The Maharashtra government’s ambitious Shivaji Memorial project which has been mired in numerous controversies over years is now once again in the news as fisher folk have demanded it to be shifted from the proposed location in the Arabian sea off Mumbai coast.
The fishermen said that the memorial will sound a death knell for their livelihood and have warned of a series of agitations against the project. In contrast, the memorial committee calling the protests politically motivated said it was determined to go ahead with the project. On Thursday, the fishermen held a boat rally along with black flags to protest against the project.
Rohit Pande, chief co-ordinator, Paramparik Machimar Seva Samitee, said the memorial in the Arabian sea will be an environmental disaster. The memorial project will destroy the entire marine life and adversely affect our livelihood,” he claimed. He said approximately 3,500 fishermen families living in the koliwadas of Colaba, Cuffe Parade and Sasoon Dock would face the brunt.
For fishermen whose sea catch has reduced in the past few years, the memorial signals further problems as apart from the catch, such a memorial where visitors would be ferried in boats and security tightened, it means curtailing their movement in the sea.
However, Vinayak Mete, chairman, Shiv Smarak Samiti, criticised the protests as misleading. “It is unfortunate that they are resorting to falsehood to stop this project,” said Mete. “We have conducted proper studies and this in no way affects fishing activity,” he added.
The project was first envisaged in the 1980s but it could not make much headway. It was revived in 2000 during the Congress-NCP regime with a view to wooing Maratha voters, as Shivaji was a Maratha and the community takes pride in it, but it could hardly take it to a logical end.
After winning the assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party government put it on a fast track and obtained required clearances from the Centre. The ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) in December last year gave a nod for installing statute and building the memorial in the sea.
Many, including Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, are also questioning the government’s decision to spend more than Rs 1400 crore on the memorial when the state has about 350 forts that are in need of conservation.
“No one can doubt my commitment to Shivaji Maharaj but there are too many issues with the project plan and there is no transparency. The state government should focus their energies on reviving the forts built by Shivaji Maharaj and declare them as tourism spots. The forts constructed by him are in bad shape and there is no effort to refurbish them,” Thackeray said.
The state government recently appointed consultancy firm EGIS India consultant Pvt Ltd as the management consultant for the project at the cost of Rs 83 crore.
The groundbreaking ceremony to be held on May 22 in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was deferred on the grounds that it was inappropriate to hold such a grand event when the state is reeling under severe drought.