Activists flay proposed coastal zone notification
Environmental activists and fisherfolk organisations fear that the already skewed compromise between urban planning and coastal protection would be distorted even further if the recent proposed Marine Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification were allowed to sail through.
The National Coastal Protection Campaign (NCPC), an umbrella network of NGOs, fish-worker organisations and environmental activists, has, while condemning the “dilution” of the Coastal Regulation Zone 2011 under the proposed notification, flayed the move as one which “will not enhance coastal governance, but rather open up India’s coastline to further commercialisation”.
Probir Banerjee, convenor, NCPC, while rejecting the proposed notification of April 17, pointed out that while the CRZ itself remains to be implemented and enforced as per the letter of the law, the new notification further dilutes the CRZ 2011.
Mr. Banerjee, who also represents the NGO PondyCAN, which as a member of NCPC, helped bring out the Challenged Coast of India report, expressed concern that easing the current regime would exacerbate existing problems of coastal governance and leave fisher communities who share collective claims to common spaces such as beach space, further marginalised.
“In a struggle between communities and short-term commercial interests, the existing power balance alone has meant that communities are often displaced or are left with heavily altered/restricted access to precious livelihood spaces. The proposed changes to the CRZ 2011 seem set to further marginalise and exclude these communities. A provision that allows communities to build houses is meaningless when all available space can be legally claimed by other, more-powerful interests,” he said.
Given that the NCPC engaged extensively with the review process of the Coastal Management Zone notification, and its members were instrumental in shaping some of the new provisions in the CRZ 2011, “we are shocked to see that the rules governing use of coastal land are proposed to be further eased”, Mr. Banerjee said.
It is being pointed out that members of the NCPC had worked in their individual capacities since the late 1990s to ensure that proper regulatory frameworks for coastal development were introduced and then implemented such that the diversity and integrity along India’s coasts would be sustained over time.
According to the NCPC, the following changes that have been proposed under the MCRZ Notification, will significantly weaken and dilute the spirit of the CRZ 2011: lifting the ban on land reclamation for commercial and entertainment purposes; allowing tourism in classified ecologically sensitive areas; allowing the development of new coastal roads and allowing land reclamation. These changes will endanger the integrity of coastal ecosystems and reduce the resilience of coastal ecosystems to cushion disastrous effects of natural calamities and climate change impacts. Ppening up classified ecologically sensitive areas will negatively impact the fragile ecology of these areas.
Additionally, these proposed changes also would regularise a host of existing violations, without penalising offenders. “These changes come at a time when seven years after being instituted, the CRZ 2011 remains to be effectively implemented and gross violations are rampant across India’s coastline,” Mr. Banerjee said.
The NCPC pointed out that in Maharashtra, countless CRZ violations were documented in Mumbai and other coastal areas. Attempts had been made to reclaim hundreds of acres of mangroves in Malad and Dahisar in Mumbai by builders where despite the reclamation having been stopped by the High Court and the Supreme Court, no action had been taken against the builders and other powerful interests.
In Puducherry, unauthorised coastal protection structures and innumerable unauthorised residential and commercial establishments had been constructed at various locations, the NCPC said. Sand mining was rampant at various locations on the sea shore and a large amount of untreated sewage (domestic, medical, industrial) which also contains large amounts of solid waste was being dumped into the estuaries and the sea, particularly, from four drains: the Grand Canal, Karavadikuppam drain, Upaar drain and Murungapakkam Drain.
The NCPC also cited as another examples of rampant CRZ violations in East Medinipur district, West Bengal where the tourism-hospitality industries were the biggest offenders as they overran CRZ II areas.
“While these are only a few examples that illustrate the lacunae in the implementation and enforcement of the CRZ 2011, it is very much the narrative all along India’s coasts,” Mr. Banerjee said. Introducing these changes to the CRZ 2011 will not enhance coastal governance, but rather open up India’s coastline to further commercialisation, he added.
The NCPC has urged the Ministry to set aside the proposed MCRZ notification and instead conduct several public consultations across all maritime states to strengthen, improve and effectively implement the provisions of the CRZ 2011.
“We hope that such an important issue is the result of a democratic and consultative process rather than a top down approach with no thought on the effect of this. Being short sighted on such matters will end up costing our country much more and end up harming rather than being beneficial to its people. We hope good sense prevails,” said Sunaina Mandeen of PondyCan.