As tensions escalate following violence that resulted in 80 injuries, a Hindu organization affiliated with India’s ruling party will march on Wednesday in support of a $900 million port project by the Adani Group that has been blocked by Christian demonstrators.
Catholic priest-led protesters from the fishing community have been blocking the site’s entrance with a temporary shelter for about four months at the project in Vizhinjam, Kerala state.
They blame the port’s development for coastal erosion that has hit their livelihoods, an accusation billionaire Gautam Adani’s conglomerate denies.
Supporters of the port, including members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and Hindu groups, have set up their own shelters, as the two sides face off across the street. They say the port will create jobs in the region.
The port is of strategic importance to both India and Adani, Asia’s wealthiest man and the world’s third-richest. Once completed, it will become India’s first container transhipment hub, rivalling Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka for business on the lucrative east-west trade routes.
The march by the Hindu United Front on Wednesday will have more than 1,000 people calling for construction to resume, the group’s convener K P Sasikala told Reuters.
Kerala state police have already sent reinforcements to the Vizhinjam area after villagers stormed a police station late Sunday in clashes that left 80 people injured, including 36 police.
A senior police official outside the port confirmed he was aware of the march plans of the Hindu United Front, adding they remain on high alert to prevent any possible clashes between protesters and supporters at the port entrance.
The protests have continued despite repeated orders by Kerala state’s top court to allow construction to restart.
However, police have for weeks largely been unwilling to take action, fearful that doing so will set off social and religious tensions, Reuters has previously reported.
The first phase of construction was due to be completed by end-2024. The Adani Group has said in court filings that the protests have caused “immense loss” and “considerable delay”.
The villagers have refused to budge, saying they will only remove their shelter – a 1,200 square feet structure consisting of poles holding up a corrugated iron-roof – once the project’s construction is called off.
One of the protest leaders, Joy Jerald, told Reuters on Tuesday close to the shelter, “The protests will continue.”
According to the Adani Group, the port conforms with all legal requirements, and tests have shown that it has no impact on shoreline erosion. Any erosion, according to the state government, was brought on by natural factors.
Adani has met opposition before, most notably in Australia, where opponents of his Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland state organized a “Stop Adani” movement. There, environmentalists worried about carbon emissions and harm to the Great Barrier Reef compelled Adani to reduce its output goals and postpone the mine’s first shipment for years.