In Mahim Koliwada, a fishing colony a few meters from the city’s coast, the day begins at 3 a.m. for Bhushan Nijai, 47. It all started so early for his father Yeshwant (72) and his late grandfather Pandav, who have been fishing in healthy waters for 90 years. Nijai’s children – three girls aged 6 to 22 – however, don’t wake up at dawn like their father. Unlike Nijai, who joined his family’s fishing profession immediately after completing his 12th grade, they have nothing to do with the craft.
The Nijais are not the only family in the hamlet whose youngest generation has turned away from the hundred-year-old work. Their neighbor, Nitin Vaidya, has two young children, a 10-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, who will not be in the trade.
Most of the fishermen – all men – in the 5,000-strong village of Mahim who take their boats out every morning are over 35 years old. For them, catching, selling and eating peaches is their âastitvaâ (identity), they say.
Nijhai’s eldest daughter, Raksha, a business graduate, aspires to a clerical job. âI saw my parents working very hard. My mom (Smita) also wakes up around 3 a.m. and goes to buy fish at Sassoon Docks, which she sells at a fish market in Dadar. They work long hours, but our family’s debts have only increased. I know how to clean and buy fish, but if our situation is to improve, I cannot continue down this path, âshe said.
Smita Nijai does not sell the fish caught by her husband; his business – and his income – are separate. Depending on the catch of the day, Nijai sells the fish to wholesalers or to small hotels.
The fishing communities which, according to most historical accounts, have lived along the Mumbai coast since the 15th century, increasingly find their occupation unsustainable.
More than a business
In 2003, the Maharashtra Fisheries Department estimated that 37,695 people in Greater Mumbai are entirely dependent on small-scale fishing activities. [or as it is called, artisan fishing, marked by small capital, short fishing trips closer to shore, use of small fishing vessels and local consumption].
In 2010, the state-run Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute estimated that there were 40,953 artisanal fishermen in the Greater Mumbai region, residing in 30 fishing villages. With an average family size of 4.4, this represents around 9,307 families – in a city of over 20 million people – who depend on fishing and related activities, ranging from cold storage to repairing fish. boats, making and repairing nets and selling fish.
“The number of people, at least in Greater Mumbai, who choose to fish full time is only a small part of our larger community,” said Devendra Tandel (40), who heads the largest company. of state fishermen, Akhil Maharashtra Machimaar Kruti. Samiti. Tandel now has a full-time job with a private bank.
âCommercial trawling, overfishing, the cost of fuel and other operating capital are increasing, and there is an influx of migrant workers who now dominate the sale and distribution of fish,â Tandel said, listing the problems. that the fishing community sees as threatening problems. them.
âI have friends in the community who work in IT, software, and finance. Fishing can always be a safeguard for us, but it is not a first choice.
âI am the last generation in my family to stick to this occupation. In our work, we struggle to make ends meet and I don’t want the same fate for them, âNijai said.
But the community currently faces another, more pressing concern. The city’s landscape is changing and the kolis are at the limit.
In 2011, a joint technical committee of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) proposed a radical change to the city’s coastline that would connect the southern tip of the city with the 70 km Vasai-Virar suburb. In its current form, the Mumbai Coastal Road Project comprises a network of underwater tunnels, elevated roads and several interchanges, most of which will be created above the sea and partly on reclaimed land.
There is also the Mumbai Trans Harbor Link, off the eastern waterfront, which promises to be the longest sea bridge in the country. Add to that a series of beautification projects involving the rehabilitation of coastal areas (including mangroves and sandy beaches) at Cuffe Parade and Versova.
In 2018, the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) was appointed as the Special Planning Authority (SPA) to beautify 966.30 hectares along the waterfront 28 km east of the city. The plan also offers public parks, plazas, boardwalks, walking trails and marinas in addition to restaurants and cafes.
The Union’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change recently gave the green light to Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) for the city and suburban areas of Mumbai, allowing construction up to 50m from the city’s high tide line. This follows a 2019 amendment to the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) rules that until then had prevented development up to 500m from the city’s high tide line.
