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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Mumbai’s fishermen community set to give a vote of no thanks

The reason: They believe that three big-ticket projects — coastal road, Shivaji memorial and the municipal corporation’s 300-acre park — to be constructed by reclaiming the sea off Mumbai’s coast , will adversely affect their livelihood, a situation they say the government is indifferent to.

lok sabha elections Updated:
Eeshanpriya MS
Eeshanpriya MS
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
The fishermen claim that despite repeated attempts to initiate dialogue with the BJP-led state government, and the Shiv Sena-led BMC, authorities continue to overlook their demands and politicians and public representatives are apathetic. (Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo)

More than 35,000 voters from Mumbai, all from the fisherfolk or Koli community living in five koliwadas (fishing villages) along the west coast, may not cast their vote in the Lok Sabha elections.

The reason: They believe that three big-ticket projects — coastal road, Shivaji memorial and the municipal corporation’s 300-acre park — to be constructed by reclaiming the sea off Mumbai’s coast , will adversely affect their livelihood, a situation they say the government is indifferent to.

HT spoke to residents and representatives from five koliwadas, which will be directly affected by the projects at Colaba, Worli, Mahim, Juhu and Khar Danda. Kolis from these areas have decided to boycott the elections.

Ujjwala Patil, chairperson, Koliwada-Gaothan Vistaar Kruti Samiti, said, “The Kolis are the original inhabitants of Mumbai, who over the years were forced to live in small pockets close to the coast that we now call koliwadas. Mumbai is their home.” Committees representing koliwadas will soon decide if they would call on the entire community spread across 42 koliwadas, to show solidarity toward the koliwadas affected by the projects and boycott elections collectively.

Patil said, “As a representative of the Koli community, I will respect the feelings of its members, to boycott elections. A collective decision on behalf of all 42 koliwadas is yet to be taken.”

About 157 boats belonging from the Worli Koliwada have been parked at shore for the past two months. These fishermen are out of work as the BMC started the construction of a jetty for the coastal road at Worli. ( Bhushan Koyande/HT Photo )

The fishers claim that despite repeated attempts to initiate dialogue with the BJP-led state government, and the Shiv Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the authorities continue to overlook their demands and politicians and public representatives are apathetic.

Bhuvaneshwar Dhanu, member of Colaba’s Machimar Sarvoday cooperative society and a resident of Cuffe Parade Koliwada at Geeta Nagar, said, “Till date, the government has given us nothing in writing. We will vote only if the government agrees to our demands in writing.”

The koliwada at Cuffe Parade will be affected by the BMC’s Backbay Reclamation Park in the Arabian Sea. For more than three months now, fishers from this Koliwada have stalled surveys anchored by BMC-appointed National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

Dhanu said, “The sea will be reclaimed for the project exactly at the spot we park our boats. A development of this magnitude will kill our catch. The BMC has assured us it will leave enough space for parking our boats and for accessing the sea, but these promises come from people who do not understand the nature of the sea and its ecosystem.”

However, the fisherfolk’s troubles are not only prospective. About 157 boats belonging from the Worli Koliwada have been parked at shore for the past two months. These fishermen are out of work as the BMC started the construction of a jetty for the coastal road at Worli.

Harishchandra Nagpoa, chairman, Worli Koliwada Nakva Matsya Vyavasay Cooperative society, said, “We lay our nets in the sea very close to the shore and leave them there overnight. We manage to catch a lot of produce this way. But as BMC has begun to ferry machinery in the sea , its tears into our nets.”

About 450 families from this koliwada directly depend on fishing to earn their livelihood. Approximately 1,500 families are dependant on allied businesses, such as stitching nets, providing ice for fish preservation, drying fish in the sun daily and selling their produce in the market. In December last year, Worli fishers managed to stall BMC’s work on the coastal road, until they were directed to co-operate by the HC.

Nitesh Patil, director, Worli Koliwada Nakva Matsya Vyavasay Cooperative society. said, “We are not going to vote this time. In Worli, we have decided to hoist black flags on voting day.”

Arvind Sawant, Shiv Sena MP from South Mumbai, said, “I relayed the demands of the Kolis to the civic chief. I also agreed that the government should give them monetary compensation for loss of livelihood. They are the city’s original inhabitants and we will not alienate them”

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