Fishermen oppose Billionaire Adani’s mega port expansion in Tamil Nadu

Adani Ports argues that this expansion will significantly increase the port's cargo capacity and develop new rail and road networks to enhance trade connectivity in the region

The proposed expansion of a port in Kattupalli, Tamil Nadu, owned by billionaire Gautam Adani, has sparked widespread resistance from thousands of villagers. Most of these villagers earn their livelihood through fishing and fear that the expansion would submerge their lands, jeopardizing their way of life. Adani Ports, which acquired the port in 2018, denies these claims.

The existing 330-acre multi-purpose port, initially built by Larson & Toubro (L&T), is targeted for an 18-fold expansion to cover an area of 6,110 acres, claiming portions of land along the coast. Adani Ports argues that this expansion will significantly increase the port’s cargo capacity and develop new rail and road networks to enhance trade connectivity in the region.

However, the fishing communities in at least 100 towns and villages along the coast strongly oppose the expansion, asserting that it would have a severe impact on their work. Fish varieties have already declined, and the expansion would exacerbate the depletion, according to Rajalakshmi, a local fisherwoman.

Environmentalists also express concern, claiming that the expansion plan would lead to massive coastal erosion and a loss of biodiversity, particularly affecting indigenous fish species, crabs, prawns, and small turtles. Meera Shah, an environmentalist, warns of potential harm to Pulicat Lake, the second-largest saltwater lake in India, due to increased construction along the coast.

Adani Ports dismisses these environmental concerns, calling them “misplaced” and attributing the protests to individuals with “ulterior motives for publicity.” A company official suggests that locals are not opposed to the expansion, and any genuine environmental concerns will be addressed during the mandatory environmental clearance process.

Protests against the port expansion began in 2018 and intensified in September when the state government initiated the environmental clearance process, leading to strong protests that forced the postponement of a public hearing.

The master plan indicates that of the 6,110 acres required for expansion, 2,000 acres would be acquired from the sea, while the remaining land would be taken from the coastal area. Adani Ports plans to reclaim parts of the sea by filling it with sand and includes them in the port area. This approach, however, raises concerns about its potential impact on the region’s ecology, with experts warning of devastating consequences.

Dr. Ilango Lakshmanan, a hydrogeology professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, asserts that the east coast of India, especially Tamil Nadu, is not geographically suitable for port construction, let alone expansion. He warns that such projects could disrupt coastal topography and lead to increased sea erosion.

Despite the environmental and community concerns, some industry experts argue that the expansion could benefit the state’s economy and generate employment. The Kattupalli port reportedly started making profits after the Adani takeover, and an expansion could attract more ships, contributing to economic growth.

Protesters, however, remain unconvinced, expressing their determination to protect their livelihoods at all costs. They blame the Tamil Nadu government for not fulfilling promises made by Chief Minister MK Stalin before the state elections to scrap the expansion plan.

This isn’t the first time Adani Ports has faced protests. In 2022, fishing villages in Kerala protested against a port construction managed by Adani Ports in partnership with the local government. The protests were resolved after the state government promised monthly compensation to those facing displacement.

At Kattupalli, port authorities attempt to win over the local community by offering free medical aid and promising job opportunities. However, protesters remain cautious, emphasizing their opposition to losing their land in exchange for such offers.

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