CM to chair cabinet subcommittee on Vizhinjam port to achieve detente with agitating Latin Catholic Church-backed fishermen

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. File photo: Special Arrangement

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called a meeting of the cabinet subcommittee on Vizhinjam port on December 5 evening in what is perceived as a strong political pitch to strike a detente with Latin Catholic Church-backed fishers and coast dwellers agitating against the harbour construction, citing livelihood and environment concerns. 

The government hopes to build on the peace-making efforts of Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop-catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. 

It also wants to take the steam out of the opposition’s move to raise the highly emotive Vizhinjam issue in the Assembly. 

The bishop met the leaders of the Latin Catholic Archdiocese on Sunday to fast-track the negotiation between the agitators and the administration. 

The communally sensitive coastal locality has remained restive since Vizhinjam Action Council (VAC) activists stormed the local police station on November 27. 

The mob vandalised the station house and smashed the windscreens of public transport buses. Nearly 35 police officers and scores of residents were injured in the attack. 

The clash capped months of brewing resentment swirling around the Vizhinjam port’s breakwater construction. 

 The government was worried whether the agitation would acquire a communal edge, given that another set of residents vehemently opposed VAC’s attempt to halt the port construction and blockade the project site. 

Former Latin Catholic Archbishop Soosapakyam, Imam of Palayam Juma Masjid, Dr. V. P. Suhaib Maulavi, and Santhigiri Ashramam general secretary Swamy Guru Ratnam Jnana Tapasi was expected to lead the peace mission. 

The VAC has demanded their representative on the independent committee constituted to study the environmental and social impact of the port.

 It has also requested a monthly honorarium of not less than ₹7,000 for fishers displaced from their dwellings by the encroaching sea. 

The VAC believed the breakwater construction had exacerbated coastal erosion and rendered the littoral waters choppy, jeopardising everyday fishing operations. Hence, it has demanded compensation for boats and fishing gear lost to the sea. 

The VAC has also required a higher subsidy for kerosene used as fuel for outboard engine-powered fishing boats. 

A possible stumbling block to breaking the deadlock might be the prosecution of criminal cases registered against church leaders and hundreds of VAC activists in connection with the police station attack and the violation of the Kerala High Court’s order not to blockade or trespass on the project site.  

Replying to a calling attention motion moved by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator, Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Ports, Ahamed Devarkovil, said the government had accepted six of the seven demands raised by the VAC. He said the State could ill afford to halt the port’s construction. 

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