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Kerala coast is facing severe sea erosion and Thiruvananthapuram is one of the major districts affected by it. Many have lost their houses and lives in the repeated climate calamities.
In August 2020, 16 fisher families from Thiruvananthapuram’s Kocuthoppu village lost their houses due to flooding off the north coast of Vizhinjam.
I went to meet the families of fishers who have now turned refugees in their own land.
“We lost our homes on 10 August 2020 due to sea erosion. That evening, the government officials took us to St. Roch’s Convent School in their vehicle. Government officials promised us a safe shelter for 40 days. So, we decided to go to the school. During those 40 days at the school, officials regularly visited and gave us food, etc. After that, no one came to visit us.”Mary, Fisher
They managed to live in the school for about a year-and-a-half, till the time the school was shut due to the pandemic. When the school reopened on 1 November 2021, the homeless were soon evicted from the school.
“One evening (3 December 2021) around 6 pm, the bell at the church rang continuously and priests, sisters, and teachers gathered there. They alleged that we encroached on the school compound and we were beaten by them. They threw away our belongings and smashed our things.”Mary, Fisher
Jessy, who also lost her home last year, said, “Nearly 2,000 people came to evict us. They started creating problems in the evening and it continued up to 3 am. They threw all our belongings and did not even allow my daughter to feed her newborn. My daughter had given birth to a baby when we lived at the school.”
Leaving the school, these refugees took shelter at the nearby Kerala Maritime Board’s office. They are now living in the warehouse of the office.
“We have got a cabin in the warehouse near the front office. We can't do our work or sleep here because it is hot here. There is no electricity here. This is a cabin of 10x10 feet for 4 people in a family. Within this limit, we have to cook, keep our utensils, clothes, and other items. How can a family live here? This happened to us because we lost our homes by sea erosion,” says Mary.
Hema, a student of St. Mary’s HSS, Vettukad, is also amongst the homeless. She lost her books when she was forced to leave the St. Roch’s convent where she was sheltering since August 2020.
I lost my books and all my belongings. I realised that after reaching here. That's why I can’t go to school. I just came to know through one of my friends that three exams have already happened and there are exams in the coming days too. Sadly, I couldn’t attend any.Hema, Student
Life has not been easy for the people now living in the warehouse. "There is not enough space for my three children and two of us. If my child wants to change a dress, her father and brother need to go out. By seeing all this, I feel immense sorrow,” says Alphonsya, another homeless victim of the sea erosion.
Experts and the residents of the coastal area of Thiruvananthapuram blame the construction of the port at Vizhinjam for their present situation.
“In all those years, the sea never destroyed our homes. But after the construction work started for Adani Vizhinjam Port Project, we started losing our homes. In 2018, when the stone was put in the sea for port, the sea became rough and started eating our homes. We lost our shores, and we became homeless. They bring all these in the name of development, resulting in our loss.”Mary, Fisher
Vijayan A J, ocean governance expert, echoed concerns raised by the residents living along the coast of Thiruvananthapuram.
“Work on Adani's commercial port at Vizhinjam began in 2016. There are two kinds of work. One is, dredging i.e digging up the sand from the sea and making new artificial land for the port. As a result, large amounts of beach sand were removed. Dredging and reclamation are happening here. This was followed by massive coastal erosion in the northern part of Vizhinjam. With so much more work to be done on dredging and sea ridge construction, the impact will be huge in the coming years.”Vijayan A J, Ocean Governance Expert
State government had offered a compensation of Rs 10 Lakh to the families who have lost their houses, but the homeless point a flaw in the compensation scheme and say that the amount of money is insufficient to rebuild a house.
The government offered Rs 10 lakh as compensation. Out of which, Rs 6 lakh would be transferred to the bank account only after the registry of 2 cents (40.47 sq m) of land. Who will register the land to us without payment? Secondly, Rs 6 lakh is not worth enough to buy even One cent. One cent is worth at least Rs 10 lakh. Even though it was a hut only we can understand its value. No one considers us as human beings.Mary, Fisher
Meanwhile the fisherfolks-turned-refugees continue to live in the warehouse of the Kerala Maritime Board’s office in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Quint has reached out to Thiruvananthapuram district collector, Vizhinjam International Ports limited, and the Adani ports on the issue. Their response is awaited. Story would be updated once we have the response(s).
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