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Koliwadas and Gaothans of Mumbai

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Mumbai, a coastal city has been a point of attraction for the kolis , the native fisherfolk of the city, who’s lives and livelihood revolve around the sea. Koliwadas are quaint settlements, housing this community of native fisherfolks. The kolis have a rich heritage and culture, deeply ingrained in Mumbai’s history.


Traditionally, the koli men go fishing and the women remain equally occupied by selling the fish, managing the family’s finances as well as running the house. The fisherfolk are intricately tied with nature. Koliwadas have been able to live harmoniously with the waves of the sea in past, however the community is increasingly faced a wide array of problems relating to their everyday life.


Congested living spaces to poor sanitation, inadequate drainage, and water facilities are some issues which adverse effect on their living and working conditions. Presently, a lack of land-security and developmental rights exists because the development plan does not safeguard their everyday needs like spaces for drying fish, boat mooring and net weaving, among other fishing activities. 

Stripped of several rights, they are now categorised as slums and are under constant threat of eviction and demolition. The fisherfolk are also faced with tremendous pressure and are working to sustain against the city's growing large-scale commercial enterprises. The adverse effects of these uncertain conditions are equally felt by the koli women who work long hours in excruciatingly inhospitable fish markets, earning their daily wages at the cost of their health and well-being.


Violation of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules which are for the protection of the coastline and its inhabitants has led to serious consequences of environmental degradation and disruption of coastal ecosystems. Encroachments, global warming and extreme climatic events are further adversely affecting the livelihoods of the community and have made all coastal residents vulnerable due to their geographical disposition.


The 2018 Kerala floods are an important case to highlight the role of fisherfolk in ensuring the safety of our coastline and all its residents. The floods caused tremendous distress, a situation which was curbed by the local fishers of different states, who were able to rescue 70% of the people. There is therefore a need for appropriate enforcement of the CRZ rules which are in place to protect the coastline and its inhabitants, the marine ecosystem and native fishers.


UCM is working to advocate the rights of the kolis by community engagement initiatives and documentation in form of interviews for empowering their voices.

Core Concerns

The living and livelihood are in a dire position due to the flawed state of their rights.

Voices of the Community

UCM conducted interviews of the residents of koliwadas with the aim to glean and understand, articulate their concerns and facilitate a platform to discuss their various concerns.

Ujwala Patil

Mahim Koliwada

Dhiraj Bhandari

Charkop Koliwada

Bheemsen Khopte

Mahim Koliwada

Jyoti Koli

Trombay Koliwada

Suren Koli

Chendani Koliwada

Rajesh Mangela

Juhu Koliwada

Land Rights

In 1991, the Coastline Regulation Zone notification expressed a dire concern to maintain and conserve the coastal region and its environmental resources as well as its inhabitants. The importance has since diminished through the decades, as there has been an alarming reduction in demarcation for the koliwadas.

In 2018, the Fisheries Department, Revenue Department alongside the kolis worked out a joint demarcation. Following which, the Development Plan released in 2022 showed a drastic reduction in allotted area for the koliwadas. At this rate, Mumbai’s earliest inhabitants will ostensibly have wiped out of the plan altogether.

  • Constant threat of eviction

  • No land for drying fish, park boats

  • Labelled as slum

  • No space for development​​

Deonar Koliwada

1991 DP


2018 Joint Demarcation

2022 DP

Juhu Koliwada

1991 DP

2018 Joint Demarcation

2022 DP

Manori Koliwada

1991 DP

2018 Joint Demarcation

2022 DP

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Environmental Rights

Over the years the coast has borne the burden of urbanization through various and constant developmental projects. Making environmental health weaker and weaker.

Sustaining the coastal health is crucial in order to protect the city from the wrath of extreme climatic events. Koliwadas being the closest to the sea are the ones most affected. Vast and diverse marine ecosystems also reside here, who are faced with the same threat. Dwindling marine populations and loss of biodiversity has become a matter of grave concern.

The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules are formulated to ensure the further damage does not lead to the destruction of our coastline. CRZ stated a clear distance of 500m should be maintained. Which has since been reduced to 50m. The livelihood and housing of native fisherfolk is an important aspect of CRZ for their protection. The encroachment blatantly violates the CRZ rules. Land grabs lead to severe environmental consequences. The native fishers are known to protect and worship the sea. Their lives and livelihood are deeply intertwined with nature, their fishing periods depend on the phases of the moon, they do not fish during fish breeding periods. 

In order to protect the city’s coastline, safeguarding the koliwadas settlement and land becomes extremely imperative.

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Developmental Rights

At present the koliwadas accommodate crowded and messy settlements. With lanes not wide enough for emergency vehicles such as ambulances, fire brigades to reach their houses. A concern highlighted by the fact that most koliwadas do not have nearby accessible healthcare facilities. Neither do they have educational institutes. 

Improper drainage systems and bare minimal installation of water facility and electricity, form the base to holding together Mumbai’s earliest settlements. A dire need arises to strategize and formulate appropriate guidelines in order to unfold a sustainable development through Development Control and Promotion Regulations (DCPRs) in the koliwadas.

Livelihood Rights

The exclusion from the DP has severe consequences on their livelihood, the spaces they require to carry out fishing and related activities would not be available to them. The kolis have been facing a drastic hit on their income since online fishing grabbed a substantial portion of their customers. Alongside polluted waters resulting in reduced catch size. High transport cost to sell fish which is pocketed out of their marginal profits. Additionally unsuitable market spaces decrease their hours of productivity.

The women of the koli community who sell fish are subjected to harsh conditions. For the long hours they spend in the market trying to earn their daily income, they have no toilet facilities, no water supply. For which reason the women prefer to not drink water, to avoid walking a 20 minute route to the nearest toilet, leaving their fish unguarded. Making kidney related ailments and possible urinary tract infections much more prevalent amongst them.

 Most markets do not allocate a proper sitting space either. The women spend all day in this dingy and clustered market setting with no scope of improvement.

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