As many as 57 academicians, professionals, people’s collective representatives and citizens voiced their support for Worli fisherfolk’s opposition against the coastal road bridge project via an online petition.
A letter addressed to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Tourism and Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray voiced the persisting grievances of Mumbai’s indigenous community. It talked about how fishers have occupied the construction site near Bandra-Worli sea-link since October 30, 2021 to oppose the project threatens their livelihood. It said the distance between the adjacent pillars of the two proposed sea bridges for the interchange – 60 meters – is inadequate for safely navigating their boats from their harbor, Cleaveland Bunder, to their fishing areas. The navigation span for the existing connector of sea-link has already made navigation precarious considering the strong waves and currents in this open sea area.
“The construction of two more bridges in front of the existing bridge will force the fisherfolk to navigate their boats between a series of pillars thus making it impossible or highly dangerous for them to access the sea without risking their lives,” said the letter.
Since 2016, two fisherfolk societies in Worli have written multiple letters to government authorities demanding that the span between two columns of the sea bridge along their navigation route be increased to 200 meters for safe navigation. However, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) said it will only offer monetary compensation. Accordingly, fishers continue to protest stating that their right to traditional occupation is the primary demand.
Meanwhile, the MCGM claims that increasing the distance between the pillars beyond 60 meters is technically not feasible. But fishers point out that larger spans are provided for the navigation of boats in case of the Bandra Worli Sea Link, and proposed by the MSRDC in the case of the Versova Bandra sea-link.The community demands a design change while the interchange work is yet to start. The letter reminds the government that the coastal road project benefits private vehicles and has been widely criticized by many experts and commentators as a project that does not resolve traffic but contributes to the issue of increasing vehicular emissions.
The project is also more expensive than the Metro (at approximately ₹1,200 crores per kilometre). The least that the MCGM can do is to ensure that our livelihoods are not permanently lost in the pursuit of a project that is clearly not in larger public interest,” said fisherfolk. Their demands were supported not only by the public but by urban planners, transport experts, architects. They endorsed the demand to suspend work on the interchange until fisherfolk’s concerns are addressed. For this, authorities must engage with the fisher community to ensure that a safe and adequate span for navigation is provided.
“Both the right to life and the right to livelihood are fundamental rights, and the agitation of the fisher community must be seen as a legitimate defence of their rights,” said the signatories.
Accordingly, the Worli fisherfolk said that protection of livelihood and safety of citizens is also the responsibility of the civic authority, and ought to receive a higher priority than technical or monetary concerns.