Last week, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) directed the states and Union Territories (UTs) to identify violations of the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 1991 (CRZ) and take action within four months. It also declared that the National Coastal Zone Management Authority would review the action taken by the state and UT Coastal Zone Management authorities and apprise it periodically. This ruling came in the backdrop of the MOEF recommending the demolition of the controversial Adarsh society in Mumbai, for violating the CRZ.
India’s coastline, which runs for 7,500kms, is inhabited by approximately 25% of our population. As a result, the MOEF had issued the CRZ Notification on 19.2.1991 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, with the aim to provide comprehensive measures for the protection and conservation of our coastal environment. However, over the last two decades many issues emerged while implementing the 1991 Notification:
1) There was no clear procedure for obtaining CRZ clearance and no time lines stipulated.
2) It also did not provide a post clearance monitoring mechanism or a clear cut enforcement mechanism to check violations.
3) It caused hardships to the persons/communities living in certain ecologically sensitive coastal stretches.
Thus, after 25 amendments to it, the CRZ Notification, 2011 was formally notified on the 7th January. This replaced the CRZ Notification, 1991. In addition, for the very first time an Island Protection Zone Notification, 2011 was published, covering Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. Both these new Notifications reconcile three objectives:
1) Protection of livelihoods of traditional fisherfolk communities;
2) Preservation of coastal ecology; and
3) Promotion of economic activity that have necessarily to be located in coastal regions.
The CRZ Notification has five classifications - CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive areas), CRZ-II (built up municipal areas), CRZ-III (rural areas), CRZ-IV (from the Low Tide Line to twelve nautical miles) and Areas requiring special consideration. The main features of the CRZ, 2011 are as follows -->
1) It has special provisions for Goa, Kerala, Greater Mumbai and critically vulnerable coastal areas (CVCAs) like Sunderban Mangrove Area, Chilka and Bhitarkanika (Orissa), Gulf of Khambat and Gulf of Kutchh (Gujarat), Gulf of Mannar (Tamil Nadu) etc.
2) Clear procedures for obtaining CRZ approval with time-lines have been stipulated along with post-clearance monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
3) Water area upto 12 nautical miles in the sea and the entire water area of a tidal water body such as creek, river, estuary, etc would now be included in the CRZ areas, without imposing any restrictions of fishing activities.
4) Measures have been put in place to combat pollution in coastal areas/coastal waters.
5) The “no development zone” is being reduced from 200 metres from the high-tide line to 100 metres only to meet increased demands of housing of fishing and other traditional coastal communities.
The notification, relying on the recommendations made by the committee chaired by Dr. M S Swaminathan has not defined "other traditional coastal communities". Moreover, a serious quarrel is that in Mumbai, the new notification does not take into account the projected sea level rise due to global warming, while allowing development so close to the coast, thus increasing its density.
Also, while ports have been brought under the CRZ regime, the cumulative impacts of several ports on the coast has not been studied. This was one of the demands of the National Fisherworkers' Forum (NFF), along with cumulative impact studies of thermal and other power plants on the coast.
There are several other features of the bill which can be found at http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/CRZ-Notification-2011.pdf
While the notification has been attacked for providing leeway to builders, there are attempts to make them accountable. It provides that the Right to Information Act is applicable to redeveloping slums and dilapidated structures in Greater Mumbai. Central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who was consulted in this process, said that permission will be given to builders to redevelop slums, provided they agree to be governed by the RTI Act and also agree to transparency and certain suo motu disclosures.
The CRZ Notification, 2011 is another feather in the cap of the MOEF which is conscious of the need to bring about modifications in laws to ensure a better balance between economic growth and environmental conservation. Hopefully, in the next few months with the active participation of state governments and civil society, India will rise up by few notches in its environment meter.
Indira Mukherjee feels that CRZ, 2011 is a positive development in India's environmental history. She would be happy to answer your "environmental" queries at firstname.lastname@example.org