Ground Reports

Ground Report From Mumbai South — Where Erstwhile Rivals Unite To 'Save The Constitution'

Krishna Dange

May 18, 2024, 08:15 PM | Updated May 19, 2024, 08:46 PM IST

Shiv Sena UBT cadre along with the Congress's Minority-Wing cadre at a campaign rally in support of Arvind Sawant, the former's candidate and sitting MP from Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency.
Shiv Sena UBT cadre along with the Congress's Minority-Wing cadre at a campaign rally in support of Arvind Sawant, the former's candidate and sitting MP from Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency.
  • In the fray from Shiv Sena (UBT) is the two-time sitting MP Arvind Sawant, while the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena has fielded Yamini Jadhav.
  • Every metropolis around the globe has at least one area that is densely populated, whose residents are frequently caught in traffic snarls, and where the living space inside newly built homes shrinks consistently by every square foot. Yet, everyone dreams of living there someday.

    Being able to buy a house in such an area — and if along the coast, preferably with an unhindered sea view — is an indicator of the person having finally ‘arrived’ to a position of eminence.

    Colaba, Malabar Hill, and parts along the Worli sea promenade in Mumbai are where India’s ultra-rich have, over the last century, announced their ‘arrival.’

    Such is the undying enigma of the "SoBo" (an abbreviation for South Bombay, previous name of Mumbai) that Colaba-based high socialite Maya Sarabhai from the early-2000s hit television series Sarabhai vs Sarabhai continues to be in vogue till date, even among the young instagram users.

    However, in the context of politics, there's more to the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency than the aforementioned areas. Between the high-rises that dot the city’s skyline are localities like Mumbadevi, Dongri, Sewree, Parel, and Lower Parel that are home to a large working-class population.

    It is in these densely populated localities where the fate of two rival versions of the Shiv Sena, a party formed to safeguard the interests of Maharashtra’s 'sons of the soil', will be decided.

    In the fray from the Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray (UBT) side is the two-time sitting Member of Parliament (MP) Arvind Sawant.

    On the other hand, the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, part of the ruling Mahayuti, has fielded Yamini Jadhav. The Shinde Sena candidate is an incumbent Legislator from the Byculla state assembly segment which is a part of the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency.

    Presently, with only three days to go when Swarajya visited Mumbai South, Shiv Sena UBT’s Sawant has completed a tour of the entire constituency at least more than twice. On the other hand, according to Vijay Lipare, a functionary in the office of Shinde Sena candidate Jadhav, the latter’s team is struggling to complete even its daily schedule.

    "We are lagging behind our opponent (Uddhav Sena's Arvind Sawant) in terms of the pace of campaigning. At the same time, one shouldn't forget that he won twice- in 2014 and later in 2019- because the undivided Shiv Sena was then part of the BJP-led coalition. Otherwise the seat was with Congress's Milind Deora for two terms before.

    "In fact, our opponent (Uddhav Sena's Sawant) won only because of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity among the masses here. This time voters know that it us (Shinde Sena) who is on Modiji's side and not him," Lipare said.

    Notably, Shinde Sena candidate Jadhav’s candidature came on 30 April, only 20 days before the polls. The delay was apparently due to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership’s reluctance to part with the state’s most high-profile constituency.

    Moreover, Jadhav faces the challenge of convincing voters to overlook charges of corruption against her as well as husband Yashwant Jadhav. The latter, a former chairman of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai’s (MCGM) Standing Committee was accused of money laundering and tax evasion by the senior BJP leader Kirit Somaiya two years back.

    As per the election affidavit filed by the Shinde Sena candidate, Jadhav faces a tax demand of nearly Rs 3 crore, while her husband faces the same amounting to more than Rs 140 crore.

    In contrast, although Uddhav Sena candidate Sawant is said to be squeaky clean, the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency, when considered as a whole, is no cake walk for either of the candidates.

    Politics In A Diverse Demography

    Located at the tip of the city, with the Arabian sea on its three sides, the constituency comprises six state assembly segments, namely Colaba, Malabar Hill, Mumbadevi, Byculla, Worli, and Sewree.

    In terms of their collective political strength, both coalitions- the ruling Mahayuti as well as the opposition party coalition- the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), are on an equal footing here.

    Mahayuti holds sway over three state assembly constituencies, with Colaba and Malabar Hill represented by the BJP’s Rahul Narvekar and Mangal Prabhat Lodha, while Byculla is held by the Shinde Sena candidate Jadhav.

