In late December, the government approved the Draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2018, which had been earlier circulated by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The CRZ consists of designated areas along the coast that are regulated by the government. The government introduced the new CRZ 2018 notification as a promise of a ‘better life’ for coastal communities that would add value to the country’s economy. Various recommendations to the draft from research think tanks and coastal community groups during the year were largely ignored and consultation appears to have been limited to select government bodies and departments.
Recent Background of CRZ Notification 2018 –
- In June 2014 the Government constituted a committee under the then secretary of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, Shailesh Nayak, to examine the CRZ notification 2011 in light of the issues specified by the various coastal states and union territories.
- MoEFCC claims that it received “representations from various coastal states, besides other stakeholders, for a comprehensive review of the provisions of the CRZ Notification, 2011, particularly related to the management and conservation of marine and coastal eco-systems, development in coastal areas, eco-tourism, livelihood option and sustainable development of coastal communities.”
- In January 2015, the Shailesh Nayak Committee submitted its report but the government did not make it public and instead, based on the report, it carried out several amendments in the CRZ 2011 notification. Though the Nayak panel report is yet to be made public, the government has now proposed the CRZ 2018 notification.
Details of the Draft CRZ Notification (2018)-
- CRZ regulations were first introduced in 1991 and subsequently revised in 2011. A coastal hazard line was established taking into account natural disasters including the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While the 2011 notification recognised that there were areas of high erosion and vulnerability along the coast, few attempts were made to develop this hazard line scientifically or transparently across the country to regulate development. One amendment, in July 2018, removed the hazard line from the main regulation without consulting the public. In the new 2018 notification, as well, all reference to a hazard line has been removed and is replaced with a fixed setback line.
- Some areas along the coast, for example, experience very high storm surges, but will not get the protection they deserve. Formerly (in the 2011 version), the CRZ extended up to a minimum of 500 m and up to the area of the ‘hazard line’ if it was found to be beyond 500 m. By removing the hazard line altogether, the new notification maintains a uniform CRZ of 500 m from the high tide line. Except for the most ecologically sensitive areas (CRZ-I) and water areas (CRZ-IV), for which any development clearance requires MoEFCC approval, State governments will be responsible for regulating urban and rural coastal areas (CRZ-II and III).
- The CRZ for land adjoining creeks and backwaters is reduced from 100 to 50 m. CRZ 2018 relaxes important restrictions and permits construction in urban CRZ zones and densely populated rural coastal areas. Rural areas have been bifurcated, with greater allowances, ironically, for more populated areas. The greatest number of relaxations has been accorded to hotels, resorts and the tourism sector.
- The cyclones Ockhi and Vardah are fresh in people’s memories and so is the experience of loss of life and property. These frequent weather-related coastal vulnerabilities are, however, omitted in the CRZ 2018, which moved the concept of vulnerability and the hazard line from being at the heart of the regulatory mechanism to an optional appendage in the law applicable for a vaguely worded section on ‘disaster management’.
- The document trims the list of restricted activities in the ecologically sensitive CRZ-I areas and erases baselines. These include original baselines of what constituted this coastal zone (where it begins and ends, based on high water marks), what makes for a violation and further, what action should be taken for violations thus far and in future. Meanwhile, shorelines are already eroding due to sand mining controlled by mafias and building of seawalls along the coast.
- Regulated limestone mining is proposed to be permitted, subject to strict environmental safeguards, in areas adequately above the height of High Tide Line (HTL), based on recommendations of reputed national institutes in the mining field.
Relation with International commitments –
At the recent international climate meeting at Katowice (COP24), when the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia refused to “accept” the special 1.5 degrees report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India and other developing countries rightly protested that these countries were placing the world at risk. That report called for the world to prepare for severe impacts from climate change if average global temperature was to rise above 1.5º Celsius. The effects from rising seas are already visible and will worsen as temperature rises. Countries need to prepare for an increase in the frequency and intensity of very severe storms and accompanying effects on their coasts. An earlier 2018 study published in Nature Climate Change deduced that, among all countries of the world, India would experience the worst social and economic impacts from climate change.
- Policy Lacuna & Mismanagement –
The regulation now moves into another era, while existing deadlines to identify violations and phase out sewage and waste disposal and make wholesome management plans lapse. The legal mechanisms and innovations that entered the CRZ lexicon in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and coastal vulnerabilities to climate change have been deleted from the CRZ 2018. In one fell swoop, about two decades of deliberation and action to secure the coasts for the nation’s citizens has been erased. With eyes wide open, the country is walking into disaster for its coast and the tens of millions who live on it.
- Destruction of water-bodies (Tourism) –
Big hotels, restaurants, houses, coastal highways and small and large port facilities can now be built closer to the shoreline. Increased coastal tourism translates into further destruction of lagoons, marshland and other coastal ecosystems and their services.
- Skewed document towards industries –
The proposed rules are against the poor and highly skewed in favour of industry. The draft has been put together through a closed door process without involving coastal communities on whom the changes will come to bear. Experts fear that with such extensive changes to coastal protection regulations, India’s coastline will be opened up for major infrastructural development projects and will never be the same again.
- Not inclusive & Participative –
The amendments have been proposed without any public consultation and only certain stakeholders have been consulted. They are clearly meant to favour private developers, the government, and the industry. They also align with proposed government schemes and will lead to the opening up of several ecologically sensitive areas for infrastructure and urban development. The draft makes no mention about Koliwadas, which are the fishing settlement areas in Mumbai and had special protection in the 2011 notification, being designated as CRZ-III areas. The 2018 draft is completely silent about them. There is no mention. If the draft is to go by, customary uses and livelihoods along the coast will be severely threatened to make Mumbai an open playground for developers without much of safeguards for the fisher community.
Why Indian Coasts are important –
- India has a vast coastline and the population living in the coastal areas is often at risk because of climate change which has caused an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. While replying to a query in Parliament, the Minister of State in MoEFCC Mahesh Sharma said that according to the Fifth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (published in 2014), the global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] metres in the period 1901 to 2010, and will continue to rise during the 21st Century.
- This may lead to adverse impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion. As per a study by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management on shoreline changes between 1975 and 2011, a shift in coastline towards coastal habitation due to sea erosion has been noticed in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to this study, around 80 villages have been affected where sea erosion of above 20 metres has been observed,” Sharma explained.
- Also, as per India’s Second National Communication submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the sea level is projected to rise by 3.5 to 34.6 inches between 1990 and 2100, which may result in saline coastal groundwater, endangering wetlands and inundating valuable land and coastal communities.
- According to the Indian government, the most vulnerable stretches along the western Indian coast are the Gulf of Khambhat and the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat, Mumbai, and parts of the Konkan coast and south Kerala.
- Sanjay Upadhyay, a senior environmental lawyer in the Supreme Court mentions that “the dilution of CRZ is now a regular phenomenon. Ease of doing business seems to be the guiding light in the environment ministry. Thus, it is not surprising that CRZ guidelines, yet again, are being relaxed. But one thing is clear that after 27 years of a subordinate legislation like CRZ needs to mature into an Act. The 7,500-km coastline would otherwise be at a huge risk if this trend is allowed to continue.”
The government has come up with various projects for the betterment of the people of this country like the Sagarmala Project, Housing for all project etc; but in no case can these be the grounds to dilute the CRZ norms and allow the coastal fauna and livelihood to be affected by huge developmental constructions and liberal licensing process. The government, while finalising the rules should remember one statement made by Sundar Lal Bahuguna (Chipko Movement) that “Ecology is Economy.”