India’s Kerala state will press ahead “no matter what” with a $900 million port project and is open to deploying federal police if needed to protect it from protesters blocking construction, a government minister told Reuters on Saturday.
The local fishing community, led by Catholic priests, blocked the construction of Vizhinjam port by the Adani Group for almost four months, erecting a makeshift shelter at the port’s entrance. Protesters say the massive project is causing coastal erosion that has undermined their livelihoods and are calling for a complete halt to construction.
The Adani Group, led by Asia’s richest man Gautam Adani, and the Kerala government, which is shouldering two-thirds of the cost of the project with the federal government, have denied such allegations. Clashes between police and protesters last weekend injured more than 100 people, including 64 police officers.
Although the protesters refused to budge, Kerala Ports Minister Ahamed Devarkovil said the southern state’s government hoped to resolve the impasse but had no chance of stopping construction.
“We want to complete the port project no matter what. There can be no compromise on that,” he said in an interview. “Since these are civilians who are protesting, the government’s position is to continue this without causing any harm” to the protesters.
Asked for comment on Dewarkovil’s remarks, protest leader Freddie Solomon said the protests would continue as “the homes and livelihoods of thousands of fishermen are at risk”.
Adani Group did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. The conglomerate has repeatedly urged a state court to allow federal police to guard the project so work can resume, saying local police are “mute spectators.”
Minister Devarkovil said Kerala remains open to the idea of deploying the federal police force from the Central Reserve.
Adani wants to complete the first phase of construction by December 2024, but Devarkovil said his government hopes the first ship will reach the port by September next year, even as construction continues. He wants to make up for the lost time by hiring workers to work overtime and using more industrial equipment.
“Adani Group is willing to do this,” Devarkovil said.
Gautam Adani, whose empire includes gas and power projects as well as port and logistics businesses valued at around $23.5 billion, described Vizhinjam as an “unparalleled location” on the critical east-west shipping route.
“The opportunities that open up from Vizhinjam Port are unmatched by any other in India,” Devarkovil said. “We will be ready to grab business from the port of Sri Lanka.”
(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Kozhikode; Editing by Aditya Kalra and William Mallard)
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