Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was stumped briefly when one of the locals in Versova fishing village that he visited Thursday morning asked him which side he was on.
Expressing fears that builders were eyeing fish markets because of the zooming land prices, Rajshri Bhanji, a fisherwoman, asked the Gandhi scion, “We want to know whose side are you on, us or the builders?”
Gandhi, who had had a 40-minute interaction with the fishing community representatives, replied he was always on the side of the weaker sections of the society.
About 400 fishermen from nearby fishing villages apprised the Congress leader of various problems faced by them, such as the rising cost of diesel and alleged neglect from the state government. Since a large number of issues raised were local in nature, Gandhi was unable to answer many of them, relying mostly on Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and MP Gurudas Kamat, who were accompanying him.
Fishermen also asked for a separate fisheries ministry. While Gandhi responded positively, Chavan intervened to say there was budgetary provision of about Rs 1,600 crore for the animal husbandry department, under which the fisheries department fell.
There was also a demand for expansion of Sasoon Docks in south Mumbai. Another local highlighted the need for loans from nationalised banks at low interest rates. Acknowledging that 22 lakh people in Mumbai depend on fishing and allied activities for their livelihood, Gandhi said they should have political representation.