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A Disastrous Draft For Regulating Coasts

On 18th April 2018, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) put out for public comments a new Draft of the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2018 (‘ 2018 Draft’) which in its current form can lead to disastrous and drastic transformations of coastal India. The Draft proposes to replace the existing 2011 Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (‘2011 CRZ Notification’) is no improvement of the former. Rather it will alter whatever little is left of diverse coastal landscapes.  The beaches, backwaters and lagoons as we know them now could disappear as the provisions in the Draft fuels the clamour for ports, rapid mass transportation, tourism and other commercial activities without safeguards.

This article elaborates how the Draft renders coastal regulation devoid of any consideration for natural hazards, exposing coasts and coastal people to climate vulnerabilities. It also discusses how traditional livelihoods are disregarded by the 2018 Draft leading to further marginalisation of fishing communities; and how the proposed relaxations in the regulatory provisions can threaten the sustainability of coastal ecosystems.

Missing hazard line – Putting life and property at risk

One of the stark omissions in the new Draft is the removal of the ‘hazard line’ from the ambit of the Coastal Regulation Zone. The hazard line was introduced in the 2011 CRZ Notification against the backdrop of the devastating 2004 tsunami and as a precautionary step to prevent the degradation of coastal ecosystem. This is reflected in the preamble of the 2011 CRZ Notification which aims to consider the dangers of natural hazards and sea level rise due to global warming while regulating coastal spaces. To give effect to these commitments, the 2011 Notification mandates the mapping of the hazard line on the landward side of the coasts by taking into account tides, waves, sea level rise and shoreline changes. The 2011 Notification extended the coastal regulation zone upto the hazard line on the landward side and subjected this zone to various regulations including explicit prohibition of fourteen activities such as setting up of new industries, mining of sand and rocks, reclamation of land for commercial purposes such as shopping or housing complexes etc.The restriction was imposed in light of growing studies that illuminated the role of natural coastal ecosystems like coral reefs, sandy beaches, sand dunes and mangroves in safeguarding the land and people from natural disasters. Many studies conducted after the 2004 tsunami showed that many of these natural ecosystems that protected people and aided in recovery and resilience (such as sand dunes, seagrass beds) were threatened by multiple developmental activities such as pollution and mining.

Unfortunately, the 2018 Draft proposes to abandon this critical hazard line-based coastal regulation and retains only regulation based on the fixed setback lines. The suggested set back lines in the 2018 Draft is till 500m from High Tide Line (HTL) on the seafront/beach and 50 m from HTL on banks of the river and other tidally influenced water bodies.This means wherever the hazard line could have extended beyond the 500mts or the 50 mts setback limits, there will not be any additional mandate to regulate developmental activities even if space is vulnerable to tsunamis, storm surges, cyclones, floods and other natural hazards.

This exclusion of hazard line based regulation is proposed despite studies by MoEFCC’s own institute, National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management reporting vulnerability of about 5700 km of Indian coastline (out of a total 7516 km) to cyclones and tsunamis.  One only has to recall the loss of lives and damages to property due to cyclones such as Ockhi (affecting mainly the coasts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in 2017) and Phailin (affecting the coast of Orissa in 2013) to realise the importance of having regulation that responds to the vulnerability of coasts to hazards. Given, India has witnessed about 8 violent cyclones since 2000, it will be imprudent to exclude the hazard line in coastal regulation and planning.  The function of the hazard line in the Draft is limited to assisting in disaster management.

Excluding fishing communities and their livelihood security

It is not just the exclusion of the hazard line in the 2018 Draft which threatens to defeat the purpose of the 2011 CRZ Notification.  The new 2018 Draft is ambiguous about its commitment towards livelihood security of fishing and other local communities in the coastal areas.   The provision of livelihood security which is enlisted first in the three objectives of the 2011 CRZ Notification now appears as an auxiliary concern in the 2018 Draft. It is clubbed alongside the objective of conservation and protection of unique environment of coastal stretches.  This should not be very surprising when one looks at the process of preparation of this 2018 Draft.

