Vizhinjam port being built by Adani Group near Trivandrum, capital city of Kerala state of India, is hit by ‘rough weather’ even as it is taking its baby steps. The rains that lashed at Trivandrum coast on 17th of May itself and made the life miserable for coastal people living all along the erosion-prone beaches on the northern side of the proposed Vizhinjam port! According to news paper reports at least 150 houses washed away around the project area.

The sea waves made a mockery of the seawalls put all along the coast, and there are reports that one line of houses along the coast in Valiyathura fishing village had been fully destroyed and soon the second line of houses will also have the same fate. Hundreds of families have been evacuated and are put up in schools and other shelters. Locals say that this kind of erosion is unprecedented and many of them connect it with the dredging and construction at the port site by Adani in Vizhinjam. At few places people came out in streets and put up road blocks to express their anguish!

Most of the newspapers and media, even though it was election time, did cover widely the damages caused by erosion along Trivandrum coast. The polling day was 16th May and counting on 19th and many were busy with it. So, only very few of them tried to verify what happened at the project area. Apparently there is also much restriction on people to visit the project site in the name of security. But a few of them managed to find out what was happening there and reported too. Mathrubhoomi, one of the leading daily newspapers has reported on 17th May that, after the rain huge waves started hitting the shore and made havoc at the project site also and large portions of the reclaimed seashore with dredged material deposits were washed away. Even the 100 m long breakwater built with piling up boulders also got severely damaged as these were thrown off to the waters by the surging waves! So Adani has stopped the construction now and may not resume soon, as they also don’t know what is in store for them when the actual monsoon arrives!

On the night of 19th of May there was heavy rain again, and the road built for the project caused water logging in the area. One news paper reported that water level rose to about 12 feet in the area. Sleeping people got panicked and hundreds of people had to be rescued. In the morning the authorities had to destroy that part of the road which blocked the water flowing into sea with earth movers to solve the water logging problem.

The reclaimed coast of Vizhinjam Port site after dredging started in March 2016

At the principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) in New Delhi a legal battle is going on even now to decide the fate of Vizhinjam Container Transhipment Terminal awarded to Adani Group by Government of Kerala. Three appeals were filed against the Environment Clearance given to this project on 3 January 2014. But while the decision on these appeals were still to be made by the NGT, Kerala Government managed to get a temporary stay from the Supreme Court on 21 January 2015 on the proceedings of these appeals upon an interim order regarding the power of NGT. With that Kerala Government went ahead with tendering the port project and awarded it to Adani Group on 17th August 2015. Soon after, those who filed appeals against environment clearance approached the Supreme Court (SC) seeking a stay on the construction work that began in November 2015. The SC was almost going to stay the work, but did not do so because of an undertaking given to the Court by State of Kerala that, “if the action of construction is interfered with by this Court in this case, the port trust as well as the State of Kerala will restore the environmental status to its original position”. This undertaking was recorded in the Order issued by Supreme Court on 16 December 2015. Then on 3 February 2016 the SC lifted the earlier stay on proceedings in the appeals against environment clearance and asked NGT “to proceed with the hearing and make an endeavour to dispose of the same as far as possible within a period of six weeks”.

So, hearing on the appeals against Environment Clearance given for Vizhinjam port project has started again last month and is yet to be over. Now in the NGT the main contention to be resolved is whether the coastal stretches in and around the proposed Vizhinjam port area in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala is prone to high erosion or not? This is very crucial because, according to Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 2011, no port should be constructed in a high erosion coast. So, if the Tribunal finds that the coastal stretches in and around the project area is an erosion prone coast, the Environment Clearance could be squashed. If it happens Government of Kerala will have to restore the original environment status at Vizhinjam coast and nearshore waters. This is very similar to the Aranmula Airport project where the Court directed the project proponent to restore the filled up watersheds and paddy fields. Whether such restoration of environment is possible in the coast and sea is another matter for debate. It is to be noted here that though Adani has bagged the contract, they are not a party in the ongoing legal battle. In fact, Adani has nothing to lose, because all the work being carried out now is at the expense of the State. According to the agreement signed between Kerala Government and Adani, the State should pay Adani Rs.1463 crores in the name of ‘Funded Works’ to do site preparation and construction of breakwaters. So, even if NGT quashes the Environment Clearance and put an end to the project, they won’t lose any money. The loss will be for public exchequer only!

Knowing the seriousness of such a situation, the project proponent (Vizhinjam Seaport International Limited) has been trying its very best to convince the tribunal that Trivandrum coast is not at all eroding and even went to the extent of arguing that it is a ‘stable’ coast. All this was going on when the summer is at its peak both in Kerala and in Delhi. Adani was also going at a great speed to dredge the seabed at the port site and dumb the dredged soil at the adjacent shore for ‘reclamation’ and create the base for constructing berth area. However, they were worried that monsoon is coming soon and it may wash away all that is dredged and deposited on the beach. So they stopped dredging and started bringing in boulders/rocks to make an artificial breakwater to protect the artificial beach. They expected the monsoon to hit the Kerala coast only by first week of June and were working non-stop day and night.

The project proponent would be more worried now; as they may find it difficult to ignore this erosion and to hide the news reports with pictures of erosion-torn beaches in Trivandrum coast, including the erosion and damages on the construction site, from the scrutiny of the Green Tribunal and general public. Their claim of ‘stable coast’ is proved to be false! Will the Tribunal take note of these recent happenings at the port site and also the severe erosion at the adjoining coast?

In the meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, the present ruling UDF is thrown out and a new Government of LDF is coming to power in Kerala State! Interestingly, in their poll campaign, UDF also show-pieced Vizhinjam Port through print and visual media to woo the voters, but the election results prove that people have rejected such ‘development’ claims. Also, LDF in its campaign had emphasized that ‘protection of environment and lives of people is true development and not erecting concrete jungles’.

So, now the big question is what will be the attitude and approach of LDF Government towards this port project awarded to Adani? Recently, while the election campaigns were going on, Deshabhimani daily, the organ of CPI (M) in Kerala published a series of reports on the ill effects of port construction activities started by Adani at Vizhinjam, especially the dredging, on the livelihood of fishers of the area. Still, though LDF leaders boycotted the inaugural ceremony of construction of the port, they also stated no breach of agreement with Adani! Unfortunately, the LDF also was in the forefront demanding this Port, thinking that it would be of great benefit to the State and its people. The fact is that they never seriously studied the economic or environmental aspects of this project and took a position on it. All official studies have shown that this is an unfeasible project and is not going to benefit Kerala economy in any way. The only reason why Adani was the lone bidder was the real-estate component added into the port project at the last minute (in April 2015) by betraying State’s interests!

Deshabhimani daily Cover Page reports on Vizhinjam disaster published on 25 April 2016