KOCHI, India, Nov 28 (Reuters) – More than 80 people were injured in southern India after villagers stopping construction of a $900 million port clashed with police, the latest escalation in a months-long protest led by a predominantly Christian fishing community vs. Asia’s richest man.
The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion port and logistics company, which has been forced to suspend work on the Vizhinjam seaport, which is believed to be winning business from rivals in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
However, construction has been halted for more than three months after villagers blocked the entrance to the site, accusing the port of causing coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihood.
Over the weekend, police arrested several protesters after they blocked Adani construction vehicles from entering the port despite a court order to resume work.
The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Roman Catholic priests, to march on the police station, clashing with staff and damaging vehicles there, according to police documents and local television footage.
A senior local police officer, Mr Ajith Kumar, told Reuters that 36 officers were injured in the clashes. Joseph Johnson, one of the leaders of the protest, said at least 46 protesters were also injured.
Located at the southern tip of India, the port seeks to tap into lucrative East-West trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by billionaire Adani, rated by Forbes as the world’s third-richest person.
Asked about the latest protest, Adani Group did not immediately comment. The company said the port complies with all laws and cited studies showing it is not associated with shoreline erosion. The state government also said that any erosion is due to natural causes.
FACTBOX – Major Industrial Disputes in India
Protests continue despite repeated orders by the Kerala state high court to allow construction to begin. The police are largely reluctant to take any action, fearing that it will cause social and religious tension.
In the latest clashes, police documents 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.
The protests at the port recall the backlash Adani faced 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.
Written by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Miral Fahmy
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