Police in southern India on Tuesday ramped up security around Vizhinjam port being built by billionaire Gautam Adani’s group after scores of people were injured during clashes with protesters from a fishing community over the weekend.
Construction at the mega $900-million port project on the southern tip of India has been halted for more than three months after protesters – mostly Christian and led by Catholic priests – blocked the site’s entrance by erecting a 1,200-square-foot shelter. They blame the port’s development for coastal erosion that has hit their livelihoods.
Late on Sunday, Villagers stormed a police station to protest the arrest of some opponents to the project, and more than 80 people were injured during the clashes, including 36 police, senior officer Ajith V told Reuters.
Kerala state police were sending reinforcements to the Vizhinjam area to prevent further violence, he added.
“Additional personnel from neighbouring districts have been deployed. We are getting ready to face any situation,” he said.
Another state police officer, who declined to be named, said the number of personnel guarding the mega transhipment port had been increased to 400 from about 300 earlier.
The port is set to become India’s first container transhipment hub and is located around 6 kilometres (4 miles) from Kerala’s tourist hotspot of Kovalam, which is internationally renowned for its beaches.
The Adani Group says the port complies with all laws and cited studies that show it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government has also said that any erosion was due to natural causes.
Once completed, the port will vie with Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka for business on the lucrative East-West trade routes, making it of strategic importance for both India and Adani, who is Asia’s wealthiest man and the world’s third-richest.
The first phase of construction was due to be completed by December 2024, but the Adani Group has said in court filings the protests have caused “immense loss” and “considerable delay” to the project.
Five years ago, Australian environmental activists had launched a “Stop Adani” movement to protest his Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland state. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to downsize production targets and delayed the first shipment from the mine by years.