JNPT construction work is like Jallianwala Bagh massacre, says Koli leader
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JNPT construction work is like Jallianwala Bagh massacre, says Koli leader

Ramdas Koli says they are not against development “but it cannot happen at the cost of our lives”

mumbai Updated: Jun 04, 2018 11:12 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Ramdas Koli, 76, has been fighting wetland and mangrove destruction in various courts since early 2000. (PRATIK CHORGE/HT PHOTO)

Fisherman Ramdas Janardan Koli, 76, has spent a major part of his life fighting against port-related construction around four villages in Uran taluka. As the leader of the Paramparik Macchimar Bachao Kruit Samiti and petitioner in the case heard by NGT, he told HT that he wants to preserve fishing for the future generations. Excerpts:

When did you get to know about the JNPT project, and your reaction?

In 1989, we were told that the state had handed over the land to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT). The port had plans to remove mangrove patches and lay service roads for the expansion of its fourth berth terminal. After a decade, it came to pass that our fishing spots were converted into fly-by-night debris dumping sites. This narrowed the mouth of the creeks, forcing our fishing boats to find alternative routes. The slow destruction reduced our catch. In 2005-06, we realised that the land, which we had inherited from our forefathers, was going to be taken with a basic notice. However, for the next six to seven years, nobody responded to our protests. We were forced to move court.

What were the demands of the community?

We have demanded compensation worth 32,542 hectares of common tidal land equally distributed among 1,630 fishermen families, as per the The Mahul Creek (Extinguishment of Rights) Act, 1922; 15% of the developed land in return of the common tidal land for each family; permanent arrangement for educational, technical and professional studies; free medical services; aquaculture ponds; and basic compensation to run our families.

Have any of the demands been met?

None. We have not received a single rupee in compensation from the public sector units. But every family is losing Rs25,000 per month. Uran taluka has approximately lost 22,000 hectares of mangroves. Our hope rests with the Supreme Court.

How will you present your case during the next hearing in the SC?

Time and again, these construction activities have angered our community. It is almost like the Jallianwala Bagh massacre — but in a much more sophisticated manner. I have reminded the community that the law of the land is paramount. We are not against development but it cannot happen at the cost of our lives. We will tell the court that the construction violates Article 21 of the Constitution. We will argue the case under the Indian Fisheries Act, 1897, Mahul Creek (Extinguishment of Rights) Act, 1922, and Indian Easements Act, 1882. All three stand in our favour that the land belongs to the traditional fishing community and our demands need to be met. I have spent four decades of my life fighting this, and I have full confidence this will not end in vain.”

First Published: Jun 04, 2018 00:50 IST