    From the MVA, Shiv Sena UBT chief Uddhav Thackeray’s son, Aditya Thackeray, represents the Worli state assembly seat, while his fellow partyman Ajay Choudhari represents Sewree. MVA constituent Congress’ two-time legislator Amin Patel represents Mumbadevi.

    Each of these segments is distinct in terms of their socio-economic character. Upscale segments such as Colaba, Malabar Hill, and parts of Worli are home to corporate India’s who’s who and their offices.

    On the other hand, parts of the Worli segment, such as Lower Parel along with Byculla and Sewree state assembly segments, contain several residential chawls built by the Bombay Development Department (BDD) back in the 1920s for the mill workers. This is apart from the apartments built for the lower income groups by the state government agencies in the recent years.

    Whether it is Jadhav on Mahayuti’s side or Sawant from Shiv Sena UBT, both candidates have to tailor their ‘prachaar’ in different segments according to their socio-economic character.

    For instance, Sawant’s campaign in the Malabar Hill constituency has focused on issues surrounding the Goods and Services Tax (GST). He has urged voters to choose him over his opponents to save democracy and the sanctity of the Constitution.

    But in Worli, the MP shifts towards local issues such as the redevelopment of the BDD chawls and houses for the families affected by the closure of textile mills.

    In terms of the linguistic profile, experts say that the number of Marathi-speaking voters have an edge over the Gujarati, Hindi, and Urdu speakers.

    Notably, the Marathi share is said to have gone up after the delimitation exercise conducted by the Election Commission in 2008, which had led to the inclusion of areas like Parel and Lalbaug to the Sewree state assembly segment.

    According to Vaibhav Purandare, senior journalist and the author of the critically acclaimed book Bal Thackeray and the Rise of the Shiv Sena (2012), Parel and Lalbaug were once home to some of the major textile mills that formed the backbone of Mumbai’s local economy. Many migrant from other parts of Maharashtra who found jobs in the mills had settled here during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    "Those (who were) part of the mill economy in Parel and Lalbaug in the Worli segment along with Girgaon in the Malabar Hill segment were strong supporters of the Left before. However post 1970s, after the mills closed down and the influence of left-wing parties declined, they have been with the Shiv Sena.

    "Post Shiv Sena split, this is the first time that the constituency will witness a Sena versus Sena fight, and its outcome will be closely watched," Purandare said.

    Notably, despite the strong Marathi factor, the Gujarati-speaking population, as well as the Hindi speakers, cannot be ignored. Speakers of both those languages are in sizeable numbers, evident from the fact that five out of the eight MPs in this constituency have been either Gujarati or Marwari speakers.

    “This (linguistic profile) will change further when the flats built over and above those meant for rehabilitation of chawl residents will be put up for sale as per market rates. It goes without saying that most of these flats will then be bought either by Gujarati or Hindi speakers,” Ganesh Paygude, a resident of the BDD chawl cluster in Worli, said.

    For now, Sawant is seen sticking to his party’s narrative of alleged flight of industries from Maharashtra to neighbouring Gujarat under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule at the Centre.

    Political parties part of the MVA expect that such a rhetoric can potentially bring together Marathi votes, which might otherwise get split between Shiv Sena UBT and Shinde-led Shiv Sena.

    Interestingly, both Sawant and Jadhav have been trying to curry favour with the Urdu-speaking Muslim voters, as well. Despite the rise of several high-rises and steady linguistic change, the minority community continues to be the dominant one in the Mumbadevi state assembly segment along with nearly half of Byculla.

    Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena candidate Yamini Jadhav during a rally in the Muslim-dominated Mumbadevi state assembly seat segment (Photo via Vijay Lipare)
    Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena candidate Yamini Jadhav during a rally in the Muslim-dominated Mumbadevi state assembly seat segment (Photo via Vijay Lipare)

    Securing The Muslim Vote

    While there are limitations on the extent to which the BJP and the Shinde Sena's candidates can reach out to Muslim voters, Shiv Sena UBT appears to have none as such.

    In the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency, Sawant has been extensively touring the narrow bylanes of Mumbadevi and Byculla along with prominent leaders from different sects of the Muslim community.

    “There is a perception that Shiv Sena was against Muslims, but this is far from true. In fact, I am someone who has condemned acts of mob-lynching committed by so-called gau rakshaks against innocent Muslims. I have always responded to appeals for help from my constituency, even that of Muslims. They know this, and the goodwill is materialising today which you can see from the support I am getting from them,” Sawant told Swarajya.

