Mumbai Coastal Road Project: City fishermen fear it could kill their livelihood

Jun 24, 2018, 20:00 IST | Anju Maskeri

With BMC calling for tenders, city fishermen discuss why the government's controversial Rs 8 lakh crore project is a challenge to their habitat, income and culture

Mumbai Coastal Road Project: City fishermen fear it could kill their livelihood

Fishermen Vasudev Tandel is busy weaving a 20-metre mesh at Cuffe Parade's Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society, when we interrupt his chore on a muggy Friday morning. For the next one month, the 45-year-old plans to keep himself busy fixing the boat, nets and other fishing equipment, as the state government has prohibited fishing till July 31 to facilitate breeding in the ocean. But, Tandel isn't anxious about not having much work at the moment. His overriding concern is whether he will even have access to fishing in the waters a year or two from now.

As the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has started inviting bids to start work on the first phase of the Coastal Road Project - a four-lane project that will start from the Princess Street flyover at Marine Drive and continue till Kandivli - Mumbai's fishing community is worried that this will not only eat into the sea, but also their livelihood.

According to the fishermen, construction activity in the sea will impact the breeding of fish. Currently, only 20 per cent of their catch includes fish. The rest is garbage. Pics/Bipin Kokate
According to the fishermen, construction activity in the sea will impact the breeding of fish. Currently, only 20 per cent of their catch includes fish. The rest is garbage. Pics/Bipin Kokate

'No room for us'
Over the last few years, Tandel says his catch has dwindled drastically due to pollution and unregulated construction. This means that the fishermen have to venture further into the ocean to catch fish. "If we got business of Rs 10,000 a month earlier, now it's down to less than a half. We are barely able to make ends meet. This project will only cause damage," says Tandel.

Fisherman Vasudev Tandel from Cuffe Parade's Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society says the coastal road will impact their access to the sea.
Fisherman Vasudev Tandel from Cuffe Parade's Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society says the coastal road will impact their access to the sea.

Last month, members of the Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti sent a letter to Hemangi Worlikar, deputy mayor of Mumbai, stating their objections to the Coastal Road Project. They are yet to receive a response. "We are almost being ambushed from all directions," says Moreshwar Patil, secretary, Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti. "There's a proposal to build a 300-acre park in Cuffe Parade, a spot where our fishermen park around 400 boats. The 192-metre-tall Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial is likely to block the flow of water and may turn away the waves. And, now this coastal road. While it may not pass through Cuffe Parade, it will affect our access to the sea," he says. Mumbai has 36 koliwadas with Cuffe Parade's Machhimar Sarvodaya Sahakari Society comprising 1,500 fishermen.

According to BMC's plan, the 29.2-km long road will be constructed in two phases - the stretch from Marine Drive to Carter Road first, and the Bandra to Kandivli one later. The MSRDC will construct a sea link, which will be part of the coastal road, between Bandra and Versova. Work on the project started last year with the geotechnical investigations.

Sea Face

Dr Vinay Deshmukh, retired
principal scientist from Mumbai's Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, also feels that the coastal road will impact fishermen's dwellings. "It will affect communities that live along the route from where the bridge passes like Chimbai, Khar Danda and Worli. From what I have seen in the drawings, it will hamper their access to landing places, where they unload the fish and other areas, which are used for handling the catch," he says.

Thomas Peter, general secretary, NFF
Thomas Peter, general secretary, NFF

An appeal to protect
At a short distance from Badhwar Park, there's an another silent agitation brewing. Members from the National Fisherworkers' Forum (NFF) from across the country have convened at Colaba's YWCA International Centre to discuss the implications of development projects on the country's coastal communities. NFF, which is the longest standing confederation of traditional and artisanal fishworkers in the country, recently rejected the draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 2018, claiming it was against protecting biodiversity and ecology and was in violation of the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

"The coasts of India are undergoing a radical re-visualisation under the Sagarmala programme, which places ports, coastal shipping traffic, economic zones, power, petroleum and manufacturing plants along India's already-stressed 7,500 km-coastline. But allowing tourism at the cost of coastal livelihoods that includes lakhs of fishermen is unacceptable. It's the same issue with Mumbai's coastal roads," says Thomas Peter, general secretary, NFF. The body has also come out with a petition to garner support against the draft.

Moreshwar Patil, Secretary, Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti
Moreshwar Patil, Secretary, Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti

Delhi-based Siddharth Chakravarty of The Research Collective, who is supporting the cause, says, "The coastal road is another unrealistic, short-term plan of the state. Instead of investing in mass public transit systems, infrastructure funds are being put into projects that are the incorrect response to the city's traffic woes," he says.

Meanwhile, the news of the Coastal Road Project has Worli koliwada's fishermen recollecting a bitter past - the construction of the Bandra Worli Sea Link (BWSL) back in early 2000s. At the time, members of the Worli Koliwada Owners Community Welfare Cooperative Housing Society Ltd, had sent a letter with recommendations, which they claim were brazenly trashed. This time, too, they have sent a draft with proposed recommendations to the project. "We want a gap of at least 250 metres between the pillars that support the road. Look at the gap between BWSL, it's barely 80 metres. Our boats find it difficult to pass," says Prahlad Worlikar, secretary of the association. They have also recommended not constructing in areas that serve as spawning sites for fish that breed close to the shoreline. "After the sea link, we are required to go deeper into the ocean to fish.

It takes us four hours more," he says. The fact that none of the fishermen received compensation for losses suffered, has them dreading the proposed plans further. "This time, we will ensure everything is in writing. Verbal assurances have no value," says Worlikar.

Is it necessary?
It's not just the fishermen who have raised objections to the project. A group of architects and urban planners, who work under the banner Bandra Collective, have highlighted these problems through visual representations of the planned coastal road. Samir D'Monte and his group are critical of the project. "With the coastal road, they are creating an expressway in the sea. It encourages people to buy cars, and saturate the city further. It's the reason why other cities in the world are scaling back road networks within urban areas," he says.

While the fishing community claims that the construction will affect their catch, additional municipal commissioner Dr Sanjay Mukherjee said that since the road was not going to pass through Cuffe Parade, their fears are unfounded. "It won't affect Khar Danda and Cuffe Parade. It will pass off Princess street flyover to Bandra Worli Sea Link. The concerns of the fishing community have been taken care of in the areas where the work will happen. NoCs have been taken and approved by the competent authorities. In fact, since a lot of the transportation will be through the sea, those with maritime skills will be in great demand," he says.

Also Read: Mumbai: BMC finally gets green nod for coastal road project

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