjam.
Located at the southern tip of India, the port is looking to tap into lucrative east-west trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by Adani, Asia’s richest man and the world’s third richest.
Adani Group did not respond to a request for comment on the weekend protests. The company previously said the port complied with all laws and cited studies suggesting it was not associated with shoreline erosion. The state government said any erosion was due to natural causes.
In the latest clashes, police said protesters “came with deadly weapons and stormed the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if the people in custody were not released, they would set fire to the station.”
Eugene H. Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese and leader of the protest, said police pelted protesters with stones.
Adani previously faced backlash in Australia over its Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to lower production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal delivery by six years.
Indian protests continue despite repeated orders by the Kerala state high court to allow construction to resume. The police are largely reluctant to take action, fearing it will cause social and religious tension.
On Monday, the court again heard Adani’s concerns and asked the state administration why its order to ensure that construction of the port continued was not being implemented. The judge asked state officials to file a response by Friday.
Conglomerate Adani is shouldering one-third of the cost of the project, with the rest borne by the state and federal governments. There is a 40-year agreement to build and operate the port.
Separately, media company New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV) said on Monday that an entity backed by its founders has issued shares to a unit of Adani Group, bringing the conglomerate one step closer to taking over the media firm.
The share transfer will give Adani control of a 29.18% stake in the news group. Adani is also conducting an open offer, which is being held between November 22 and December 5, for a 26% stake in NDTV.
The open offer drew bids for 5.3 million shares as of Monday’s close, or about 32 percent of the 16.8 million shares on offer, exchange data showed.