Ramesh Zumru Mhatre is a fisherman from Kalyan who has two small boats for fishing in Diva Kalyan creek. But he did not take his boats out on Tuesday and sacrificed his day’s earning in solidarity with his brothers and sisters from neighbouring district Palghar protesting against the building of a major port.
"I don't know in detail. But I know that there is a project of port in Palghar and that will hurt the traditional business of fishing activity of my community there. Why does the government want to do something which won't help the locals? That's why I am participating in the strike today," said Ramesh. He faced a loss of about four thousand rupees but supported the cause of the community.
Ramesh was referring to the plan of Maharashtra Maritime Board and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) to build India's 13th major port at Vadhavan coast in Palghar district. Estimated to cost Rs 65,544.54 crore, the port is aimed at having a capacity of 60 to 100 million tonnes of cargo yearly. So, the giant port would require five thousand acres of land.
The Maritime Board has said that they would reclaim land from the sea, but also, at the same time, they would require acquisition of some part of coastal land. But locals are not happy with the project and are opposing it citing that their traditional business as well as bio-diversity of the coast would be affected.
On December 2 and 3, a team of experts sent by the JNPT visited the location to study its bio-diversity. While the report is awaited the locals have decided to raise their voice.
As part of their protest, the fisher community of Mumbai, Thane and Palghar districts went on a one-day strike on Tuesday. The strike has been supported by the fisherwomen who mainly control the selling business. The auto rikshaw and tempo organisation of Palghar has also participated in the strike. Six villages of the Dahanu tehsil in Vadhavan area also remained completely closed on Tuesday.
"The locals have firmly decided that they would not allow the government to set up the project at the site. It is sensitive as per bio-diversity and also thousands of families are dependent on fishing in Dahanu tehsil. The port will snatch their bread and butter," said local MLA of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Vinod Nikole.
Vadhavan Bandar Virodhi Sangharsh Sanghatana (VBVSS) has given the call for the strike, which was later supported by fisherfolks of Mumbai region. The chairman of VBVSS claimed that the strike was completely successful in the region. "Central as well as state governments are eyeing our land and life. Where would these thousands of families go if they bring the project here?” asked Aniket Patil, chairman of VBVSS. He added, “We have seen what happened to the locals of Nhava Sheva in Uran where JNPT is set up. They had to flee to cities for bread and butter.”
Big fishing docks like Sion, Mahim, Sassoon, Malad, Madh of Mumbai, Mira Bhayandar, Kalwa, Navi Mumbai of Thane and Vasai, Virar, Naigaon, and Arnala of Palghar remained completely closed during the day of strike. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) consists of eight Municipal Corporations – Greater Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Navi Mumbai, Ulhasnagar, Bhiwandi- Nizamapur, Vasai-Virar and Mira-Bhayandar; and nine Municipal Councils -- Ambarnath, Kulgaon-Badalapur, Matheran, Karjat, Panvel, Khopoli, Pen, Uran, and Alibaug, and there are over 1,000 villages in Thane and Raigad Districts within MMR.
The strike appeared to be a huge success for the entire fishing community and fishing-dependent people of the Mumbai region. "This success of the strike will hopefully awaken the state and central governments and they would cancel the port at Vadhavan,” said Jyoti Meher, secretary of National Fish Workers' Forum.