12 July 2016 07:53:00 IST

Fishermen, locals worried over Enayam port project impact

The site in Enayam where an international container transhipment port is being planned by the Centre at a cost of around ₹27,000 crore (Photo: Bijoy Ghosh)

New port will boost employment, enhance fishing activity, say supporters

“Where will we go? We will die here rather than move out,” said S Lanemmal, 63, as she sat chewing tobacco inside her hut on the beachside at Enayam village in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu.

She is worried that a mega port project planned here could displace her along with 20,000 others.

There are mixed reactions to the ₹27,000-crore container transhipment project to come up in the vicinity of the hamlet on the west coast. Fishermen are worried that it will affect their livelihood while many others expect the port to be a catalyst for economic development.

The Centre recently approved a plan to establish the Enayum port project, to be set up through an SPV to be promoted by VO Chidambaranar Port Trust, Chennai Port Trust and Kamarajar Port Ltd.

“Who wants jobs in the port? We are fishermen and want to die as fishermen,” said Anthony Pillai, 32.Over a dozen of Pillai’s friends playing cards inside a hut joined him in saying they are currently leading a peaceful life, and would like to continue to do so.

“The project will be a great disaster for the people of this region and will wipe out coastal villages,” said George Robinson, a fishermen and spokesperson for the Movement Against Enayam International Container Transhipment project.

Sea erosion A 6 km breakwater to be constructed as part of the project will cause sea erosion damaging 50 villages spread over 68 km from Nerody to Kanyakumari, he said.

The plan is to reclaim land from the sea to develop port infrastructure. However, a vast area of land will be required in future for other operations.

RS Lal Mohan, Chairman, Conservation of Nature Trust and former Principal Scientist, ICAR, is worried the breakwater will affect sea current, which is critical for fishing. Nearly 20 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s fishermen live in this district. Over 2 lakh people associated with fishing — traders to transporters — will lose their jobs, it is feared.

Rajesh Kumar, a DMK MLA representing Killiyur Assembly constituency in which Enayam village is located, said: “We have been fighting only for a small fishing harbour in Colachel, not a mega project in this region.”

Feasibility report Two other MLAs from Kanyakumari recently joined him and 40,000 others in a protest against the project in Nagercoil, he added.

A Rapid Techno-Economic Feasibility Report by TYPSA-BCG shortlisted Enayam based on two major advantages — a 20 m draft near the shoreline which will reduce dredging and maintenance cost and the location being just 14 nautical miles from the Great East-West shipping route connecting Europe to East Asia. This lane caters to 80 per cent of India’s current container transhipment cargo and most of East Asia’s trade with Europe.

J Jasiah, Former Municipal Chairman, Colachel, who opposes the project, said four locations — Enayam, Colachel, Muttam and Kanyakumari — were considered for the port. The report did not consider the idense population in the region. It said another possible location is in the east waters of Kanyakumari, which is a naturally-sheltered area without much population.

Jaisah said if the government can dredge and maintain it to 20 metre at Kanyakumari, there will not be any hindrance for anybody.

But one of the reasons for not selecting Kanyakumari could be ‘due to high environmental issues and touristic value and monument islands need to be respected’, going by the feasibility report.

Project viability puts a big question mark on the project as Vallarpadam port in Kerala, north of Enayam, is operating at 30 per cent capacity; a project similar to Enayam is coming up at Vizhinjam just 25 nautical miles north and Colombo, a well established transhipment hub, is expanding its operations, he said.

While opposition for the new port is gaining momentum, a group supporting it is spreading awareness on the benefits the project will bring to the district.

Kanyakumari deserves industrial development, and Enayam port could be a catalyst for that, said S Dinesh, an advocate and State Legal Wing Deputy Secretary of the DMK.

“Our leader M Karunanidhi recently gave his support to the project provided it does not affect the livelihood of fishermen. A false propaganda is being taken up that the project will affect fishermen,” he said.

Minimal effect Dinesh said the port starts from Helen Nagar located 2 km from Enayam. There could be minimal effect on people of Enayam and that too in places where land will be required to expand both land and rail networks.

According to R Godwin, who is part of Colachel-Enayam Port Support Awareness Movement, all large projects tend to attract resistance. “We will convince them by talking about benefits. Some people are misguiding others,” he said.

Godwin pointed out that wherever there is a port — including Chennai and Visakhapatnam — fishing activity only increases. It will be same in this region, he added. Close to 25-30 km of vacant space is available on either side of the planned port that can be occupied by fishermen affected by the port, he said.

The Centre has said the project is critical for trade, which annually loses around ₹1,500 crore on transhipment cost for taking cargo via the hubs of Colombo, Singapore and Port Klang.

Will the port manage to take off or will protestors scuttle it? Only time will tell.