IN TROU­BLED WA­TERS

Why Koli fish­er­men, among Mum­bai’s orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants, are so ve­he­mently op­posed to the pro­posed Shivaji me­mo­rial and coastal road projects

India Today - - SOCIETY | KOLI FISHERMEN - By Moeena Halim

TTHE SUN IS SET­TING over Mach­hi­mar Na­gar, one of Mum­bai’s 45 koli­wadas or vil­lages that are home to its in­dige­nous Koli fish­ing com­mu­nity. At the jetty, a few small wooden boats painted bright red, or­ange, blue and yel­low lie up­turned; some rest on the muddy shore lined with plas­tic bags while oth­ers are an­chored a few me­tres into the water, bob­bing with the waves. The city sky­line on ei­ther side of the creek makes for a pretty pic­ture. And soon, if the Ma­ha­rash­tra govern­ment has its way, an im­pos­ing statue of Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji will be­deck the hori­zon.

The pro­posal for the Rs 3,600 crore me­mo­rial, which in­cludes a 190 me­tre statue of Shivaji on 40 acres of re­claimed land over a rocky out­crop 3.6 km from Gir­gaum jetty and 2.6 km from Na­ri­man Point, awaits ap­proval from the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT). The out­crop is a breed­ing ground for fish, and Damodar Tan­del, pres­i­dent of the Akhil Ma­ha­rash­tra Mach­hi­mar Kriti Samiti, vows to pro­tect the area. But a few kilo­me­tres up the coast, at Ne­pean Sea Road, an­other mas­sive con­struc­tion is lined up. A 29 km coastal road project to con­nect Mum­bai to the north­ern sub­urb of Malad will be­gin its first phase by the end of 2017. The project, es­ti­mated to cost Rs 15,000

crore, will take at least four years to com­plete. PROTESTS AND PE­TI­TIONS

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have been hotly op­posed to both de­vel­op­ments. They have been joined by the Koli com­mu­nity that is con­cerned about its liveli­hood. Ask about the ef­fect of the pro­posed coastal road on fish­er­men, and Ra­jhans Tapke, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Koli Ma­hasangh, is scathing: “It won’t have any ef­fect. How can a dead man be af­fected by any­thing?”

With ris­ing pol­lu­tion, dam­age to the man­groves as well as trawlers and il­le­gal fish­ing boats that use the purse seine net, eat­ing a lion’s share of the busi­ness, the Koli fish­er­men have stopped tak­ing their boats out to sea. Some have even de­cided to sell their boats and seek other jobs. The com­mu­nity’s lead­ers fear the new con­struc­tions will ring the death knell for their tra­di­tional liveli­hood. “Mum­bai’s fish­ing in­dus­try is not like what it used to be,” says Vi­jay Wor­likar, vi­cepres­i­dent, Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fish­er­men. “Ninety per cent of the com­mu­nity had fish­ing boats. Of late, this has come down to 60 per cent;, and af­ter the coastal road, only 40 per cent are likely to con­tinue fish­ing,” he says.

Tan­del es­ti­mates the Shivaji me­mo­rial will af­fect the liveli­hood of 100,000 peo­ple in South Mum­bai. So while the state govern­ment hopes to com­pete with New York’s Statue of Lib­erty and the Spring Tem­ple Bud­dha in China, the Ko­lis are dead against the me­mo­rial. In May 2016, 500 fish­er­men protested by sail­ing with black flags pinned to their posts to op­pose the project. In June 2016, Tan­del and Dhar­avibased en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Pradip Patade filed a pe­ti­tion with the NGT against the me­mo­rial. And even though Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi laid the foun­ da­tion stone on De­cem­ber 24, 2016, Tan­del says he will stand his ground. “Apart from the 25,000 peo­ple liv­ing in Mach­hi­mar Na­gar, there are oth­ers from across the hun­dred fish mar­kets in South Mum­bai who rely on the fish in this re­gion,” he says.

The project site is home to rib­bon­fish, Bom­bay duck, an­chovy, In­dian mack­erel, prawns and shrimps, among other pro­duce. The pe­ti­tion with NGT says, “Con­struc­tion of such a project on such an im­por­tant spawn­ing ground for fish would lead to loss of es­sen­tial re­sources in terms of fish­eries. The area would be de­void of fish and fish­er­men would not be able to carry out their daily oc­cu­pa­tion and would also find it dif­fi­cult to look for new fish­ing grounds.”

Dr San­jay Mukher­jee, ad­di­tional mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sioner (projects), Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion of Greater Mum­bai, as­sures fish­er­men won’t be af­fected by the coastal road project. “The nav­i­ga­tion bridge at Haji Ali will have a height of over 11.5 me­tres, en­abling them to con­tinue their ac­tiv­i­ties af­ter the road is func­tional. The fish­eries de­part­ment has given a go­ahead,” he says. A de­tailed project re­port, he adds, has been pub­lished and cit­i­zens’ sug­ges­tions sought. “An in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tant has also peer­re­viewed the project. The project has all clear­ances from im­por­tant de­part­ments,” he says.

A SHARE OF THE PIE

Dr San­jay Ranade, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mum­bai, says the Koli com­mu­nity’s plight is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of what in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to­day face the world over. “The chal­lenge is brought on by very rapid glob­al­i­sa­tion,” says Ranade. “When you talk of in­di­gene­ity, you’re of­ten re­fer­ring to some­thing that’s not mo­bile; a con­form­ist world. This brings a

Koli fish­er­men at Cuffe Pa­rade, Mum­bai ALL AT SEA

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