Interference of a Church in obstructing the execution of development projects down South has come as a rude shock. Three key projects -Vizhinjam in Kerala and Sterlite & Kudankulam projects in Tamil Nadu have faced stiff resistance from the Church.
The latest is the case of Vizhinjam, a deep sea port being developed 13 kilometres from Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. The deep sea port is being opposed tooth and nail and the protesters are being led by influential local Latin Catholic Church priest Theodacious D’Cruz. The Church has mobilised thousands of common fishers against the port development by spreading rumours of coastal erosion.
Deep seaports are crucial for any big economy in the world, as bigger ships need a much deeper port for docking, but sadly India has none of these yet. India still needs the transhipment of containers via Colombo or Dubai to fulfil its shipment traffic. This results in higher shipping costs and loss of container traffic in India. Deep seaports also help in boosting the manufacturing industry.
Vizhinjam will be very helpful for the economic growth of the region and will also attract ship traffic which will result in the growth of the shipping industry in India.
Port is also supposed to enhance the manufacturing industry as it will be a major supplier of raw materials and other equipment required in the manufacturing industry which is largely concentrated in the southern part of India.
Vizhinjam: Protests & Vatican flags
Vizhinjam port, a project backed by Kerala Government and being constructed by Adani ports has come under protests led by Latin catholic church leader Theodacious D’Cruz.
The local church has mobilised the fishermen and villagers against the port development citing the issues of coastal erosion and displacement of families.
Thousands of protesters have surrounded the project site from the land and seaside and have forced the workers to halt the construction.
During the protests, Vatican flags (White and Yellow shaded) were visibly seen on the protest site. Vatican flags were also seen on the boats of fishermen surrounding the port project site. This has fueled the worries about foreign influence on the protests.
Kerala Kumudi, a leading Malayalam news portal reported that the Church has demanded the total closure of the port development works. The news report also mentioned that the Thiruvananthapuram church priest even went to the extent of giving derogatory remarks about the CM of Kerala & the Minister ports.
The Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram Church threatened Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, to send him back to his hometown Kannur electorally, indicating the political influence of the church in the state.
Vizhinjam today, Kudankulam & Sterlite in past :
It is not the first time the church is involved in anti-development protests in south India. Kudankulam nuclear power plant demonstrations are still fresh in public memory.
St. Lourdes Church premises at Idinthakarai in Tamil Nadu was turned into a protest venue by church clergy. Kudankulam, a major nuclear power project in the state of Tamilnadu faced very heavy backlash from the protesters mobilised by the church.
Church NGOs received foreign funding and diverted this money to fuel protests against nuclear power plants. A report on the Firstpost website published in 2012 reveals that churches collected funding on the pretext of religious causes and diverted it to the protests to sabotage the project.
However, the Tamil Nadu government carried on with the project despite protests and finally in 2013 the Nuclear plant’s first phase became functional.
Similarly, the Vedanta group’s Sterlite copper plant in Tamil Nadu saw massive protests at the behest of the Church, which finally led to its closure in 2018, resulting in India becoming an importer of copper rather than its earlier position of being a copper exporter. The closure of the plant helped Pakistan to export more copper to China. Pakistan saw a 400% rise in copper exports to China after India was unable to do so.
Mohan Lazarus, a missionary agent and Christian leader used mass prayers on Sundays as a tool of fueling protests against the Sterlite copper plant.
Kudankulam saved, Sterlite sabotaged, what lies ahead for Vizhinjam?
Sterlite copper plant shutdown was a disaster for the Indian copper industry, Now the voices for reopening of the copper plant can be heard loud and clear as the plant used to employ a large number of locals from that area.
Protests against Vizhinjam seek a total closure of the project which is unlikely to happen as Kerala CM is in strong favour of this development project marking this as a crucial project for the economic growth of the state. He has also said that at this stage this port development project can’t be stopped.
Kerala’s prominent leader Shashi Tharoor has also backed the project and urged the government to declare this port as that of national importance. With government and opposition being on the same page, there are rarely any chances for the port project to get stalled.