India's Megaport Ambitions Draw Strong Local Opposition

Diagram of proposed Vadhavan port complex
Illustration of the proposed Vadhavan port complex (

Published Nov 25, 2022 10:16 AM by The Maritime Executive

Local fishermen have set up a blockade in a months-long attempt to halt construction of Gautam Adani's Vizhinjam container port. The plan is simple: the community has set up a small shelter in front of the entrance to prevent construction equipment from going in and out. Since August, this protest has halted progress on the $900 million project.

Though courts have ordered the protesters cleared from the area, local police have so far been unwilling to use force to carry out the edict, even though they often outnumber the fishermen in the shelter by three to one, according to Reuters.

The construction of the port began in 2015 at Kerala’s Vizhinjam town, located at the southern tip of India. However, local residents and fishermen have raised opposition to the project, claiming it has led to increased coastal erosion and affected their livelihoods.

The state of Kerala has appointed a panel to investigate the impact of the construction and identify “specific measures to address the coastal erosion, if any, observed in the zone of influence of construction."

 In August, Adani Ports sought a court order to compel the state government to provide protection for its workers. In the plea, Adani Ports said that the ongoing protests by fishermen were posing a threat to its employees. The plea was granted in September, and the court directed Kerala’s government to provide protection for the construction project. However, the protests have not abated. 

Activists are also actively protesting another container port proposal, the Wadhavan terminal near Mumbai. Like Vizhinjam, the Wadhavan (Vadhavan) initiative would create more deepwater wharfage for the biggest deep sea boxships, reducing India's dependence on feedering.

Local activists claim that Wadhavan's construction will "lead to the collapse of an entire self-sustaining economy" by displacing fishermen, farmers, small manufacturers and ethnic minorities (adivasis). A coalition of seven representative organizations held a protest march in Mumbai on November 21, World Fisheries Day.  The crowd was estimated at some 8-12,000 people, according to Hindustan Times, and political leaders from multiple parties attended the march. 

If built, Vadhavan would be the largest port in Asia. The project's origins go back 30 years, but it was long blocked due to environmental regulations. The administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently cleared the way to allow Vadhavan to proceed - just as it has for another megaport on an environmentally-sensitive shore, the proposed $3.2 billion complex on Greater Nicobar Island at India's southernmost tip.