While the rest of India celebrated Rakshabandhan on August 22, 2021, Koli fisherfolk near Haji Ali, Mumbai commemorated Nariyal (coconut) Purnima by protesting the coastal road project that threatens the livelihood of the city’s fishing community.
Community members at the Lotus Jetty (Worli) carried out all ceremonies of the festival on Sunday and sent a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray urging him to pay attention to grievances of fisherfolk.
Speaking to SabrangIndia, Vanchit MacchiMaar Worli Haji Ali Sahakari Sangathan Maryadit Secretary Sanjay Baikar said that the community has already sent 18 such letters, but has received no response. However, this time Mumbai fisherfolk intended to protest the administration’s silence on August 25.
“At times, we wonder why we vote. The Chief Minister claims that fisherfolk are being consulted. Yet our letters are ignored. This is all for the rich. Our vehicles will never run on these concrete paths,” said Baikar.
Mumbai’s shrinking spaces of the Koli community
Since 1999, Koli communities in Mumbai, Palghar and other coastal regions have opposed the coastal project. Locals defined the sea as their real city and thus refer to themselves the ‘original residents of Mumbai.’
However, over the years, their space to carry out their community work from Walkeshwar to Worli has shrunk. Due to the construction work nearby, marine life near the Haji Ali coast has moved away to deeper waters.
According to Baikar, the noise from trucks and other construction equipment carries 8-9 km into the sea. Previously, fisherfolk still managed to earn around Rs. 1,200 by entering these waters. However, as the project encroaches further into the sea, even this income has dwindled.
Particularly, during quarantine this shortage of income dealt a severe blow on fishers. Families were evicted from homes as they were unable to pay rent. Moreover, Baikar claimed that houses in Malad were demolished without prior notice, making many families homeless.
“Not just houses but even our fish markets in Dadar, Haji Ali area are being demolished. With 80 percent of coast already gone, people are now selling their jewellery to get by,” he said.
Around five months ago, the community approached the judiciary to demand compensation for all damage so far. Accordingly, the court directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to compensate those affected.
However, members said that concerned officials cited “quarantine” and “Section 144” every time individuals called for updates. Baikar asked why the “Section 144” situation did not persist for the persisting coastal project work.
Another concern for the fishing community is the precarious position of their boats. As the sea is being eaten up for the project, fisherfolk near Haji Ali dragged 35 of their boats higher up on the beach. Another 20 boats were left in the sea.
“We demand storage space for our boats and equipment. Already 2-3 of our boats with 3-4 fishing nets were washed away during Cyclone Tauktae. The government should compensate us for all these losses. But they don’t. This is an insult to courts as well,” said Baikar.
Residents raged against authority threats of arrest and complaints. On Wednesday, people from various parts of the region resolved to assemble at Azad Maidan to condemn these actions of the government.
Maharashtra’s fishing community fights to protect its ‘golden belt’ coast
Dahanu locals reject JNPT survey that pushes for a new port at Vadhavan
Government risking lives of fishermen by letting them venture into rough seas?