People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Maharashtra has condemned the arrests and criminal cases filed against fisherfolk from Uran Koliwada who have been protesting against the destruction of their fishing areas due to multiple projects being carried out by JNPT, CIDCO, NMSEZ and other companies over several years. It is reported, that on February 7, 2023, 30 fisherfolk from Uran Koliwada were arrested and an FIR was filed against them under sections 353, 341, 143, 141, 186, 109, 506 r/w 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. They were produced before the JMFC Court, Uran and remanded to judicial custody until February 20. Their bail application will come up before the District and Sessions Court, Panvel on Monday, February 13.
Fisherfolk from Uran Koliwada have been protesting against the rampant and widespread destruction of their fishing areas due to various projects carried out by JNPT, CIDCO, NMSEZ and other companies for several years. In a number of orders passed by the Bombay High Court and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) it has been held that the fisherfolk have a customary right to fish for a living in the creeks, in this case the Uran Creek. These projects have detrimentally impacted the practice of such customary rights.
Earlier the fisherfolk could fish vast quantities of various types of fish species. As of today, the reclamation for the various projects of CIDCO, JNPT, NMSEZ, has permanently destroyed their fishing lands. Moreover, due to digging, dredging and piling by various JNPT projects, the creek bottom has been completely destroyed and with that the marine life culture and feeding places are also destroyed. This loss to the fishing land is now unrecoverable. JNPT has started reclaiming additional lands on a massive scale without any compensation to the affected fisherfolk. In the year 2003, CIDCO started reclaiming about 461 ha. of land from the landing sites where the fisherfolk fish. This reclamation was done for the benefit of NMSEZ, who paid about Rs.130 crore for rehabilitation of the fisherfolk. This amount is lying with CIDCO and not a single paisa has yet been paid towards their rehabilitation.
Now CIDCO is proposing to reclaim the remaining part of the landing site of Uran creek. An 11 meter wide Uran bypass road is proposed to be constructed which will cut through the landing site which is also covered with mangroves and mudflats. If this area is also reclaimed, then there will be no site left for fishing and the fisherfolk will lose their only source of livelihood. The fishing community has repeatedly been asking for details of the project and sought protection from the destruction of their only fishing areas. They have also demanded that they should be rehabilitated and the earlier compensation which is lying with CIDCO be immediately paid to them.
Instead of prosecuting the officers of CIDCO for damaging and destroying their fishing areas, CIDCO has filed false cases against them with a view to terrorize and intimidate them. Section 353 of the IPC which has been made more draconian following the state amendment has been falsely applied on the peaceful protestors. PUCL, Maharashtra has condemned the destruction of the fishing areas and the reign of terror unleashed on the affected fisherfolk who are merely asserting their customary rights and their right to a decent livelihood. The platform has also demanded that they be allowed to fish in the area, including the Uran Creek, unhindered and the areas that have been illegally reclaimed be restored immediately and the criminal cases are withdrawn.