Updated: September 16, 2020 5:52:06 pm
Life as he knew it has literally gone under water for 61-year-old Shankar Mangela, as he rows his boat through what used to be a sandy beach where he and other fishermen docked their boats and dried their fish until a few months ago.
At a time when Mumbai authorities are reclaiming portions of the sea for big ticket infrastructure projects, the sea has come into a 2,000 square metre strip of the foreshore land at Juhu on the west coast.
“You would find seven to 10 boats anchored here before. The (Juhu) foreshore took a pounding during the Nisarga (cyclone) storm (in June) and within a few days, the sea reclaimed this entire portion,” said Shankar, as he and his friend Shashikant Tandel (56) rowed their boat around the area.
In Moragaon, an old fishing village off Juhu beach where Shankar and Tandel live, residents are on edge as the water laps a few metres away. “Some of us moved our boats in the nick of the time, others were not that lucky. A couple of boats have suffered damage,” Shankar said.
On Tuesday, Dashrath Mangela, chairman of Juhu Moragaon Macchimaar Vividh Karyakari Sahakari Sanstha Limited, wrote to the suburban collector, the Maharashtra Maritime Board and the state fisheries department, bringing the erosion to their notice and demanding that steps be taken to prevent the sea from coming in further. “We are feeling the impact of the changes in tidal patterns first hand. We are more vulnerable now than ever before,” said Dashrath.
His brother Rajesh, who is also a member of the Maharashtra Macchimmar Kruti Samiti that fights for the rights of coastal communities, said that the now submerged portion is a part of a 45,000 sq m land on the foreshore that was earmarked for fishing activities.
Rajesh fears that the erosion may not be localised but part of a larger fallout triggered by a rise in the sea level due to coastal reclamations. “Back in 2001, the point where the creek met the sea was far away from the beach. Since then, Juhu and Versova have seen a lot of reclamation for high-rise buildings. This has significantly affected the tidal activity, now causing the scouring of the channel from the portion of the foreshore itself,” said Rajesh, armed with before and after satellite images of the recently-submerged area.
Local fishermen also pointed out that as part of a beach nourishment plan, the Maharashtra Maritime Board had last year installed tetrapods across an adjoining portion of the beach, near Seven Bungalows, to prevent sea waves from hitting a slum that has sprung up on the foreshore land. “The water was bound to come out from somewhere else,” Rajesh said.
Godfrey Pimenta, lawyer and trustee of NGO Watchdog Foundation, agreed. “There is enough evidence to suggest that coastal erosion is often a result of the reclamation of the sea bed and building tetrapods or sea walls cannot be seen as a solution to this problem. Water will find its way out,” he said. The NGO has been at the forefront of protests against reclamations.
Shweta Wagh, an associate professor of the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture, who has been mapping the impact of reclamations on coastal communities, said: “According to geomorphologists, changes in tidal activity due to reclamations may not be localised. Ongoing reclamation for the coastal road project in south Mumbai will also impact tidal activity to the north of the island city.”
Wagh is also the founder member of Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA), which had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court against the Rs14,000-crore coastal highway project.
Both Pimenta and Wagh alleged that coastal reclamations had also played a role in the severe flooding witnessed in south Mumbai this monsoon. In 2019, the CSA had prepared a report on the impact the project will have on coastal communities, which was tendered in the court.
Pimenta cautioned that much of the shoreline at Dadar Chowpatty had similarly been lost to reclamation for the Bandra-Worli Sea Link project.
When contacted, Principal Secretary (Environment) Manisha Mhaiskar said her department would look into the erosion issue. So did Fisheries Commissioner Atul Patne.
While senior officials from BMC, which is implementing the highway project, argued that the work was being done following a social impact assessment and that mitigation measures will be taken up, Wagh claimed the “so-called” assessment report “neither acknowledged the existence of traditional fishing zone nor the customary use of the nearshore and foreshore areas for artisanal fishing activity”. Pimenta demanded that fishermen be seen as “project-affected people” for reclamation projects.
Zaman Ali, an independent environmental lawyer, said: “The government should urgently examine the relation of coastal communities and fragile ecosystems.”
Seated in his boat, Shankar, meanwhile, cited the irony of it all. “Land that was originally earmarked for us (fishermen at Moragoan) for fish drying and the docking of boats have been encroached by big bungalow owners. And now, the sea has consumed the part of the beach we had been using as an alternative.”
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