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