    At a rally held in support of Sawant in a bylane of the Byculla segment, a Congress leader present on the stage said, “The present BJP-led Union government seems to have some problem with Muslims. They refer to them in poor terms by calling them as dadhi (beard) and topi (skull cap) wallahs. Wait until 4th June, this very dadhiwallahs will decide whether Modi stays in power or not.”

    The bonhomie between Shiv Sena UBT, Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) seems to have percolated down to their cadre, as well. For instance, at the Byculla rally for Sawant, Shiv Sena UBT’s women wing leaders were seen holding hands of the burqa-clad Muslim women cadre from the Congress.

    Cadre of the Shiv Sena UBT and the Congress at a rally held in support of Shiv Sena UBT candidate Arvind Sawant
    Cadre of the Shiv Sena UBT and the Congress at a rally held in support of Shiv Sena UBT candidate Arvind Sawant
    Shiv Sena UBT candidate for Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat and sitting MP Arvind Sawant at a rally
    Shiv Sena UBT candidate for Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat and sitting MP Arvind Sawant at a rally

    Although the Shiv Sena UBT leaders and its cadre claim to have never been anti-Muslim, history suggests otherwise.

    Balasaheb Thackeray, father of Uddhav Thackeray, the head of Shiv Sena UBT, was known for his fiery speeches directed ostensibly at the fundamentalist elements among the Indian Muslims.

    The Justice Shri Krishna Committee, appointed by the Congress-led state government for examining the communal riots that occurred in Mumbai between 1992 and 1993 after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya, had indicted Shiv Sena leaders for targeting Muslims.

    The report tabled before the Shiv Sena-BJP-led state government in 1998 said that Sena leaders had provoked Muslims in the city to step out on the streets by carrying out celebration rallies after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya.

    “There is no doubt that Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders,” the report noted.

    Regarding the collusion of the Shiv Sena cadre with Mumbai police in perpetrating violence, the report noted instances such as this: "The situation in Mahim went out of control at 2100 hours. Hindus attacked Muslims in Muslim pockets in Mahim area led by Shiv Sena Corporator, Milind Vaidya, and a police constable, Sanjay Gawade, openly carrying a sword. There were serious riots in which frenzied mobs of Hindus and Muslims attacked each other."

    Even after Balasaheb Thackeray's demise, Shiv Sena leaders haven’t shied away from making statements directed at Muslims. Writing in the party mouthpiece Saamna in April 2015, Shiv Sena UBT’s foremost spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut had asked for disenfranchising Muslims.

    Now consider the present-day bonhomie between Shiv Sena UBT, which claims to be the real successors of Balasaheb Thackeray’s legacy, and the Muslim leadership in the Congress and NCP.

    When asked whether the Shiv Sena’s communal past affects their judgement of Shiv Sena UBT, most Muslim cadres from the opposition-bloc parties and lay voters present at the rally said that they were willing to give a chance to the Uddhav Thackeray-led party.

    “What has happened in the past is part of the history now. There are good and bad elements in all political parties, Shiv Sena of the past was no exception. I personally feel Uddhav Thackeray saheb is a committed secularist. More importantly, all of us (opposition parties) have come together to save the Constitution and democracy, which is threatened by the BJP-led present government,” Sofiya Shaikh, a Congress functionary from Byculla, said.

    However, there are Muslims in the constituency who are willing to vote for Shinde Sena candidate Jadhav, as well.

    “Myself and some of my friends might vote for the Shinde Sena candidate Jadhav. This is because I can relate with their party leader, Eknath Shinde, who was a rickshaw driver and rose through the ranks to become the Chief Minister.

    "I think he is a good leader who knows the problems that ail the poor irrespective of their religion and, more importantly, gets the work done,” said Mohammad Usmani, a taxi driver from Dongri, which is part of the Mumbadevi state assembly segment.

    Nearly 200-year-old Juma Masjid in the precincts of Crawford Market in the Mumbadevi assembly segment (Photo via special arrangement)
    Nearly 200-year-old Juma Masjid in the precincts of Crawford Market in the Mumbadevi assembly segment (Photo via special arrangement)

    Nonetheless, considering the mood among the Muslim voters, which seems to be largely in favour of Shiv Sena UBT, Swarajya spoke to Abdul Qader Mukadam, a senior scholar on Islam who was associated with the Hamid Dalwai-led left-wing progressive Muslim Satyashodhak Movement.

    According to Mukadam, after the demise of Balasaheb Thackeray, the Shiv Sena under his son Uddhav went through a churn that has ultimately pulled it towards the centre, away from its far-right communal stance.

