More than 80 protesters and police have been injured in India as villagers demonstrating against the construction of a $900m (£744m) port project by Adani Group clashed with police in Kerala state, the latest escalation in a months-long strike.
The protests, by a mostly Christian fishing community against the project led by billionaire Gautam Adani’s $23bn ports business, have forced the latter to stop work at the Vizhinjam port, seen as a potential and lucrative rival to those in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Joseph Johnson, one of the protest leaders, said at least 46 protesters were hurt. Senior local police official M R Ajith Kumar told Reuters 36 officers were wounded in the clashes.
Building has been halted for more than three months after villagers blamed the port’s development for coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihoods. They have blocked the entrance to the site by erecting a 111 sq metre (1,200 sq ft) shelter.
Over the weekend, police arrested some protesters who blocked Adani’s construction vehicles from entering the port, despite a court order for work to resume.
The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Catholic priests, to march on the police station on Sunday night, leading to clashes with personnel and leaving police vehicles damaged, according to a police document and footage on local television.
A police official who did not wish to be named said security was being beefed up after the latest incidents, with more than 600 officers deployed across Vizhinjam.
Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative east-west trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by Adani, Asia’s wealthiest man and the world’s third-richest.
The Adani Group did not respond to a request for comment on the protests over the weekend. The company has previously said that the port complies with all laws and cited studies suggesting it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government has said that any erosion was due to natural causes.
In the latest clashes, police alleged the protesters “came with lethal weapons and barged into the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if people in custody were not released they would set the station on fire”.
Eugine H Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese and a protest leader, said police pelted the protesters with stones.
Adani has previously faced a backlash in Australia over its Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to downsize production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.
The Indian protests have continued despite repeated orders by Kerala state’s top court to allow construction to restart. Police have largely been unwilling to take action, fearful that doing so will set off social and religious tensions.
On Monday, the court heard Adani’s concerns again and asked the state administration why its order of ensuring that port construction continues was not being enforced. The judge asked state officials to file a response by Friday.
The Adani conglomerate is shouldering a third of the project’s cost with the rest borne by the state and federal governments. It has a 40-year agreement to build and operate the port.
Separately, media company New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV) said on Monday an entity backed by its founders had issued shares to a unit of Adani Group, taking the conglomerate a step closer to taking over the media firm.
The transfer of shares will give Adani control over a 29.18% stake in the news group. Adani is also conducting an open offer running between 22 November and 5 December for a 26% stake in NDTV.
The open offer drew bids for 5.3m shares as of Monday’s close, or around 32% of the 16.8m shares on offer, exchange data showed.