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A village, revived

Fishermen in Juhu have joined hands with an architectural college and come up with a plan to redevelop their prime land. This could mean new life for 37 other fishing villages

mumbai Updated: Jun 03, 2012 01:35 IST
Riddhi Doshi

Out on the beach near a fishing village in Juhu, authentic Koli cuisine made from fresh fish is on sale at colourful, eco-friendly stalls.

Down a broad, curving street, four-storey buildings with indoor plumbing and running water have replaced the crumbling, cramped homes and common toilets. These buildings are built around common courtyards, with common verandahs encircling each floor.

Below each building is a common storeroom where the resident fishermen can keep their nets, ropes and tackle. On special occasions, these spaces can be cleared out and used to host community events and functions.

This is the Moragaon koliwada or fishing village, as envisioned in a redevelopment plan set forth by a group of 40 fourth-year architecture students and two faculty members of Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA). Work on the plan began early last year.

“Our land is prime property, so we are constantly under pressure from builders to sell out,” says fisherman and Moragaon resident Rajesh Mangela. “Most of us want to self-develop the area and safeguard our land, our lifestyle and our culture, so we decided to seek help.”

Accordingly, members of the local fishermen’s cooperative, Juhu Moragaon Machchimar VKSS Ltd, approached the architecture institute, asking if they could study the 26,500-sq-metre area and provide a blueprint for self-development.

The institute took up the request, assigning it to fourth-year students as the annual project. The students began their research in June 2011, with help from students of the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), who conducted surveys to explore the residents’ infrastructural and social needs.

The resultant plan seeks to strike a balance between modernity and a traditional lifestyle, also drawing on existing skills such as cooking to augment the dwindling income from fishing.


The key problems that both groups of students identified are common to most of Mumbai’s 38 fishing villages.

Banned from building more than two storeys, large joint families of up to 10 people are crammed into spaces ranging from 250 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft.

There is no indoor plumbing, water supply is scarce in the common taps and there aren’t enough common toilets for the growing population.

The narrow, winding lanes cannot accommodate any road traffic.

“We wanted to avoid involving private developers because they would not be interested in preserving the traditional lifestyle and culture of the fishermen but would rather build high-rises to make maximum profits,” says Rupali Gupte, associate professor at KRVIA.

So, instead, the KRVIA plan envisions cluster redevelopment spearheaded by the local community. The actual construction would be done by a building contractor, with financial assistance from central government schemes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Rajiv Awas Yojna, which offer funds to initiatives that seek to improve urban areas. To secure and use these funds, a partnership would need to be formed between the residents and the local authority, in this case the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.


There are two roadblocks facing this plan, however.

First, the koliwada does not have enough land to implement the plan, since a third of the land allocated to these fisherfolk in the 1980 Development Plan is marshland.

The redevelopment plan suggests that the state allot an adjoining playground to the koliwada in lieu of this marshland, and grant the Kolis additional development rights so that they can build higher and accommodate their families on this land.

The second problem is one that is common to most of Mumbai’s fishing villages — the 5,000 residents are divided over their redevelopment aims.

At Moragaon, there are currently three groups — one sought out the KRVIA proposal and is working on it with them, a second is considering coming on board but fears that it would not be able to afford the as-yet-undetermined contribution required, and a third is in favour of handing over the land to a private developer and settling for a flat in a high-rise.

For now, the existing plan is being fine-tuned, after which they will present it to the government together.

“This is an ongoing project and we as an institute will now work towards bringing the three groups to a consensus,” says Gupte. “Then, we will work on getting the government on board.”