Climate Change Uncertainties and Vulnerabilities of Versova Koliwada
Authors: Ketaki Bhadgaonkar and Jai Bhadgaonkar
An Overview of Versova and the climate challenges faced by the Koli community
Koli is a fishermen's tribe living in the coastal Konkan region of India and the hamlets where the Kolis reside are known as Koliwada. Versova is one of the 39 Koliwadas that still exist in the city of Mumbai. Most of the Koliwadas in Mumbai have succumbed to the developmental and environmental pressures of the city and no longer continue fishing as their main livelihood. The changing aspirations of the Kolis also deviate most of the younger generation from the fishing industry due to the rising uncertainties of the occupation. Despite these vulnerabilities, Versova is one of the most active and thriving Koliwada villages in the city today.
Climate change related Uncertainties
As per the firsthand interactions with the community, the change in tidal currents and the temperatures have resulted in a decline in the fish catch, thus making the occupation more economically impractical. The depletion in mangroves, siltation in the creek and waste accumulation in the creek is affecting the marine ecology within the creek as well. It is practically impossible to find a catch locally and one has to rely on the deep sea catch. The poor or the further marginalised communities cannot fish on small scale and have to take up labour jobs to go fishing in the deep sea. Overfishing by larger companies/authorities affects the decline in fish catch.
The societal structure is apparent at the city level and the village level. The Kolis are evidently at the bottom of the structure at the city level, where the decision-makers at the top impose certain policies or developmental projects which directly and indirectly affect the livelihood and the quality of life of these marginalised communities. The Kolis at Versova most probably do not have a say in the decision-making of the top authorities or lack awareness of the impact of these projects on their livelihood. Also more often it is the heads of the village who voice out their opposition or support to the authorities which could create biases in the process of decision-making as they could be due to certain ulterior benefits. There are three upcoming projects in Koliwada that are likely to affect the coastal ecology; the coastal road project cutting through the mangroves in the north of the koliwada (the project has a stay order currently), the breakwater (Marina) at the mouth of the creek along with a promenade on the Versova Beach, construction of a vehicular bridge across the creek (over the mangroves) connecting to Madh island.
The Koliwada is a mix of communities with 80% of the population (approx. 50,000 inhabitants) working in the fishing industry. The Kolis are the fishers and the other supporting communities are involved in the net making, ship repairing, ship machinery, transport, labour, etc. The Kolis are at the top of the pyramid at the village level societal structure. Most of the Kolis are rich and own big trawlers which are used for deep sea fishing. They hire labours who are migrants mostly from Andhra that go on the ship for fishing. The Kolis are responsible only for the sale of the fish. The relatively poorer class of the Kolis and some of the Gujarat migrant communities cannot afford the big trawlers and are still dependent on the coast fishing into the creek. This group of fishers still share a very deep relationship with the mangroves and the coastal ecology which expands till Malad. There is also a group of migrants who earns livelihood through fish drying, but the fish is procured from other markets of the city and not from the Versova Kolkiwada; could be a case of societal inequalities. The existence of various cooperative societies in the village also contributes to a very dynamic socio-economic structure within.
The project initiative by Bombay61 focuses on introducing a parallel economy which helps in the restoration of the coastal ecology and empowers the community with a bottom-up approach. The initiatives were an outcome of several community interactions. Several experiments were conducted to test the workability of the design of the net filters and the floating pods that can be installed on the creek. Although the designs seem to work there many other aspects of the proposal which still need to explore and could prove valuable considering that the solid waste flow in the cr
eek has reduced considerably. The proposal also looked at various other sustainability aspects through the introduction of pods growing mangroves, closed aquaculture systems, the plastic recycling industry and a knowledge centre for the community. Through T2S (Transformation to Sustainability) one can explore the possibilities of implementing these transformative designs as well.
Currently, the Mumbai team has an open-ended agenda for the possibilities of transformative initiatives and is willing to explore more options post-community and expert interactions. The key actors are the ones who belong to various fishing-related allied activities from all classes and communities residing in the village.
The initiative provides an opportunity to bring about a deep structural change in society with a bottom-up approach that can address the socioeconomic processes at the city level as well as village level societies. It is important to consider the praxis of transformation as a means for livelihood sustenance and ecological sustenance. It addresses the immediate coastal ecology with the possibility to impact a larger ecosystem if scaled up.
The intention is to co-produce transformative initiatives to bring about well being of all the residents of the village while keeping their livelihood sustenance in mind. This can be achieved through interviews and interactions with all the stakeholders, experts, professionals, etc. bottom-up. We intend to host workshops with open house sessions with the Kolis and others related to the occupation to understand the impact of climate change and infrastructural projects on their livelihoods. The workshops also aim at coproducing possible interventions that can prove to be transformative considering social equity and restoring coastal ecology.