    The present avatar of the Shiv Sena UBT, as per him, is based on the ideology of Uddhav’s grandfather, ‘Prabodhankar’ Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, who is said to have been an avowed supporter of the ‘Non-Brahmin Movement.’

    “Prabodhankar was also a Hindutwavadi, but his Hindutva didn’t mean hatred of Muslims or holding them responsible for something that happened in the past. His ideas can be broadly classified as 'Subaltern Hindutva,' which was pro-poor and against Brahminical tyranny.

    "It is important to note that after choosing to walk on the path of his grandfather, Uddhav Thackeray has not deviated from it, even after a split in the Shiv Sena, which was supposedly led by those committed to the Savarkarite version of Hindutva ideology. Muslims not only in Mumbadevi and Byculla but across Maharashtra understand this ideological difference (between Shiv Sena UBT and Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena),” Mukadam said.

    When asked about how the Muslim voters might view the presence of leaders like Raut, who in the past demanded minorities to be disenfranchised, Mukadam said, “Muslims as well as other minorities know that whatever Shiv Sena leaders did and said in the past, it was due to the bad influence of the BJP. Otherwise, Shiv Sena’s main agenda has been justice to the son of the soil.”

    Saffron And Red Flags Flutter Together

    Lower Parel, part of the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency’s Worli segment, is witnessing rapid changes. Clusters of the BDD chawls near the Worli Naka and the N M Joshi Marg are being pulled down gradually to make way for new high-rise apartments.

    It is in these buildings that most of the working-class residents of the dilapidated chawls will now be housed.

    A dilapidated BDD chawl in Worli, flanked by a high-rise coming up in the place of a neighbouring chawl. Managed by the state housing agency MHADA, the BDD redevelopment project will create additional houses that can be sold after rehabilitating the original residents.
    A dilapidated BDD chawl in Worli, flanked by a high-rise coming up in the place of a neighbouring chawl. Managed by the state housing agency MHADA, the BDD redevelopment project will create additional houses that can be sold after rehabilitating the original residents.

    However, caught in the midst of this construction frenzy is a small compound guarded by an iron gate. Inside the gate stands a pole with a red flag flanked by a building which is fast losing its colour. A plaque outside the two-storied building’s entrance reads: Janashakti, 1960.

    If it were not for a poster on the wall, the sickle and the crop on the red flag was an easy giveaway that this was the Mumbai headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M).

    Lined along the four walls of the office-cum-meeting hall inside the building are photographs of the now-deceased firebrand CPI(M) comrades of the past — Ahilya Rangnekar, Vimal Randive, Godavari Parulekar, Shyamrao Parulekar, and Prabhakar Sanzgiri, among others.

    A wall in the centre of the space is reserved for the prominent thinkers and leaders of the Communist pantheon — Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Chiang Kai Shek.

    Pointing at the portraits, office attendant chuckles, "Only Che Guevera is missing here."

    Portraits of the now-deceased CPI(M) leaders from the yesteryears, along with cupboards containing party literature in CPI(M)'s Mumbai office
    Portraits of the now-deceased CPI(M) leaders from the yesteryears, along with cupboards containing party literature in CPI(M)'s Mumbai office
    From left to right: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Chiang-Kai-Shek
    From left to right: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Chiang-Kai-Shek

    Surrounded by these photos and the shelves containing party literature is a group of trade union activists affiliated with the party’s Centre For Trade Unions (CITU). They are huddled up in a meeting. The agenda: until what point must they accompany the Shiv Sena UBT candidate Sawant’s campaign rally scheduled the next day.

    An activist, who mistakes this writer reading a pamphlet to be a fellow party cadre, says, “Look at the irony, we are compelled to campaign in favour of those (Shiv Sena UBT) very people who wiped us out through electoral politics in Mumbai.”

    The activist appears hurt, more so since Sawant is also the chairman of the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena (BKS), a labour welfare-devoted offshoot of the previously undivided Shiv Sena, which is supposed to have damaged the CITU's, and alternatively the CPI(M)’s, hold over Mumbai.

    The tale is no different with the CPI, which has its office a few kilometres (km) away in Parel.

    With the exception of Kerala and West Bengal, both left-wing political parties are a part of the Congress-led INDI Alliance of which Shiv Sena UBT is a constituent.

    Although the alliance is a motley of several ideologically distinct political parties, the alliance of CPI and CPI(M) with Shiv Sena UBT is ironic in itself considering that the Sena of the yesteryears is supposed to have been instrumental in scuttling not just the political hold of the Left over Mumbai, but also having resorted to violence to achieve the same.

