Conserving India's coastal zones
If regulations listed in the CRZ Notification are implemented properly, coastal zones and fragile ecosystems can be safeguarded against encroachments
The coastal zone is a transition area between marine and territorial zones. It includes shore ecosystems, wetland ecosystems, mangrove ecosystems, mudflat ecosystems, seagrass ecosystems, salt marsh ecosystems and seaweed ecosystems.
It is assessed that about 4,800 billion tonnes domestic waste and 65 million tonnes of solid waste are dumped annually in the sea. Due to a continuous onslaught on the coastal areas, the extent of mangroves, coral reefs and fish breeding gets diminished adversely impacting the livelihood of 200 million people who live along the 7,517 kilometre-long coastline of our country.
Hence, it was decided to introduce a plan of action with an aim towards sustained utilisation of the coastal zone. Based on that, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification was issued in 1991 under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, by the Ministry of Environment and Forest to regulate activities in coastal areas of India.
CRZ consists of coastal land up to 500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL) and a stage of 100 metres along the banks of creeks, estuaries, backwater and rivers where tidal fluctuations occur.
The coastal areas have been classified into four categories – CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV – in the 1991 notification, which aimed at restricting establishment of industries in these areas.
The ecologically sensitive areas that lie between high and low tide line, and are very much essential for maintaining the ecosystems, are covered under CRZ-I. Natural gas exploration and salt extraction are permitted in this zone.
The areas up to the shoreline of the coast are notified under CRZ-II. Unauthorised structures are not allowed here. Rural and urban areas which fall outside CRZ-I and CRZ-II are covered under CRZ-III. Only agriculture-related activities and public facilities are permitted in this zone. Aquatic areas up to territorial limits are notified under CRZ-IV. Though originally this zone was notified for Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands, fishing and allied activities were subsequently allowed here after due modification. It's permitted to let off solid waste in this area.
The 1991 notification was amended about 25 times – considering the requests made by state governments, central ministries and NGOs, besides many orders were issued by MoEFCC clarifying certain issues.
Finally, consolidating above modifications, a new notification was issued in 2011 based on the recommendations made by the committee chaired by Dr M S Swaminathan on coastal regulation.
The 2011 CRZ Notification aimed at ensuring livelihood security of the fishing communities as well as other local communities who inhabit the coastal areas, conserving and protecting coastal areas and promoting development in a sustainable manner based on scientific principles.
CRZ area was classified as CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive areas), CRZ-II (built-up areas), CRZ-III (rural areas) and CRZ-IV (water areas). The only change made was the inclusion of CRZ-IV, which includes water areas up to the territorial waters and the tidally influenced water bodies.
A separate draft Island Protection Zone Notification was issued for the protection of the islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep.
Presently, the MoEFCC has issued the Draft Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2018, based on representations received from different coastal states, Union Territories and other stakeholders in supersession of the CRZ notification 2011.
It is clearly mentioned in the Draft that the present notification is issued with a view to conserve and protect the unique environment of coastal stretches and marine areas, besides livelihood security to communities and to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles taking into account the dangers of natural hazards and sea level rise due to global warming.
According to the new notification, the projects which are located in CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive areas) and CRZ-IV (areas covered between LTL and 12 nautical miles seaward) will require necessary clearance from the Union government.
The powers for clearances with respect to CRZ-II (areas that have been developed up to or close to the shoreline) and CRZ-III (areas that are relatively undisturbed) have been delegated to the state governments. The construction norms on floor space index (FSI) have been relaxed now. The new notification relaxed the No Development Zone (NDZ) criteria as well.
The Draft notification permits temporary tourism facilities such as shacks, toilet blocks, changing rooms, drinking water facilities, etc., on beaches within 10 metres of the waterline, making the state and even the town planning authorities empowered to grant permission.
Temporary tourism facilities are now permitted in NDZ of the CRZ-III areas. Again, the CRZ-I is further classified into CRZ-I A consisting of the ecologically sensitive areas and CRZ-I B covering the area between Low Tide Line (LTL) and HTL.
After classifying ecologically sensitive areas under CRZ-I A, activities such as mangrove walks, tree huts, nature trails, etc., were exempted in the name of ecotourism.
Rural areas with a population density of 2,161/square kilometre, which fall under CRZ-III A shall now have NDZ of 50 metres from the HTL, against 200 metres stipulated in the 2011 notification.
In the mangrove buffer, laying of pipelines, transmission lines, construction of roads on stilts, etc., that are required for public utilities is permitted.
When such activities are permitted in the fragile ecosystems, it is likely to disturb marine life further leading to depletion and destruction of the ecosystems in due course of time.
Developing beach tourism may further lead to conflict with the fisherfolk who depend on the beach for their livelihoods. Already such conflict has started at the famous Marina Beach in Chennai's Nochikuppam – a historical fishing village.
The existing service road there was converted into a high-speed concrete road, where the fishermen would earlier sell fish and repair their fishing nets. Setting up treatment facilities to address pollution is now permissible in CRZ-I B areas. Defence and strategic projects have been exempted.
Cyclone Ockhi that wreaked havoc in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, the erratic monsoon that brought catastrophe to Kerala, cyclone Gaja that devastated about 12 districts in Tamil Nadu and the failure of monsoon in the state all show how vulnerable India is to sea-level rise, coastal flooding and Climate Change.
If the regulations listed in the CRZ Notification are implemented properly, the coastal zones can be safeguarded against encroachments. However, since it is only a notification without any punitive measures, it could not be enforced strictly.
Even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India pointed out that the frequent amendments, made to the notification, have paved way for commercial and industrial expansion in coastal areas, while natural disasters have become more frequent causing severe loss to human lives and property.
The CRZ Notification 2011 entailed a Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP), to be prepared by the coastal states within a year. However, till 2018, many states had not prepared any plan; while few plans submitted lacked any proposal for housing facilities for fisherfolk.
It is high time that the present notification is revoked for the sake of protecting the fragile coastal ecosystems. Promulgation and enactment of a new Act for the protection of the coastal zones – with a clear classification of various zones, after due consultations with the fishing communities, stakeholders, scientists and the department concerned – is the need of the hour.
(The author is President, the Society for Conservation of Nature, Trichy, Tamil Nadu and consultant with the Society for Social Forest Research & Development, Tamil Nadu. The views expressed are strictly personal)