Worli fisherfolk occupy sea near coastal road site, say won’t vacate until demands met
Between 120 and 150 fishing boats from Worli Koliwada on Saturday occupied a portion of the sea near the coastal road construction site, where work is underway on building an interchange to connect the coastal road and the Banda-Worli Sea Link (BWSL). The fisherfolk said that this segment of the controversial infra project will cut off access to their customary fishing grounds, and have refused to vacate the area until their demand for a redesign is met.
Boats have been parked in the alignment of the interchange since around 8am on Saturday, and Worli’s fisherfolk have appealed to other fishing communities across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) to join the agitation.
HT had reported on October 17 that Cleveland Bunder – an artisanal fishing port in Worli Koliwada – is at the risk of permanent closure owing to the coastal road, specifically the interchange.
The civic body plans to construct two connecting bridges between the south-end of BWSL and the north end of the coastal road, as part of a link that will allow traffic to flow seamlessly between the two. Fisherfolk said this interchange will run parallel to Cleveland Bunder and severely constrict the only navigational route available to boats venturing out to open seas.
On October 14, nearly 200 boats from across the Worli fishing zone had gheraoed a temporary jetty at the coastal road construction site as a mark of protest. They demanded to meet with the civic body officials and Worli legislator and state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray.
Thackeray, along with officials, met with two community leaders including the president of the Worli Koliwada Nakhwa Matsyavevsay Sahakari Society (WKNMSS) on October 25 and assured to look into the matter and respond within a few days. However, the community leaders said there is no response yet.
HT reached out to Thackeray’s representative, but the minister was unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, pre-construction activities on the interchange have continued, with movement of barges and tugboats in the Koliwada’s customary fishing grounds. Fisherfolk were also informed by the civic body on October 8 that they will not be allowed to fish in a 500-metre strip of water stretching from Haji Ali to Bandra, to facilitate the movement of tugboats and barges, for a period of two years.
“The movement of boats in our fishing grounds has already destroyed about 70 to 80 fishing nets. It costs between ₹70,000 and ₹1 lakh to get each net made. Who is going to pay for them? Not only will the interchange force us to shut down Cleveland Bunder, but we’ll also not be able to fish in our own waters for two years until the work is done. This is a gross violation of conditional clearances granted to the project, which clearly state that our activities cannot be impacted. We will not accept any outcome other than a redesign of the interchange. If that is not agreeable to the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) then we will continue to park our boats and won’t allow construction work to continue,” said Nitesh Patil, president, WKNVSS.
In a letter to officials on October 24, representatives of WKNVSS wrote, “One of the specific conditions of the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) clearance dated January 4, 2017, was as follows: ‘BMC to ensure that no fishing activity is hampered during construction and operation phase of the project’. Thereafter the final CRZ clearance dated May 11, 2017, was granted by MoEFCC (Union environment ministry), subject to the following specific condition: ‘Bridges with navigable spans will be provided by the project proponent as committed, so that there are no obstructions to fishing boats’.”
The fisherfolk have maintained that their request for a navigable span, of at least 200 metres, as opposed to the proposed distance of 60 metres, under the interchange, has been raised formally on multiple occasions since 2016. The assistant commissioner of fisheries has also written to BMC and the fisheries commissioner in April 2017 and December 2018, respectively, pointing out to the fisherfolk’s concerns over possible closure of their only navigation route out to sea. Subsequently, in January 2019, the assistant commissioner of fisheries also wrote to fisheries commissioner saying that the department’s no objection certification (NOC) for the project should be re-examined in light of this predicament.
Officials from BMC’s coastal roads department, including chief engineer Vijay Nighot, could not be reached for comment despite efforts. However, a senior official from the fisheries department, occupying the post of assistant commissioner, said, “The fisherfolk should not be impacted by the project. We will have a discussion on violations of our NOC on Monday.”
“After the losses they have suffered already, the Worli fishers are asking for an increase in the navigation span just to be able to sustain their livelihood. This a just and reasonable demand. The fisherfolk are now counting on Thackeray to act on their behalf,” said Shweta Wagh, an architect and researcher with the Collective for Spatial Alternatives, who was present at Saturday’s protest.