As many as 1,637 fisherfolk living across six fishing hamlets in the city are in the ‘zone of influence’ of the upcoming Bandra-Versova Sea Link (BVSL), revealed a socio-economic survey, conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). ‘Zone of influence’ refers to the geographic area around BVSL, where there may be positive and negative effects, owing to the project.

Many fisherfolk emphasised that the construction of the bridge will not allow them to fish for a prolonged period of time, impact the productivity of their customary fishing grounds, and force boats to take precarious detours around the structure and burn more diesel while doing so. This is besides causing further disruption to the ecology that is already under stress from pollution and overfishing.

The largest denomination of fishworkers, at around 864, were found to reside in Khar Danda, while the remaining are spread across smaller settlements at Kadeshwari Mandir near Bandra Fort, Chimbai Village, Carter Road, Juhu Koliwada and Mora Gaon near Rizvi College.

A small group of Kathiyawadi Kolis, operating a small boat yard on Carter Road under the name Sarothiya Koli Samaj Matsyavyavsay Sahakari Sanstha, also say that they are vulnerable to the BVSL project.

Delayed on account of Covid-19, and other administrative hurdles, substantial construction work for the project is scheduled to begin this October, after the monsoon season, when it is safe to venture out into the open sea. An official from the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is implementing the project shared that they met the TISS team on June 15 and took stock of the data they have been gathering since September last year.

“A draft report will be submitted this week. We have asked them to do a concrete bifurcation of people whose livelihoods will be directly affected by the project, as not all 1,637 people would be doing fishing in the area. Some are also conducting their business from Bhaucha Dhakka in Mazagaon,” said the official, seeking anonymity.

“Once we have a truer sense of which individuals can be classified as ‘project-affected persons’, the report will be examined by a committee headed by the managing director of MSRDC, Radheshyam Mopalwar, and compensation will be disbursed in line with an upcoming compensation policy for fisherfolk in Maharashtra, which is being drafted by a committee under the fisheries department,” the official added.

The Supreme Court (SC) in May had directed the Maharashtra government to expedite the framing of a policy to compensate fisherfolk affected by state-funded development projects. This is the third committee to be formed in the matter, after initial instructions from the Bombay High Court in August 2021, in response to a petition filed by the Mariaayi Machhimaar Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit – a registered fishworkers cooperative based in Vashi – on behalf of the fishing community from Vashi, Juhu, Koparkhairane, Ghansoli and Diva villages, whose livelihoods have been allegedly disrupted due to construction of the MSRDC’s Thane Creek Bridge-III project.

Shankar Jagtap, executive engineer (MSRDC), who is overseeing the project, declined to comment. Researchers from TISS’s Centre for Community Organisation and Development Practice (CODP), who conducted the survey, also declined to speak citing confidentiality. Citing the example of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, construction of which has allegedly depleted fish reserves, changed navigation routes and made tidal action around Dadar and Mahim Koliwada more intense, fishworkers operating further north in the suburbs expect to face similar predicaments.

The MSRDC’s own environment impact assessment report (EIA) reveals more in this regard. Page 34 of the EIA report reads, “Construction of offshore structure modifies the relationships of benthic communities, changing the existing biodiversity in the area and creating a new local ecosystem… The construction work phase would temporarily increase the water turbidity. This could affect marine flora (phytoplankton especially) because of a decrease in the possible received light. There may be a temporary decrease or change in the faunal population due to disturbance caused by construction activities.”

Officials in the MSRDC maintained that they do not anticipate much disruption to small-scale fishers, as the BVSL will be situated 900 metres from the coast. “As for issues with navigation, we are providing three or four dedicated navigation channels under the BVSL which will be 100 metres wide, in Bandra, Juhu and Versova. Everywhere else, the piers will be 50 metres apart. That is enough room for the boats to pass safely through,” said the official quoted above.

Vesave Koliwada, which is over 2km away from the end of the proposed BVSL alignment, has been excluded from the scope of the TISS study, and will be considered under a future socio-economic assessment planned for the Versova-Virar Sea Link Project.