09 / 2001
The Dahanu ’taluka’ of Thane district in Maharashtra, India is an ecologically sensitive area. It has fertile farmlands and the coast has a lot of natural reefs that provide good breeding grounds for many species of fish. In 1997 the government of Maharashtra issued a letter of intent favouring an Australian company, P & O Ports Co., for the construction of a mega port for handling oil, natural gas, chemicals etc. at Vadhawan, a fishing village in the ’taluka’. It would have supported the interests of the nearby Tarapur Industrial estate.
A struggle against the proposed port was initiated by local farmers, threatened with displacement. Later on the fishing community also joined the struggle under the leadership of Shri Rambau Patil and the banner of ’Vadhawan Bandar Sangharsh Samiti’ (VBSS). Although Vadhawan had only a small community of fisherfolk, their active participation in meetings, rallies, ’morcha’s and ’satyagraha’ was very active. They were joined by ’adivasis’ (tribal people) and dye-makers of the nearby ’talukas’ It was recognized that the construction of the port would destroy the marine ecology, causing large-scale environmental pollution and depriving local people of their legitimate access to natural resources and to a livelihood.
A memorandum was presented to the Dahanu Taluka Environmental Protection Authority (DTEPA) in March 1998 and again in May 1998. The memorandum mentioned that the proposed port would violate the regional plan prepared for the Dahanu area. It also pointed out that the construction of the port would go against the existing laws on land ownership. The DTEPA invited the president of the ’samiti’ for a hearing. After the case against the port was presented, the Authority issued an order directing the state and central governments not to proceed with the project until the matter was finally decided by the Authority.
The struggle took an interesting turn when the various associations of dock workers and transport workers of the Bombay port joined hands with the VBSS. A huge rally to the Mantralaya (Secretariat) in Bombay was organized on 15 April 1998 and many leaders addressed the rally. The Chief Minister invited a delegation of the leaders to meet with him. A memorandum was sent to the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Environment and Forests and of defence, urgin them to stop the port in Maharashtra.
The construction of the mega port would have affected the livelihood of the small and artisanal fishing communities of the area apart from other communities that were directly and indirectly dependent on fishing. The formation of the VBSS and its political activities were successful in temporarily stopping the construction of the port. It is also interesting to note that the foreign company P&O Ports Company withdrew its support from the proposed project. The decision made by the Dahanu Taluka Environmental Protection Authority (DTEPA) is also commendable because it took into consideration the ecological consequences of the port construction activity. The future of this project remains to be seen.
Interview with MEHER, Poornima