With the relaxation of this standard, existing coastal properties would be allowed to develop at least two and a half times their existing land area. Liases Foras, a real estate research company, estimates that around 10,000 old buildings in Mumbai will benefit.
And now the effect
Work on the first phase of the coastal road project started in 2018 and since then fishing communities have tried to draw the attention of the city municipality and state government to the impact of this. project on fishing commons – coastal and intertidal areas that are collectively used by the community without title.
In Cleveland Bunder, a fishing port in Worli koliwada (fishing village), two connecting bridges will rise between the coastal road in Worli and the Bandra Worli Sea Link (BWSL) to allow traffic to flow. The fishermen said the exchange would severely restrict the only shipping route available for their boats venturing out to the high seas.
Since October 30, the inhabitants of the village have been demonstrating at sea on the site of this upcoming interchange: fishermen from 100 boats have anchored near a construction site in Worli, where an interchange is planned and, that the say, fishermen will prevent safe passage to the fishing communities. City commissioner Iqbal Chahal accepted an independent review of their interchange overhaul requests.
Other fishermen along the south coast of Mumbai, from Priyadarshini Park to Worli as well, have also started to report declining fish stocks – in this particular stretch land has been reclaimed and a link bridge is being developed. to be built in Haji Ali – as space for small-scale fishermen on non-motorized boats and fisherwomen for collecting oysters and shellfish declined.
This comes at a time when the state’s fish stocks are showing a drastic decline. In 2019-2020, fish landings reported their lowest harvest in 45 years, while reports show a declining year-over-year trend since 2017.
Fishing communities that remain on the east coast in places like Sewri, Mazagaon and Wadala fear that beautification projects like the one planned by MbPT could turn the use of indigenous lands into a public space for wider citizens, this which would ultimately push them out.
Fishermen are also caught in the net of other development projects.
For example, in the village of Chimbai de Bandra, the fisheries department is building a jetty and building materials now occupy the land used by fishermen to sort and dry fish. Although the land is owned by BMC, its own 2034 development plan for Mumbai classified the area as âa fish and net drying yardâ. (Civic organism can affect a change in land use, but there is a process to do so.)
In September, in response to a petition from Mariyayi Macchimar Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit, a fishermen’s society in and around Thane Creek, the Bombay High Court instituted a committee to create a fishermen rehabilitation policy for the state that would develop a standard operating procedure for assessing the impact of government-initiated development projects that affect fishing communities.
Save a way of life
One of the things fishermen demand is full ownership of their commons (land on which they park their boats, or dry fish, for example) as there is no public document available that demarcates which land belongs to them, and what can be legitimately used by the state.
âAll of Mumbai’s koliwadas are supposed to be mapped and demarcated in the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP). This is also a provision of CRZ 2019. In Mumbai, the koliwadas were mapped, but the plans were not released for public review, revised and accordingly incorporated into the CZMP. This leaves us completely in the dark about which land around our villages is going to be opened up for development, âTandel said.
The community tried to adapt, of course, with the help of the fisheries department which provided essential infrastructure like fish landing centers in Mumbai’s koliwadas and diesel subsidies. Others have tried to supplement their traditional livelihoods with more ambitious jobs.
Nijhai estimates that during his lifetime, income from fishing declined by three-quarters. The pandemic has only accelerated the process. âIt is really the poorest of the poor who are left to fend for themselves. Our practice will not end, but the struggle will become more difficult, âhe said.
Sanjay Wategaonkar, Deputy Commissioner, Fisheries Department, Mumbai District
We pledge to help small-scale fishermen … We are pushing for a credit program similar to the central government’s Kisan credit card. Regarding the impact of infra projects, we provide NOCs only if the project promoter commits not to disrupt the livelihoods of fishermen.
Bhushan Nijai, Fisherman, Mahim Koliwada
âI am the last generation in my family to stick to this occupation. In our business, we find it hard to make ends meet and I don’t wish them the same fate.