Built in 1875, one of Mumbai’s oldest docks, Sassoon, is poised for a new look. Constructed on the reclaimed land in Colaba area of South Mumbai, Sassoon is readying itself for not just the necessary infrastructure that will modernise fishing activities carried out here, but also to get the much-needed boost for it to become an attractive tourist spot.
In this regard, Union Minister of shipping, road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari on Saturday approved a sum of Rs 25.50 crore towards the redevelopment plan drawn up by the Mumbai Port Trust. The proposed face lift is to match the strict standards of European Union and other countries where variety of fish are exported from Sassoon Docks.
Constructed by David Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew and the leader of the Jewish community of the then Bombay, this dock is one of the few in the city open to the public. Originally, the Sassoons’ family who built the dock were traders of cotton and so the Sassoon dock was used to unload the commodity. However, after the decline of the Indian cotton industry, fishing became the main activity and since then, the dock has employed thousands from the Koli community, perhaps the oldest residents of the original Mumbai island.
Sassoon dock is South Mumbai’s main fish loading and trading centre. The activity here starts in the morning at around 5 am when the loading and unloading of the catch is done. It is the only port in Mumbai which operates 24×7 spread over three hectare.
As per redevelopment plan, fishing activities will be restricted only to the new Sassoon dock area, while the old dock area will be used for outfitting of fishing boats and associated services. Currently, all activities are being carried out at the old dock area itself. Apart this, as part of the plan, the existing open fish auction hall at the new dock area will be converted into a modern fish handling and auction hall. Where building an ice plant along with an ice crusher shed at the dock is also in the plan, a dormitory, rest rooms, restaurant and a radio communication tower are also part of the redevelopment project.
Currently, there are about 1,500 fishing vessels that use the 10-12 feet deep draught at the dock. Upon modernisation, however, a draught of 15 feet will be available as dredging is also part of the scope of work of this project.
Damodar Tandel, President, Akhil Maharashtra Machhir Kriti Samiti recalls that Sassoon Docks is quite close to his heart since his childhood. “My father, grandfather and myself used to go for fishing in small boat and used to auction of our catch at the Sassoon Docks. I started fish trading since 1971 so also other members of fishing community from Colaba and adjoining areas. From modest 300 trawlers in 1971, there are now 1,500 trawlers currently operating in Sassoon Docks and about 1,500 fisher folks are using the facility. Moreover, 150,000 persons from Colaba are dependent for their livelihood. It clocks a daily turnover Rs 2 crore of which fish catch worth Rs 1 crore is exported to various countries while the balance is auctioned for domestic market.” Tandel welcomes Gadkari’s modernization proposal.
“There are other ports in Mumbai which can be developed into tourist centre or marina. Sassoon Docks deserves immediate modernization for the benefit of fishing community in particular especially when they face huge challenge due to depleting fish population,” Tandel notes.
The Mumbai Port trust has already appointed Central Institute of Coastal Engineering for Fishery, Bangalore as the project management consultant to prepare a detailed technical report for this redevelopment plan. A timeline regarding the entire redevelopment plan was however not provided.
“Do not just look at the fishing activity for domestic trade purpose but also start to look at this business from the export point of view,” Gadkari urged addressing the Nakhwas (owners of the ships) and the Koli (fishermen) community present at the inauguration ceremony of modernisation and development work at Sassoon here. “There is a lot of potential in this (fishing) business if you look at it from the export perspective. This (exports of marine products) can bring in much higher financial stability to you and even the country will earn dollars,” said Gadkari.
Constructed by David Sassoon, a Baghdadi Jew and the leader of the Jewish community of the then Bombay, this dock is one of the few in the city open to the public.
“About 49 percent of the capital investment in the tourism industry is used to generate employment. So, a boost for this dock from the tourism perspective will increase employment for the youngsters which is the ultimate aim of the government,” Gadkari said.
The redevelopment plan also envisages a Marine Food Park, sea food restaurant and an art gallery which would, however, be set up at a later stage. This is expected to make the dock attractive from the tourism perspective.
Pradeep Nakhva, President, Karanja Machhimar Society hopes that the face lift will really transform Sassoon dock into a modern facility at the global level.