Plans for a grand Chhatrapati Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea, off the Mumbai coast, have been opposed by fishermen who fear it will damage the environment and destroy the fishing industry.
The Akhil Maharashtra Machimar Kriti Samiti (AMMKS), a group representing the fishermen, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with the National Green Tribunal, Pune, accusing the Maharashtra government, Union environment ministry, Mumbai Port Trust and the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) of getting environmental and Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearances for the project without consulting citizens.
“The project will destroy around 110 km of coastal area near Mumbai, natural aquatic, marine eco-system and it will affect the livelihood of traditional fishermen,” read the petition filed by Damodar Tandel, president, AMMKS, along with marine conservationist Pradip Patade. An NGT bench of justice Dr Jawid Rahim and Dr Ajay Deshpande heard the petition on Wednesday and issued notices asking the government agencies to send their representatives to the next hearing on September 30.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had asked the finance ministry to allot funds for the project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2019. The 192-m-high statue of the Maratha warrior king has been planned on a 15.96-hectare rocky outcrop, roughly 1.5km from Raj Bhavan. The state government estimated the cost of the project to be around Rs2,000 crore.
Asim Sarode, the lawyer representing the fishermen, said their main complaint was the government did not have a public hearing before granting clearances for the project. “It clearly shows manipulation by the state government for acquiring all clearances and getting an NOC (no objection certificates) for the project without public consultation, which is illegal,” said Sharode, adding that while the ideologies of the Maratha warrior king are of national importance, a memorial is not.
The fishermen said ferry boats carrying visitors to the monument will embark from Nariman Point and Gateway of India and cut through fishing areas. “The impact is going to be huge as several fish species, crustaceans and shrimps, which account for a large portion of our business, will be lost,” said Tandel.
They said the endangered species of whales, dolphins, turtles, porpoises, apart from sea birds, will be threatened by the project. They said although these dangers were identified by the Environmental Assessment Committee appointed by the Union government, the project got clearances.
“The biological diversity is not taken into consideration and there is no consultation from the state biodiversity board,” said Patade, who has documented more than 250 marine species along the south Mumbai coastline.
Vinayak Mete, who heads the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Smarak Samiti, the group appointed by the state government to implement the project, said the claims made by the petitioners are not true. “They are completely unaware of all precautions taken for the project. There are selfish intentions and a political vendetta by the fishing community to oppose the proposal. Clearances from all the green bodies and the central government notifications all point towards the completion of this project.” said
He said the committee had not received a notice from NGT yet. “We will provide all the necessary documents, certificates and surveys for the project to the court,” he said.
Fishermen highlight loss of fish landings
Fishermen said that species found in the area include ribbon fish, Bombay duck, anchovies, goatfishes, Indian mackerel. Among crustaceans, non-penaeid prawns account for 20.2%, while penaied shrimps account for 6.75% of the total fish landings.
Demands made by the petitioners
•Interim stay on any construction by the state government for the project until hearing and final disposal by National Green Tribunal in the matter
•Entire record shall be again placed before the Environmental Assessment Committee (EAC) for fresh consideration of the matter through fresh reports with regard to environment damage and destruction of marine life, flora and fauna
•Cancelling Bhoomipujan for the project by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the first week of October this year
•Process of acquiring environmental clearances be completed only after a process of public hearing be conducted