The planned construction of a 192-metre-high statue across a 19.5 hectare rocky area 3.5 km into the Arabian Sea in South Mumbai is being opposed by environmentalists, who are backed by the 1.5-lakh local fishing community.
Construction of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial statue in the Arabian Sea will affect the livelihood of 1.5 lakh fishermen residing across five settlements in south Mumbai, said members of Akhil Maharashtra Machimar Kriti Samiti (AMMKS).
The move comes days after the state government asked the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Pune to dismiss a petition against the proposed construction of the statue.
The proposed site, roughly 1.5 km from Raj Bhavan, is being opposed by fishermen from settlements near Cuffe Parade Machimar Nagar, Nariman Point, Geeta Nagar (near Navy Nagar), Raj Bhawan and Backbay who use 1,500 large boats and 450 small boats for fishing along the stretch.
''All clearances given to the statue by government agencies are entirely conditional. Despite that the state government in its affidavit in front of National Green Tribunal (NGT) mentions that it will cause no threat to environment and won't affect fishing business. This is not only ridiculous but clearly shows government's apathy towards addressing genuine issues raised by the fisherfolk community,'' said Damodar Tandel, president of AMMKS at a press conference at The Press Club, Mumbai.
''The government is not interested in protecting the environment and the rights of the fishing community. Our livelihood is at stake. Most of these families do not have an alternative source of income,'' said Tandel.
''We are not against the project at areas such as Mahalaxmi but will not let it come up 3 km into the sea,'' he added.
According to Tandel, the daily catch from the area amounts to Rs2 crore in the domestic market and Rs1,000 crore annually through exports.
''We will carry out an agitation with 5,000 boats at the proposed site when the state decides to organise the 'bhoomi poojan' (foundation laying ceremony),'' said Tandel.
''It is strange that the Union environment ministry gave an environment clearance to the project even after a National Institute of Oceanography report suggests the presence of a large marine biodiversity,'' said environmentalist Pradip Patade.
The fishing community will present its arguments through an affidavit during the next hearing scheduled on 18 November at NGT, Pune.
''We have obtained clearances not only from the union environment ministry but from agencies specialising in the environment. As far as the fishermen are concerned, more than 20 fishing community settlements from south Mumbai have agreed to the memorial being constructed. The allegations by the fishing community are baseless, unsubstantiated and only for the purpose of gaining publicity,'' said Vinayak Mete, head of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Smarak Samiti, the group appointed by the state to implement the project.
Earlier this year, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis directed the state finance ministry to make budgetary provision for the project that is likely to be completed by 2019.