INDIA. Mumbai: Over 50 prominent citizens have urged Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray to ensure that the means of livelihood of fishermen are protected while constructing the 22.2 km long Mumbai coastal road at a whopping cost of Rs 12,700 crore to ease traffic congestion in the city.
In a memorandum, the signatories including former Mumbai Municipal Commissioner D.M. Sukhtankar have urged the CM to engage with the fishing community while implementing this mega project. This is to ensure that safe and adequate fishing boats navigation for the fishermen is provided. Until this matter is resolved in a manner that addresses the concerns of the community, no further work on the coastal road interchange which impacts their livelihoods should be undertaken, they have added.
By now 40 per cent work of the project, which began in 2018, has been completed. The project is expected to be completed by November 2023 as per the recent statement by the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner I S Chahal. The work completed so far includes a tunnel of one-km length and a 40-feet diameter under the Malabar Hill in south Mumbai. Only work on 900 meters of the tunnel is remaining now. It is the “first-of-its-kind” under-sea tunnel project of 40-feet diameter executed in the country.
The project from Marine Drive to the Worli end of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link will have a total length of roughly 26 km, including 16 km of interchangers at three locations. The work is being executed by the BMC out of its funds.
Since October 30, 2021, the fisher-folks of Worli in South Central Mumbai have occupied the construction site of the proposed interchange between the coastal road and the Bandra-Worli Sealink. The distance between the adjacent pillars of the two proposed sea bridges for the interchange is 60 meters.
However, according to the fisher-folks, the distance of 60 meters is inadequate for safely navigating their boats from their harbour (Cleaveland Bunder) to their fishing areas in the sea. The navigation span for the existing connector of Sea Link has already made the navigation precarious since the area is in the open sea, which is rocky and subject to strong waves. As such the distance between the two pillars should be at least 200 meters for safe navigation.
The BMC has been insisting that increasing the distance between the pillars beyond 60 meters is technically not feasible. However, according to the fishermen, this is disingenuous, since larger spans have already been provided for the navigation of boats in the case of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, and proposed larger spans have been stipulated by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) for Versova-Bandra Sea Link.
Besides, the construction of two more bridges in front of the existing bridge will force them to navigate their boats between a series of pillars risking their lives. Since 2016 (before construction on the project began), the two fishermen’ societies- Worli Macchimaar Sarvoday Sahakari Society and the Worli Koliwada Nakhwa Mastyavyavsay Sahakari Society, had written several letters to various government authorities regarding this issue. However, the BMC did not consult them during the planning and design stage of the project.
The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance for the project was quashed by the Bombay High Court in 2019. It was pointed out that the project proponents had not obtained an Environmental Clearance. But without considering this evidence on record, the Supreme Court (SC) allowed reclamation work to commence. After the SC’s order dated December 17, 2019, a massive reclamation was carried out destroying inter-tidal fishing in the Worli Fishing Zone.
While recommending the project for CRZ clearance, one of the specific conditions of the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) clearance dated January 04, 2017, was that the BMC would ensure that no fishing activity is hampered during the construction and operation phase of the project. The final CRZ clearance dated May 11, 2017, was granted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest subject to the condition that the bridges with navigable spans will be provided so that there are no obstructions to fishing boats.
Instead of looking into fishermen’s complaints like the destruction of fishing nets due to the movement of contractors’ barges and tugboats, on December 20, 2021, legal notices were served to fishing societies and their office bearers were threatened with arrest.
Since work on the “interchange” has yet to begin, it is still possible to execute a design change to increase the span as demanded by the fishermen, the signatories pointed out.
The umbrella body of the fishermen- the Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti (AMMKS) has written to all authorities including Maharashtra Maritime Board, MSRDC, and BMC to resolve the dispute. AMMKS President Devendra Tandel said that the fishermen will not allow the work of the road to continue unless the distance between the pillars is increased to ensure proper navigation.
Some of the signatories to the memorandum to CM include Anand Grover, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Dr Synne Movik, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Prof. Lyla Mehta, IDS Sussex, and Dr George Jose, New York University, Abu Dhabi.
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