The struggle against the proposed Vizhinjam International Deepwater port by AAP had kick started with the 8days long district wide travel in a vehicle with corner meetings at various points and a conclusion on every evening at important venues. The jatha had covered 14 legislative assembly constituencies in the district. On an average 20 persons were travelling with the jatha vehicle on all these days. At some points it came to 50 persons. In the day time it will be moderate crowd and in the evenings it grow fast and at some points it reached to many hundreds. The response in the city area was less enthusiastic when compared to the receptions in village and costal area where women and children in huge numbers came to listen the speech by our leaders.
Major focus of the campaign was as follows:
As it is clear from the CAG report that the agreement for Vizhinjam International port between Kerala Govt and Adani Group is highly biased and it is nothing but a looting by the private party of the public money and natural wealth of Kerala like Sea, Coast, Fisheries resources, Life and Livelihood of Fisher people .
AAP starts a long struggle against this contract and demands to review and correct it in favour of the State.
-68 % of Investment and the natural resources are of the State and people. Adani will amass about Rs.1 Lakh Crores.
-30% of the land given is used for commercial purpose. Value of this land will be much more than the investment made by Adani in the project
-after 15 years the State gets just 1 % of the profit
-Violating PPP terms it is for 40 years and just by this Adani is getting additional benefit of Rs.29,217 crores.
– Justifying the project as great development to make Thiruvananthapuram like Singapore. But local people are not getting employment even in the construction phase where maximum employment for the locals are expected.
Demands of this Struggle
- Review and correct the contract taking care the interest of the State
- In line with 2G , Coalgate, Commonwealth, Lavlin etc. which will make huge loss for the State and huge profit for some private party , Criminal case to be charged against the persons who signed the contract.
- Ensure maximum employment for the local people in the construction phase
The jatha was inaugurated on 15th July at a coastal village Poonthura and the final conclusion was at Gandhi Park in the capital city.
Some experiences of the campaign:
When we planned the first phase of the campaign to travel extensively in the district we were having lot of apprehension regarding the response from the public. All the mainstream political parties are supporting the project wholeheartedly as great development for the district and the state. They had unleashed a propaganda that this project when get completed will change the face of the city and it will be like Singapore or Dubai with flourishing international trade. It will provide employment opportunities to tens of thousands of youth and that itself will be a huge leap in the development of the district. When coastal people and fisherfolk had raised their concerns regarding the displacement from land and livelihood , the answer from authorities and political leaders were highly misleading. The fisherfolks can get better job opportunities and they will no longer will be dependent on the sea and fishing.
The role played by all the mainstream media was also the same. Even the press conferences on the campaign were not reported properly. Many of them had neglected it and those who had shown the courtesy had done it half heartedly. But the State and its police intelligence had watched our activities seriously. They were following the campaign regularly.
We were quite clear that it is going to be an uphill task to communicate with a mass which is made hysteric about the prosperities from the project. So we were very cautious not to intimidate any group which come for argument. We had prepared a handout explaining the corruption and erosion of public and natural wealth from the State to the private investor. Also we were highlighting the fact that even in the present construction phase of the project, local workers are not getting much opportunities. Once the construction is over only a few hundreds will have some employment opportunities. But even in the construction phase local people are not considered for employment. The contractors are bringing cheap labour from other states. This had created tension among the locals.
In the initial stages of planning of the jatha, the response from the social media was little harsh. Some persons were threatening that we may be facing physical assault from the locals. Hence we were little bit conscious in planning the route. We opted for the project area to be in the last phase. But in reality we were surprised to see that people in the project affected area are having real concerns about it than those living in the main urban area. For the urban middle class investments, projects, employment, development etc are just a fictitious one. But for the locals, especially in the lower middle class strata it is a stark reality before them. The project area declared as SEZ, locals were not even allowed to pass through the area for their daily life even though there is no activity going on. The security persons were acting as police and the local police has no role inside the compound.
