No Koli voices in the planning of coastal road project: Mumbai’s fisherfolk

Worli’s Koli community appeals to the BMC to heed the request of a wider navigation span

Worli FisherfolkImage

The Worli Koliwada Nakhwa Matsya Vyavsay Sahakari Society Ltd. an organisation representing the interest of the Koli community who are traditionally engaged in catching and selling fish, has expressed dissatisfaction with how the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been ignoring their concerns. They say that Worli fisherfolk would not have had to protest and block the coastal road project work if the BMC had consulted them before.

For years now, Worli fisherfolk have protested the coastal road project that threatens the livelihood of the city’s fishing community. Recently, the Koli community also mobilised in large numbers to condemn the construction of an interchange between the coastal road and Bandra-Worli Sea Link (BWSL) that was sanctioned without consulting locals. Community member Nitesh Patil blamed the BMC for on-going arrest by consistently failing to meet their requests for the last three years.

“Our primary demand for all these years has been a navigation span of 200 meters between the two columns of the Coastal Road connector, and compensation, although important, is a secondary issue. It is still not too late to make the necessary design change. We will continue our agitation till our demand is met,” said Patil on Wednesday.

On November 9 the BMC said that due permissions, clearances and compensation for fishers in relation to the navigation span for the Coastal Road project have already been made.

In response, Worli fishers said that the BMC did not adhere to one of the conditions of the Coastal regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance, speaking against the hampering of fishing activities and mandating an adequate navigation span to allow fisherfolk to navigate their boats.

Further, they denied administrative claims that two fishing societies were consulted before the Fisheries Department granted the NOC in 2017. The community in fact revealed in a press release that though members made multiple representations to the BMC and relevant authorities since 2018 regarding the insufficient navigation span, they were left out of the loop completely.

“It is unacceptable to us, but we have not received a response to our letters, nor were we called for a meeting to explain our concerns. The coastal road has already destroyed our intertidal fishing area through reclamation causing us great hardship and losses, and now if the navigation route is not provided, our livelihood will be entirely finished,” said Patil in the letter.

Decrying the BMC for threatening Koli livelihood, Patil said that the coastal road connector bridge will add more columns in an already narrow span between the BWSL in front of Cleaveland Bunder. This will make it harder for fisherfolk to navigate the rocks and strong currents.

In assuring the competence of the contentious span, the BMC cited the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Code of Practice for Design of Ports and Harbours guidelines that require a span five times the width of the boat for single carriage and eight times the width for double carriage. As per fisheries department data, the largest registered vessel operating in Worli Koliwada is 3.8 metres wide. Thus, the navigation span should be at a maximum of 30.4 meters for double carriage, said the authorities.

“The Mumbai Coastal Road Project has a navigation span of 60 meters, which is almost double the prescribed navigation span,” the BMC’s statement said.

However, fisherfolk found this unsatisfactory and pointed out that the guidelines referred to by the BMC were meant for Harbour entrance channel design and not for bridge columns in the open sea. “The BMC knows that these are two very different things. Furthermore, as the BMC knows very well, that this standard specifies the minimum requirement, not what the permissible maximum distance,” said Patil.

Patil argued that the appropriate distance for navigation ought to be based on the specific geomorphic conditions and tide pattern and currents. He also pointed out that the aforementioned standards do not disallow large spans and decried the BMC for misleading the public. The community reminded municipal authorities that the BWSL has two large spans of which one span is specifically for navigation of fishing boats. The government took these measures on the demands of the fisherfolk. As such, fishers requested the BMC to accept Koli demands and make the requested changes to the navigation route.


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