Thursday, October 25, 2012

You can Help the Vizhinjam Project - with an Email!

If you are wondering how your email can help a $2 Billion project that has been becalmed of late as a result of poor luck, poorer management and a pronounced lack of interest on the part of the current State Government, read on.

The project is currently passing through a very sensitive phase as its Environmental Impact Assessment is well nigh complete after a year-long study by a specialized consultant and the Master Plan has just been finalized by AECOM. VISL is pushing ahead with the Environmental Clearance process which will most likely result in hearings in December 2012 or early 2013, hopefully leading to the project being cleared for full-scale construction by mid-2013. Only after this will the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract to built the marine infrastructure be issued and actual design and construction work begin, hopefully by end-2013, to commission the port by early 2016.

In the meantime, determined attempts have been made by a lobby of vested interests, primarily the owners of a number of small resorts in the project area to stop the project dead in its tracks in order to maintain their business interests. When attempts to rustle up the local population failed, they have taken to the media claiming doomsday scenarios such as the construction of the port wiping out the beaches in Kovalam, destroying the tourism industry and devastating the fishing community. Pretty scary stuff, but without a shred of evidence in sight. These folks ignore the benefits that the project could bring to the tourism industry and themselves, such as by bringing upwards of a 100,000 additional foreign tourists to the area via its cruise terminal.

They have now filed a complaint with the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is the project's main adviser, alleging that the IFC and its consultants overlooked key negative impacts of the project and that they painted a wrong picture of the net benefits from the project. One may wonder why the Ombudsman of a US entity has any business talking about a sovereign funded project on Indian soil? Good question. The short answer is that the environmental study was funded by the IFC (yes, our Government cutting corners again, probably to pay for E Sreedharan & Co!) , thus any delay in resolving this complaint could adversely affect the environmental clearance report.

The Ombudsman is visiting Trivandrum on October 27, 28 and 29 to gather more facts and to meet all stakeholders first hand. The resort lobby will try its best, using all its resources, to paint a negative picture of the project. What we need to do is to make sure that the Ombudsman understands that the general public, that's us, don't agree with this very small group of vested interests and that we want this project to proceed. So, please, please take five minutes to copy the following text, paste it into an email, add in your name at the end (and a couple of lines about you, if possible) and send it to the CAO/Ombudsman's email address (at the bottom of the text). Five minutes, that's all it will take, I promise.
"Subject: Re: Memorandum Refuting the Allegations against the Vizhinjam Port Project in Trivandrum, India

Respected CAO/Ombudsman,

I am writing to you to express my strong protest against the malicious allegations raised the much-anticipated Vizhinjam deep-water port and container transshipment terminal project, a copy of which has been posted on your website. 
As an Indian who has sincere aspirations about the Nation's progress, I would request you not to indulge the machinations of a handful of shadowy resort owners with dubious records of their own who are intent on trying to delay or scuttle a major infrastructure project, that not only has bipartisan political and public support, but which can significantly improve the livelihood of large numbers of people, especially the economically disadvantaged sections of society.

The complainants have stated that the potential of the project has been overstated and that its environmental and socioeconomic impact has been understated in the reports prepared by the IFC and its consultants. Please note the following points in this regard:

1) The reports prepared by IFC and its market study consultant underestimate the potential of the project by being conservative about the container traffic potential at Vizhinjam and not estimating additional traffic volumes such as those from potential energy imports (LNG/coal).

2) Even with a throughput of 1.5 Million TEUs/year as envisaged in Phase I of the project, the container terminal at Vizhinjam alone will generate revenues of $150-200 Million/year. At full capacity, the project could generate revenues of over $400-500 Million a year.

3) The actual economic impact of port projects is mostly indirect in nature, by spurring industrial development and employment in the surrounding region. Thus the boost to Kerala and India's economy would be manifold than any estimate of the direct benefit.

4) The resorts falsely claim that they have a greater role in the economy than the port. There are only about 30 in all, that claim to be impacted by the project. These are mostly small properties, the largest two having between 25 and 35 rooms. They may have no more than 200-300 rooms in all. All are in the 2-3 star category or below. Considering the prevailing market rates in Kovalam, a quick back of the envelope calculation shows that their annual revenue is of the order of $3-3.5 Million (300 rooms X $50/night X 365 days X 60% occupancy). In short, they have grossly overstated their own economic importance.

5) None of the resorts is being forced to close down. Their only loss, if at all, would be their sea views. It is cruel to scuttle a project that could benefit the entire State and Nation for the sake of the views out the windows of a few small resorts.

6) No resort outside the immediate project area has filed a complaint or raised a protest. The vast majority of the resorts in the Kovalam-Poovar tourist belt lie outside the project area and have not joined the complainants in their dire predictions that beaches in the vicinity will vanish.

7) It's understood that the broader tourism industry and the business community are in favor of the project and thus the claims of the complainants that tourism in the entire region will be destroyed are gross exaggerations and not shared by other stakeholders in the vicinity.

8) The construction of a cruise terminal in the port could bring at least 50-60 ships a year and over 100,000 new tourists to the area, because of Vizhinjam's proximity to the shipping lanes that carry hundreds of cruise ships each year. (The port in Cochin, which is 200 Km further away from the shipping lanes and which does not have a dedicated cruise terminal, received over 40 ships and 60,000 tourists last year alone). This would be a massive boost to the tourism industry around the project, especially to resorts in the immediate vicinity.

9) While the complainants have alleged massive environmental damage from the project, they do not have a shred of scientific evidence to back this up nor have they demonstrated any professional competence to make this claim whereas the environmental study commissioned by VISL and IFC has been conducted in a rigorous scientific manner by experts in the field.

10) The complainants' environmental conscience is extremely questionable as they are operating resorts in a coastal area where it's forbidden to have any permanent construction except for port-related structures. If they respected the environment as they claim to, their first action would have been to shift their operations to a different location. Thus, their concern for the environment seems very dubious and was probably highlighted only to further their vested interests.

11) The economically disadvantaged fishing community has repeatedly come out in favor of the project because they understand that the project will not only bring in direct and indirect employment opportunities but it will also create avenues for value addition to their catch and for quick and direct exports of the marine products which will improve their economic standing.

12) It will also be possible to expand the heavily congested fishing harbor at Vizhinjam in conjunction with the port project, while the new roads, power and water supply being built for the project will benefit the community around the project.

In short, you are being asked to sit in judgement on a complaint that has no basis in truth, science, sincere concern for the environment or for the welfare of the community. This is an attempt to pervert the very purpose of an institution like the Ombudsman to serve very narrow vested interests of a small group of individuals. The Vizhinjam port project has been the dream of an entire State for over five decades and I certainly hope that you will help it to reach fruition at the very earliest.

Warm Regards,


You can email this to

The sooner you can send it out and the more people you can convince to send it out as well, the better. We live in a democracy, the IFC subscribes to it as well, and public opinion does matter. 

Thanks in advance! 

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  1. Just emailed. Hope it works against the lobbies.

  2. I think some people who have some other vested interests are behind all the allegations against Vizhinjam Port project. Otherwise it will not take this much of time for the realisation of the most prestigious dream project of the Kerala state. I really doubt about the sincerety of Kerala state government as well as the centre in implementing the project. They are just making some hue and cry to fool the people.


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.