    CPI cadres in a rally in support of the Shiv Sena UBT candidate Arvind Sawant (Photo: Comrade Prakash Reddy/Facebook)
    CPI cadres in a rally in support of the Shiv Sena UBT candidate Arvind Sawant (Photo: Comrade Prakash Reddy/Facebook)

    For instance, Parel, which was once a separate state assembly seat and was merged later with Sewree, was the first state assembly seat won by the undivided Shiv Sena of the past in 1970. However, the win was preceded by the murder of Krishna Desai, Parel's Legislator who was with the CPI.

    The CPI leader Desai who succumbed to injuries from a sword thrust into his rib cage is said to have been killed by cadres from the erstwhile undivided Shiv Sena.

    In the bypolls held after Desai’s death, Shiv Sena’s Wamanrao Mahadik won against the former’s wife and CPI candidate, Sarojini Desai, with a narrow margin of 1,679 votes.

    However, the present-day alliance between Shiv Sena UBT and the Left parties is ironic not just because of their past rivalry in electoral politics.

    Just a year after launching Shiv Sena in 1967, its founder Balasaheb Thackeray had also launched the BKS with an aim to strike a blow at the left party-led worker unions that ruled the roost, from textile mills to the city’s public transport and electricity supply agency- BEST.

    Noted sociologist Dipankar Gupta in his doctoral thesis turned book titled Nativism in a Metropolis: The Shiv Sena in Bombay (1982) points out that the rise of Shiv Sena and its labour wing BKS came as a boon to the capitalist class in and around Mumbai.

    “After the foundation of BKS, many factory owners asked Shiv Sena to set up units of BKS in their factories. The factory management also helped the Shiv Sena in setting up offices to counteract the influence of the existing unions. Some businessmen even established personal relations with Thackeray and informed him about their labour-related issues,” Gupta notes in the book.

    The set of guidelines prepared for BKS by Thackeray and reproduced in Purandare’s book are even more insightful.

    One of the guidelines says, "Workers will be taught to produce more and only then ask for more. The hue and cry raised about the class struggle has fooled the worker. He has remained mired in poverty because he has held up production by striking work."

    Notably, with regards to its ideological opponents from the Left, it says, "The BKS will relentlessly attack CPI and CPI(M) strongholds."

    Guidelines prepared by Balasaheb Thackeray for the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena, an offshot of the previously undivided Shiv Sena. (From Vaibhav Purandare's 2012 book 'Bal Thackeray And The Rise Of The Shiv Sena')
    Guidelines prepared by Balasaheb Thackeray for the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena, an offshot of the previously undivided Shiv Sena. (From Vaibhav Purandare's 2012 book 'Bal Thackeray And The Rise Of The Shiv Sena')

    When asked about the ironic alliance of Shiv Sena UBT and the left-wing parties like CPI and CPI-M, Sawant, who himself rose through the ranks of the BKS as a labour activist in the state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam, said, “I do not understand what pleasure people get in digging out such corpses (of Sena versus Left rivalry). We are indeed in an alliance with them (CPI and CPI-M), but this does not mean that we have given up our ideological differences. We have come together only to save the democracy and Constitution of this country.”

    When asked why the Left didn't go the Kerala way in Maharashtra by avoiding an alliance with that very version of Shiv Sena which, as alleged by the communist leaders of the past, is supposed to have killed the latter's elected representatives, CPI(M) State Secretary Dr S K Rege said, “We are in alliance with Shiv Sena UBT here only because the latter is part of the INDI Alliance.

    "Moreover, we have come together to save three things- democracy, Constitution, and reservation policies for Dalits and marginalised. The BJP under and its ideological parent- the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are trying to convert India into a fascist state. When it comes to electoral politics, we will fight all polls after this general elections independent of the Shiv Sena UBT.”

    'We Are Homeless In Our Own City’

    A few kilometres away from the political contradictions unfolding in the city, a group of fishermen at the Lotus Jetty in Worli are pulling their boats ashore. It is evening, and most of them have returned from the seas, perhaps a little earlier than usual.

    On the other end of the coastline, machines at work emit loud sounds. Flash lights are gradually being turned on to ensure that the work continues unhindered post the sunset.

    Asked about the day’s catch, Hamid, a boat owner, laughs and replies, “Thenga (none).”

    Pointing to the construction site on the left and an under-construction bridge that darts off the mainland into the sea, he says, “All thanks to this coastal road project, even other creatures that were available in plenty, like crabs, have stopped coming here.”

