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December 10, 2023

Indian state will proceed ‘no matter what’ with protest-hit Adani port-minister

According to a government minister, Kerala state in India would move on with a $900 million port project “no matter what” and is willing to use federal police to safeguard it from protesters who are obstructing work.

The Adani Group’s building of the Vizhinjam port has been halted for nearly four months by the local fishing community, which is led by Catholic priests. They have erected a temporary shelter at the port’s entrance. The protesters are demanding a complete halt to the development because they claim the massive project contributes to coastal erosion, which has affected their way of life.

The Kerala government, which is sharing two-thirds of the project cost with the federal government, and the Adani Group, led by Asia’s richest man Gautam Adani, have refuted these allegations.  Clashes between police and protesters last weekend injured more than 100 people, including 64 police.

Although the protesters have refused to budge, Kerala’s minister of ports, Ahammed Devarkovil, said the government of the southern state was hopeful of resolving the deadlock but there was no chance it would halt construction.

“We want to complete the port project no matter what. No compromise can be made on that,” he said in an interview. “Because these are civilians protesting, the government’s position is to take this forward without inflicting any harm” on protesters.

Asked for comment on Devarkovil’s remarks, a protest leader, Fredy Solomon, said protests would continue as “houses and livelihoods of thousands of fishermen are at stake.”

Adani Group did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. The conglomerate has repeatedly urged a state court to authorize having the federal police guard the project so work may resume, saying local police were “mute spectators”.

Minister Devarkovil said Kerala remains open to the idea of deploying the federal Central Reserve Police Force.

Adani wants to complete the first phase of construction by December 2024, but Devarkovil said his government was hopeful of getting the first vessel to the port by September next year, even as construction continues. It wants to make up for a lost time by deploying workers to work extra hours and putting more industrial equipment to use.

Devarkovil said. “We will be set to grab business from Sri Lanka port.”

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