Maharashtra government’s controversial Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial is in the news again after fishermen’s demand that the site of the project is shifted from the proposed location in the Arabian sea off the Mumbai coast.
On Wednesday, hundreds of fishermen held a boat rally to protest the project, which they say will sound a death knell for their livelihood and have warned of series of agitations.
The fishermen took their boats sporting black flags from Budhwar Park to the proposed memorial site shouting slogans against the memorial calling it a wake-up call for the authorities. They demanded that the state government reconsider the memorial site in view of probable damage to marine wealth in the region.
Rohit Pande, chief coordinator of Paramparik Machimar Seva Samitee, said the project will steal the livelihood of approximately 3,500 fishermen families living in the colonies in Colaba, Cuffe Parade and Sassoon Dock.
“The memorial project will destroy the entire marine life and adversely affect our livelihood,” he claimed.
The fishermen also expressed apprehensions that the plan to have jetties and boats to ferry the visitors will also restrict their movements.
“We are already faced with restrictions after the 2008 terrorist attacks (the terrorists entered India through the sea) and this monument will further curtail our activities,” Krishnakumar Meher, the vice-chairperson of Machimar Sarvodaya Sahakar Sansthan, said.
The project envisages a 192-metre tall statue of Shivaji mounted on a horse. There would be also a state of art auditorium which will depict his life with the help of sound and light. There would also be an amphitheatre, exhibition galleries, art museum and a garden landscape.
Chairperson of the Shiv Smarak Samiti Vinayak Mete criticised the protests as misleading and politically motivated and said the committee was determined to go ahead with the project.
“It is unfortunate that they are resorting to falsehood to stop this project,” said Mete. “We have conducted proper studies and this in no way affects fishing activity,” he added.
Apart from the fishermen, environmentalists too have been vocal in their against the project calling it an environmental disaster as the site is located in the restricted Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) I and Coastal Regulatory Zone IV areas.
Concerns over the effect of the reclamation have also been raised. A reclamation would mean major impact on tidal current and fragile ecology as well as high level of pollution to be generated during the construction.
It would also have an impact on the migratory birds and their breeding pattern, green activists say.
The Centre, however, has issued a notification to amend the CRZ notification 2011. This amendment will allow reclamation in restricted coastal areas and in the sea.
The memorial is expected to cost Rs 1,400 crore and will be built on a 15.96-hectare rocky outcrop in the Arabain Sea, 2.6km from Nariman Point. The proposed statue of Shivaji will be taller than the 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel planned at Sadhu Bet in Gujarat.
Many, including Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, are also questioning the government’s decision to spend more than Rs 1400 crore on the memorial when the state has about 350 forts that are in need of conservation.
“No one can doubt my commitment to Shivaji Maharaj but there are too many issues with the project plan and there is no transparency. The state government should focus their energies on reviving the forts built by Shivaji Maharaj and declare them as tourism spots. The forts constructed by him are in bad shape and there is no effort to refurbish them,” Thackeray said.
It was first envisaged in the 1980s but it could not make much headway. It was revived in 2000 during the Congress-NCP regime with a view to wooing Maratha voters, as Shivaji was a Maratha and the community takes pride in it, but it could hardly take it to a logical end.
After winning the assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party government put it on a fast track and obtained required clearances from the Centre. The ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) in December last year gave a nod for installing statute and building the memorial in the sea.
The state government recently appointed consultancy firm EGIS India consultant Pvt Ltd as the management consultant for the project at the cost of Rs 83 crore.
The groundbreaking ceremony to be held on May 22 in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was deferred on the grounds that it was inappropriate to hold such a grand event when the state is reeling under severe drought.