    The Mumbai Coastal Road Project, which is supposed to connect Nariman Point near Colaba in the south to Kandivali, a suburb located 29 km in the north-west of the island city, is expected to provide a great relief to commuters.

    However, reclamation of nearly 111 hectares of land from the sea, largest ever in independent India, has affected the livelihoods of several fishermen along the western coast of the city. Particularly, the fishing hamlets at Badhwar Park, Lotus Jetty and Cleveland Jetty- all part of the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency have been the most affected ones among others.

    Fishermen pulling boats back to the shore at the Lotus Jetty near Worli. An under-construction segment of the Coastal Road Project in the background.
    Fishermen pulling boats back to the shore at the Lotus Jetty near Worli. An under-construction segment of the Coastal Road Project in the background.
    Mounds of rubble brought from the Navi Mumbai International Airport site kept ready for reclaiming the sea in further packages of the Coastal Road Project.
    Mounds of rubble brought from the Navi Mumbai International Airport site kept ready for reclaiming the sea in further packages of the Coastal Road Project.

    Fishermen like Hamid and others, although now adherents of different faiths, are originally part of the Agri-Koli caste cluster who have traditionally depended on fishing, salt making, and paddy cultivation for their livelihood.

    Members of this community are said to have been the original residents of the several islands that were joined to make the unified land mass known as Mumbai today.

    A non-politically aligned environmental expert on condition of anonymity pointed out that while the erstwhile undivided Shiv Sena under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya had opposed the construction of a Metro Car Shed on the fringes of the leafy Aarey Colony in Goregaon, it had largely been silent on the damage caused by the construction of the Coastal Road to the marine ecology.

    The reason behind the silence according to the environmentalist being that the Coastal Road Project is considered to be a pet project of the Thackeray father-son duo.

    Wajid Shaikh, who owns two boats and has lived his entire life along the jetty near Worli, said that the daily catch had reduced by more than half due to the construction activity.

    “Before this coastal road project construction started, I was able to fish many varieties of fish which could fetch me at least Rs 2,000 per day.

    "Now, I manage to fish something that can fetch me something as less as Rs 500. There also some days when I don’t get anything. This is affecting not only my health, as I am unable to feed myself enough, but it has also rendered me homeless, as I had to vacate my previous accommodation owing to my inability to pay the room rent,” Shaikh said.

    Wajid Shaikh, a fisherman at the Lotus Jetty near Worli. Shaikh has been rendered homeless, as he is unable to afford room rent. This is because of the depleting catch from the sea owing to the Coastal Road Project.
    Wajid Shaikh, a fisherman at the Lotus Jetty near Worli. Shaikh has been rendered homeless, as he is unable to afford room rent. This is because of the depleting catch from the sea owing to the Coastal Road Project.

    “I was born in a fishing hamlet here along the coast. We have seen good times when we could fish high-valued varieties like Paplet (silver pomfret) and Raavas. Some fishermen had huge gold lockets around their necks, indicating a high material standing. But the situation now is such that we have been rendered homeless in our own city,” Shaikh added.

    When asked whether the situation will improve once the project is completed and the stilts installed in the sea are removed, he said, “It should, but again, they are not removing those stilts locked in the sea bed properly. Sometimes they just cut the uppermost parts in haste. This can damage our boats when we venture out into the sea or when we come back during the low tide.”

    Taking note of the several petitions lodged in the Bombay High Court against the environmental damage and loss of livelihood caused to the native fishermen, the city's civic body which has been heading the Coastal Road project, has now decided to award monetary compensation to the 1,343 project-affected fishermen. As per reports, this will come collectively to the tune of Rs 130 crore.

    However, this means an additional cost to the city’s exchequer considering that the overall cost of the coastal road project has shot up from Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 13,000 crore.

    The residents of Worli, one of the landing point for the coastal road, say the project will prove to be a temporary solution to a larger problem in the making.

    "This part of the city (South Mumbai) cannot accommodate more load. With chawls making way for residential high-rises on either sides of narrow roads, it is an urban disaster in the making.

    "Offices of several corporates are already moving out of Nariman Point and Lower Parel to BKC and Navi Mumbai. Work from home culture is also on the rise. Considering all this, the money spent on this road should have been used to provide better connectivity to those towns far from the city where several Marathi families that once lived here have gone. Anyway, who cares now, its election time," Mangesh Thakur, a resident of the BDD chawl in Worli, said.

    Staff Writer at Swarajya


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