The proposal by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to build two bridges connecting Versova to Madh Island and Malad to Manori has been opposed by the local East Indian community, which fears that the projects would wipe off their traditional villages.
According to officials, when civic staff visited Versova beach for a survey a couple of weeks ago, fishermen obstructed the work saying they would not allow the construction of the bridges.
"The Madh-Versova bridge would reduce the travel distance between the two places sharply from 23km to 8km. The connectivity of the island with Mumbai suburbs will improve as commuting time would be just 15 minutes instead of the current one and a half hour.," said SO Kori, chief engineer (bridges).
Similarly, the creek bridge from Malad link road to Manori would reduce the distance between the two places from 32.5km to 5km.
Today, people have to go all the way to Uttan road and turn from there to get to Manori or Madh Island.
But, Alphi D'Souza, CEO, Mobai Gaothan Panchayat, says that the predominantly East Indian residents in these areas did not want the bridges. "Of the over 200 gaothans that originally existed in Mumbai, there were about 189 till a decade ago. But BMC records show there are only 88 now. This is proof of the number of gaothans that have been taken away by politicians, builders and industrialists in the name of infrastructure schemes," he said.
Gaothan is the name for the indigenous villages of East Indians. The community has come together over the past couple of years to oppose plans that threaten their houses.
D'Souza said the bridges would destroy the few gaothans in the Gorai-Uttan area. "Once these areas are better connected with the western suburbs, more builders will start eying the areas for private gains. That will leave the original inhabitants without their lands and houses," he said. "We want to save our gaothans as they epitomise our culture."
The Versova-Madh bridge will be a little more than a kilometre long and the project is estimated at Rs226 crore, while the Malad-Manori bridge would be 976 metres and cost Rs251.3 crore.
Kori explained that these bridges would be extremely useful in case of emergencies and a benefit students from Madh and Manori who have to cross over to get to school or college.