Since the past few days, the fisherfolk of Mumbai and Palghar have raised the slogan “EKACH JIDDAH VADHAVAN BUNDAR RADDAH” (The only demand: closure of Vadhavan port). Taking the stand that they will not allow the destructive Vadhavan port project, no matter how hard the Government tries, the fisherfolk from Colaba Mumbai to Zai in Dahanu have called for a bandh (shutdown) on 15th December 2020. This bandh has been supported by National Fish Worker Forum, Maharashtra Macchimaar Kruti Samiti,Vadhavan Bundar virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Thane Zilla Macchimaar Madhya. Sahakari Sangh Ltd, Thane Zilla MAchhimaar Samaj Sangh , Akhil Maharashtra Macchimaar Kruti Samiti, Adivasi Ekta Parishad, Kashtkari Sanghatana, Madh Macchimaar Nakhwa Sanrakhshan Mandal , all the cooperative organisations of Gram Panchayat, social organisations, Saatpati, Naigon Fish Market and many such organisations.
WHAT IS THE ISSUE OF VADHAVAN PORT?
The Government has planned to construct a port on the sea coast. The nation is still reeling under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The GDP index is low. The problem of unemployment is huge. The fisher folk of not just Maharashtra but of the whole nation are totally crushed due to the calamities like Fish famine, too much rain, cyclones and sea storms, the loss of business due to Lockdown and the total stop to the tourist season. The Government is just giving superficial aid to the fisher folk and on the other hand seriously endangering their shelter and livelihood by planning a mammoth port project of 66 thousand Crores during this critical time.
This project will totally destroy the fishing trade, agriculture, orchards, dye making as well as places of religious importance such as Shankhodaar. The greenbelt, considered being the focal point of coastal development, is also feared to be destroyed in this process. More than 40% of the population here is involved in the profession of fishing. This project is a sword dangling over their profession and livelihood. These are the reasons why the residents of these areas are staunchly against this project. Therefore, all the various organisations have jointly called for a bandh to ba observed in all the coastal villages from Mumbai to Dahanu –Zai. A strict bandh will be observed by all the fisherfolk from Cuffe Parade –Mumbai to Zai- Dahanu.
WHY DO THE LOCAL FISHER FOLK OPPOSE THE VADHAVAN PORT?
Over the last few days the fisher folk from Mumbai to Zai- Dahanu have raised an anti government slogan to ban the Vadhavan port project. For this purpose, meetings are being held by fisher folks’ associations in the villages. Here are some of the reactions given by some local fisher folk about what would happen if the Vadhavan port comes into being:
On the one hand we are already suffering because of the pollution caused by the thermal project. Our farms and orchards are on the verge of destruction, it has already had a negative impact on our dry fish from the Dahanu Creek as well as on the general health conditions of the people in the area. On the other hand we are also facing the terrible effects from the radiation from the atomic centre such as diseases like cancer. Therefore, we, the project affected people are facing tremendous problems because of these two electric projects. In addition to this the pollution caused by the Boisar MIDC has increased manifold. There is no restriction on the level of pollution caused and this has already seriously affected our health and our traditional occupations. When we are already suffering these negative impacts on our environment, health and traditional means of livelihood, we will definitely not accept this destructive project. These are the opinions of the Vadhavan Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, National Fish Worker Forum and the Maharashtra Fishermen Action committee.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF THE VADHAVAN PORT PROJECT:
- Approximately 5000 acres of the sea will be reclaimed
- A break water wall measuring twelve and a half kilometres will be constructed to restrict the flow of water.
- 47 villages and 261 padas will be affected by this project.
- This project is being constructed only 6 kilometres away from the Tarapore Nuclear Power Plant.
- Water could enter the Tarapore Power Plant because of the extensive reclamation.
- This project has been proposed for the import of coal and crude oil on a massive scale.
- The hills and mountains around Dahanu will be demolished and used for reclamation.
- This project will end the livelihood of the fisher folk, dye makers and tribal farmers.
- The biodiversity of the Palghar district will be destroyed.