On the inaugural day at Poonthura we had a good gathering of locals including women and children . They were curious to listen to us because it is for the first time they heard their experiences of the project from us. We had brought Mr. P.Gopakumar, a retired auditor from C& AG office who had explained the findings of CAG in very simple terms. Very good examples from common mans life were used to explain the fallacies of the contract. Also it was clear from his speech that this contract was prepared by the concessionaire itself for his advantage. One such example is as follows.
Two persons start a business in partnership. One spends 68 % and the other 32% as capital for the business. Now the person spending only 32% is having full control of the project all through the period of the contract. The person who spends 68% will not get any profit for first 15 years of the operation. After 15 years he will get just 1% of the profit at that point. This is clear injustice, understood even common public.
The whole jatha was very much modest mainly because of the financial constraints of party. We are running on loans and every volunteer participating in the program are reaching there in their own expenses at every point of reception we c were talking to the local people giving them the handout and most of them were ready to interact with us. Except very few, maximum ten in total had questioned our motive. Most of them were supporting us in principle. Many of them offered garlands or donation to us.
We had about 120 points where we stopped in total. Not a single person had protested against the jatha. It means that most of the public are not considering the project as a positive development. When we explained about the proposed rehabilitation plans and the problems they may face when displaced they were very much eager to listen. We have examples of similar project at Vallaarpaadom, Kochi where a transshipment terminal was built in last decade. The plight of 316 families displaced there were explained to them. To certain level people were frightened to hear the reality. The promises given by the State and political leaders were not fulfilled there. More than 250 displaced families at Vallaarpadom are yet to be rehabilitated properly even after 9 years. They are visiting district offices to get things done. This is not just because of the apathy of the officials but the negative approach of the political leadership.
Many leaders from social movements attended the jatha and addressed the public at many points. They include from cultural activists like Dr. Azad, who is writer in the left circles, Mr. Babuji, who is the leader of an environmental group working for the protection of Western Ghat, Economists etc.
We met people of various social status ad interacted with them. Mr. Gladius of Poonthura , who is an auto mechanic. He had confessed that he supported the project in the beginning thinking that it may improve the living conditions of the local people including him. But once the project got started he realized that it is really destroying the livelihood of common people.
Vijayan, a taxi driver from Valiyathura also had the same opinion. He was informed by the local leaders that once the project is initiated lot of engineers and technicians will come and people like him will get opportunities for rental car services or driving their vehicle.But in reality only a few number of engineers ar employed there and even for them his car is not used. But they have chartered vehiclearranged by a large group.
When the CAG report came into limelight, they could see that a user fee system is going to be introduced for the new fishing harbor. When huge protests were conducted against this proposal, the then former CM, Mr OOmman Chandy
This jatha had given us great level of confidence to continue the battle to the next stage. We plan to challenge the corruption legally. Also we are approaching the legislative committee on Public Undertakings, who are supposed to evaluate the CAG report on the contract for the project and advise the State ,how to go ahead. As in the case of 2G spectrum, Bofors, Coal Gate etc. the legislative Committee has great role here. We are submitting our comments on the contract to the committee and start putting pressure on them to do it . The judicial probe ordered by the State is for buying time for the
Contractor to complete it. Any judicial probe by a retired judge against the CAG itself is farce and hence it will not make a comprehensive result.
In the second Stage:
- Giving memorandum to the Legislative committee of Kerala who are yet to take up the CAG report placed on the table in June 2017. This memorandum will explain the major issues regarding the contract raised in CAG report.
- Approaching the Judicial Magistrate to enquire the corruption behind the deal which is obviously against the interests of the State. As per the prevention of Corruption Act s 13(1) two conditions of corruption is proved by this report as in the case of 2G spectrum case etc.
- Planning a yathra from Vallarpadam, Kochi where a similar project was constructed and became a failure and also the displaced people are yet to be rehabilitated even after 8 years.