Fisher Communities / Koliwadas

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The coastline of Mumbai is under threat from rapid and drastic transformation due to increasing development pressures. Over the years, traditional coastal settlements in the city which depend on coastal ecosystems for their livelihoods have become marginalized and neglected neighborhoods. Due to deteriorating conditions, overcrowding, lack of adequate infrastructure, services, amenities and poor sanitation these settlements are often referred to and represented as ‘slums’ in development plans and visions for the development of the city. Today these settlements face the threat of extinction due to several reasons such as environmental destruction, loss of public access to common lands and resources, disruption of coastal livelihoods, encroachments, displacement and gentrification.

Major issues
Redevelopment: Urban koliwadas have been under a sustained threat of redevelopment and renewal, as they are located in one of the most desired parts of the city – its coast. These forms of development are threatening to eradicate these villages.

Gentrification: Gentrification usually involves the creation of urban functions that serve the needs and tastes of the middle and upper classes, and result in a gradual economic and social exclusion of the urban poor from these areas. There have been efforts recently to create promenades and gardens near fishing villages, sometimes even on lands that are used as commons by the fishing community with the pretext of “beautification” or the creation of “public spaces.”

Enclosure / privatization of common lands and resources: Lands for fish drying, for docking boats, maintenance areas, fishing infrastructure, community spaces, and so on are shared and controlled by the community as a whole and commoning forms the core of the economic and cultural practices of the fisher-folk. Enclosure or privatization of the commons is perhaps the gravest threat to their existence as fishing villages.

Overcrowding: With little land for Koliwadas to expand, accommodate and provide for a growing population and its needs, combined with claims over land by new entrants who squat in Koliwada lands due to non availability of low-cost options in other parts of the city, have resulted in an overcrowding of these urban villages putting enormous pressure on its already compact and dense built fabric. As a result, many Koliwadas have acquired a slum-like character and have even been labeled as slums.

Destruction of coastal ecology and depletion of resources: There have been numerous efforts to dilute legislations – such as the CRZ – that protect the coastal ecology and traditional livelihoods, in the interests of developers and builders. Successive reclamations have cut off some koliwadas from the coast or the creek which function as their natural resource base, and have resulted in a decimation of livelihoods based in and around fishing.

Large infrastructure projects: Infrastructure projects such as the proposed Coastal Road and the Water Transport Project will have serious impacts on the livelihoods and settlements of the coastal communities. The coastal road is to be built partly on reclaimed land and partly on stilts along the coastline, and it will almost certainly sever, or irreversibly disrupt the organic ties of the villages from the coast, and decimate fishing activity.

Poor quality living conditions, infrastructure, services and amenities: Most of the fishing villages have poor services, lack adequate infrastructure and suffer from deteriorating living conditions as a result of the factors described above coupled with a general neglect by planners and authorities.

Wrong ELU mapping of Koliwadas in Mumbai’s Draft Development Plan of 2012:
The recently released ELU maps by the MCGM have invited thousands of responses and complaints from individuals and groups including the fishing community. There are innumerable errors in these maps that concern the fisher-folk and if these are not rectified, these erroneous maps will become the basis for future planning of urban fishing villages, with grave consequences for the community. Some of these errors are explained below

1. Mapping of coastal commons and activities related to coastal livelihoods
Coastal commons are areas traditionally being used by coastal communities for fishing and ancillary activities for livelihood purposes and are protected under the CRZ regulation. In some cases these activities are located adjacent to the existing fishing villages but in many cases they are not in the direct proximity of the villages and sometimes occupy rocky or sandy beaches, vacant or barren areas adjoining the coastline. In some cases in the Existing land use map these areas have been indicated as “primary activity” but in other cases these areas have either not been shown or have been incorrectly included in other categories such as vacant lands, open spaces, mangroves etc.

2. Mapping and demarcation of the Koliwadas as “urban fishing villages”
Erroneous identification and classification of urban fishing villages. There are more than thirty coastal urban fishing villages or Koliwadas in Mumbai. The ELU maps fail, in many cases to indicate entire urban fishing villages and in some cases, erroneously indicate them as Residential (R) areas. In some instances, these have been indicated as Informal Settlements (SC).

3. Land parcels used for livelihood activities
In many cases, land parcels being used by the fish-workers for livelihood related activities such as fish drying, boat parking, sheds for maintenance, etc. are not mapped in the ELU. In most cases, these land parcels are indicated as vacant or undeveloped. Even infrastructure related to fishing such as jetties, docks, community halls, etc. are not mapped. The failure to acknowledge these land uses and amenities are serious errors.

Markets and docks
The ELU also does not map the formal and informal markets where the Koli women play anactive role. For example, in khar Danda Koliwada, a BMC fish market has not been mapped,also Sasson docks which is one of the biggest whole sale fish market has been shown only as a transport node.

Mangroves and natural areas
There are also substantial errors in the mapping of mangroves which are either marked arbitrarily or are completely missing.