- The coral reefs, soft coral, star fish, sponge, sea horses and the only fresh water fish breeding centre in the Palghar district will be destroyed by this project.
- “What kind of progress is being achieved by destroying the lives of the common people?” is the indignant question being asked by the villagers.
- The hon. Supreme Court had denied permission for this project 20 years back.
- This Taluka has been declared as environmentally very sensitive because of its rich biodiversity.
- The Supreme Court established the Dharmadhikari Committee for the protection of the environment in this Taluka which formed the Dahanu Environment Protection Authority.
- The formation of a temporary committee when the matter regarding disbanding of the old committee is already in the Supreme Court.
- If the project is completed, coal and crude oil will be trafficked through Dahanu on a large scale.
- The MIDC in Palghar and Boisar will be extended.
While recounting the history of the Vadhavan port, leaders like the chief of the National Fish worker Forum Narendra Patil, Leo Colaco, senior leader Pounima Meher, member Ujjwala Patil said that the local fish workers have been struggling against the Vadhavan project for the past 20-22 years. They firmly stated that they will fight against the construction of this port. While explaining in detail they made the following points:
The project of Vadhavan port was first announced at England during an event called ‘Advantage Maharashtra’. The project faced various kinds of opposition at the local level during 1996-1998. Dharnas, hunger strikes, Morchas and many other protests were organised against the project, and 126 protestors were arrested.
Citizens protesting against the port had filed a petition in the high court through the Vadhavan Bunder Virodhi Sangharsha Samiti. The court referred the petition to the Dahanu Taluka Environmental Protection Authority in 1998 which passed five orders after hearing the views of all concerned. These orders would make it difficult to build the Vadhavan Port. Meanwhile, taking cognizance of the morcha on Vidhan Sabha and also the other protests, Shivsena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray asked Uddhav Thackeray to go to Vadhavan in order to get to know the opinions of the people, and then the state Government declared its decision to scrap this project.
There was a status quo regarding this project from 1998 to 2014. In 2014, when BJP came to power in the centre, this project again gained momentum. A survey was conducted in 2015-2016. The Vadhavan Bunder Virodhi Sangharsha Samiti again appealed to the Dahanu Taluka Environmental Protection Authority. At that time the Authority consisting of 11 experts and headed by Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari held a hearing and upheld all the five orders passed in 1998. Since no appeal was sought against the order of the Authority, the construction of the port was impossible.
After the demise of Judge Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari in 2019, no one was appointed to take his place. The central government has proposed the dissolution of the Dahanu Taluka Environmental Authority and handing over of its responsibility to some other government authority. In opposition to this the Vadhavan Bunder Virodhi Sangharsha Samiti and other organisations have appealed to the Supreme Court and the matter is sub judice. In order to regain the strength of the Authority at such time, the Authority could be run by appointing an interim chairman and including the existing members of the Authority. However, choosing not to do so, the Authority has been dismissed and a temporary committee has been set up in its place till the Supreme Court rules.
It is alleged that the central government did not take the locals into confidence while approving this project. Narayan Patil, Chairman of the Vadhavan Bunder Virodhi Sangharsha Samiti and other members said that the approval of the Union Cabinet to set up the Vadhavan Port without the Supreme Court’s permission is a stranglehold on democracy.
He also added thatprotests against the proposed port would be staged again at various levels and voices would be raised against the government’s decision.
For the last 18 years the local fisherfolk, the sons of the soil, and horticulturists have been fighting for the abolition of the Vadhavan Port through the Vadhavan Bunder Virodhi sangharsha Samiti. Although the Vadhavan port will boost imports and exports there is strong opposition from locals to the port as it will have far-reaching effects on fisherfolk, farmers, horticulturists and small-scale entrepreneurs of the area. The residents of Vadhavan lead a flourishing life based on their main occupation of rice farming and fishing and fish farming. But the proposed port will destroy their lives and lead them to starvation. The government is planning to evict the people who have been protecting and preserving the natural resources during the years, during this Fourth Industrial Revolutionsmall-scale
Contributed article by Renuka Kad, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, India
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