Thousands of members from fisherfolk communities have observed a fast in protest against the proposed seaport near Kovalam hamlet in Kanniyakumari district, Tamilnadu on Friday. ‘Movement Against Kanniyakumari International Container Transshipment Terminal’ has announced to lead a series of protests against the central government’s proposed seaport in the state.
This comes while the Kanniyakumari’s fisherfolk communities are still undergoing distress caused by cyclone Ockhi disaster in which 98 fishermen were feared dead and more than 500 are still missing from the district alone. Around 1,000 fishermen went into the sea before Ockhi hit Kerala and Tamil Nadu states in the first week of December 2017.
Recently, VOC port trust, the nodal agency for the construction of the seaport terminal has announced to shift the project location from earlier proposed Enayam to Kovalam in the district, after drawing opposition against the project. The estimated cost of building the deep sea port project is Rs 27550 crore over a period of 13 years.
In Kerala, there are two trans-shipment ports - Vallarpadam port in Cochin and Vizhinjam port (under-construction) in Trivandrum. If this proposed port in Kanniyakumari is built, it will be the third major trans-shipment port in the southern part of the country.
The mega project has been initiated under the BJP led central government’s flagship programme- ‘Sagaramala’ launched in 2015, under which more than 400 projects are said to be identified for implementation across the areas of port modernization, new port development, port connectivity enhancement, port-linked industrialization and coastal community development.
Sagaramala programme has drawn opposition and criticism from environmentalists, fisherfolk communities and shipping yard workers since it was first announced. In November 2017, the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP) held its general assembly in which the participant fish workers have criticized Sagaramala claiming that the projects taken up are anti-fish workers and would destroy the coastal biodiversity and marine resources affecting their livelihood.
In July, The National Fish Workers Forum (NFF) had lead a campaign under the banner ‘save the coast, save the fishermen’ sensitizing fisher folk communities across coastal regions in Tamil Nadu against the Sagarmala initiative.
On the other side, union cabinet’s recent approval to privatise the Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) and foreseen influence of private players in the ‘Sagaramala’ projects along with threats to coastal ecosystem, fisherfolk communities in the coastal states are unionising and contesting against the privatization moves of the central government, perhaps only way left for them to save their livelihoods.