Mumbai’s original inhabitants, the Koli fishing community, have a centuries-old existence. Their goddess “Mumbadevi” lends her name to the city. The community says that building Chhatrapati Shivaji’s statue on a rocky outcrop, just a couple of kilometres off the coast will sound the death knell for their traditional way of life.
Some 2,000 fishermen, many of whom live in shanties surrounding Machhimar Nagar, operate 350 boats out of the picturesque bay, catching a melange of fish to sell at markets and feed their families.
While unfurling a net at Machhimar Nagar bay, 32-year-old Krishna Tandel tells AFP, “The breeding ground for fish will be completely destroyed. We have been fishing for generations. It is our business and now our livelihoods are at stake.”
Residents say disruption caused by construction will decimate their fishing stocks — including pomfret, Bombay mackerel, seer fish, prawns, and crabs — while heavy traffic ferrying tourists from three terminals will block access to the sea and disrupt wave patterns.
Environmentalists agree that the project, which is due to be completed by 2021, will cause immense harm to a vibrant marine ecosystem. “There’s a huge diversity of fish, fauna and invertebrates there. Fish catches, sewage, and tidal currents will change,” wildlife biologist Anand Pendharkar told AFP. “It’s going to affect the food base of the city, it’s going to affect the economy. There is going to be a huge amount of damage,” he adds.
IndiaSpend, a non-profit data journalism website, estimates that a micro-irrigation project could provide water to thousands of farmers in the drought-prone state for the cost of building the statue. For the same sum, dozens of decaying Shivaji-era forts could be restored instead, it says.
“Even if the government provides us with other jobs, it won’t give us the recognition we deserve,” says Mr Tandel, adding, “It’s our way of life and it should go on.”
(With inputs from AFP)