An archbishop in the Latin Catholic Church in India has opposed a plan to build a major new port in Kerala state, fearing it will displace thousands of fishermen.
Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa PakiamÂ of Thiruvananthapuram issued a pastoral letter against the proposed $109.5m Vizhinjam international seaport and transhipment hub at India’s southern tip on the Arabian Sea, promoted by the Kerala state government.
Read during all Masses on Sunday, 2 August in his archdiocese, the archbishop’s letter warned the government that he could not condone the port project, as it would displace 32 fishing villages in his archdiocese and adversely affect some 50,000 families, Catholic news service UCANews reported.
We are not against development. What we demand is the protection of the rights of a group that is going to suffer the most– Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam of Thiruvananthapuram
If the project is implemented, coastal villages along a 13-km stretch will be wiped out, the archbishop said.
Construction on the project is scheduled to start this month, on 17 August.
In response, the Kerala state government, which is pursuing the infrastructure scheme as a public-private partnership, said it was open to discussing the archbishop’s concerns.
"We will continue our discussions and remove all their fears and grievances," K. Babu, state minister for fisheries and ports, told UCAnews.
The archbishop, however, said the church viewed the project as a "human rights issue".
"We are not against development. What we demand is the protection of the rights of a group that is going to suffer the most," the archbishop said.
He added that he believes the government wants to ignore protests and go ahead with the project.
Image: Artist’s render of the Vizhinjam International Seaport (Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd.)