The Draft was based on the recommendation of the Shailesh Nayak Committee (Review Committee) whose mandate was to enquire into the “issues” raised by the States of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala with respect to the 2011 Notification. The Committee consulted only the governments of coastal states and the governmental departments while undertaking the review.  The fishing communities, one of the major stakeholders of the coastal spaces with over 4 million active fishers and millions more dependent on coastal areas, were neither involved nor consulted in the entire process.

The side-lining of the fishing communities in the drafting process is not because of lack of livelihood issues in coastal areas or their inability to articulate their concerns.  On the contrary, since the 1980s, many associations of fishing communities such as the National Fishworkers’ Forum were active in ushering in the first Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 1991 and have been raising several demands such as putting in place regulations for industries in the coasts, provision of preferential access to fisheries in common coastal spaces, safeguarding coastal commons and representation at the all levels of coastal decision- making institutions.  Fishworkers were at the forefront of agitations against the dilution of the protective features of the 1991 CRZ Notification and were actively engaged with the then Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh through multiple consultations across the coasts that led to the introduction of the CRZ 2011 Notification. The 2018 Draft CRZ does not substantially reflect the centrality of the fisheries nor addresses any of concerns of the fishing communities.  Instead, it dilutes the protective clauses in the 2011 CRZ Notification by intensifying industrial and commercial interests in the coastal regions (discussed below). Without securing the rights of the fishing community, any further attempts to industrialise or commercialize coasts will exacerbate stress in already contested coasts; making the fishing communities vulnerable to violent conflicts (like the recent Thoothukudi massacre), displacement from their lands, and depletion and degradation of their resources.

Sustainability and conservation at stake

The intensification of industries and commercial activities is envisioned in the Draft CRZ 2018 as it weakens the regulations and offers generous concessions to developmental, commercial and tourism activities. This evident as the 2018 Draft delists many activities from prohibited category and expands the list of permissible activities.  For instance, the prohibition on altering hills, a protective clause introduced to arrest the ecological consequences of flattening hills near the coastal regions do not explicitly feature in the 2018 Draft.  In addition, it allows limestone mining, one of the many new additions, in the CRZ-III areas (rural and other lesser developed areas). These omissions and new additions have far-reaching consequences on the stability of coastal ecosystems.

Adding to this disturbing concern is the fact that the green signal to development is not just proposed in developed areas (CRZ II) or lesser developed areas (CRZ III) but even in sensitive zones such as the CRZ I. The environmentally important inter-tidal zones (CRZ I B) will now permit 15 kinds of activities including reclamation of land for ‘public utilities’ and construction of infrastructure for ‘public utilities’, ‘defence and strategic projects’.Without a definition or elaboration of terms like ‘public utilities’or ‘eco-tourism’, these provisions open the floodgates to several activities in CRZ I which may cause irreversible damage to these sensitive ecosystems.  The Draft notification has not spared even the ecologically sensitive areas (the CRZ IA) such as mangroves, coral reefs, sand dunes as facilities for eco-tourism and roads for public utilities can be built in this zone.  Oddly, these provisions seem to be in complete contradiction to the views of the MoEFCC’s CRZ Review Committee’s Chairperson Dr.Shailesh Nayak who in an interview to Meenakshi Kapoor of CPR-Namati, stated that “rationalised changes in CRZ II and III are fine if the CRZ-I is protected”.  The suggested Draft neither protects the CRZ-I nor are the changes CRZ-II and III “rationalised” since they offer no reasonable logic to justify the outright dilution of the regulatory provisions.

The objective of the 2018 Draft relating to conservation is a telling sign of the new ‘rationalised’ approach towards protection of coastal spaces.  It states that the Notification aims to conserve and protect the unique environment of coastal stretches and marine areas.  Contrasted against the language of the 2011 Notification which aims at ‘conserving and protecting coastal stretches, its unique environment and marine area, one can be sure that the 2018 Draft intends to ostensibly protect only patches of coastal and marine spaces while opening up the rest of the coastal stretches to intense industrialisation, development and tourism activities.

A concerted reading of the various proposed provisions of the 2018 Draft compels us to conclude that it can neither conserve nor effectively regulate the coastal areas, instead it is envisioned to destabilise the coasts by inviting both human-made and natural hazards.  In other words, the Draft is an invitation to many disasters.

Alphonsa Jojan is a Senior Research Assistant of Dakshin Foundation. Views expressed here are personal.

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