An environmental policy that advocates sustainability as an important means of managing human activity was introduced to India much later after its independence. With the young independent country focusing on economic development as a means to provide for livelihood, food, water and basic sustenance for its populace, there came a need to focus on the impact of this development on the environment. It is only after the Stockholm Conference in 1972 which resulted in the Declaration on Human Environment, that there was an official pursuit of obligation towards starting the environmental law in India.
Ever since the legislation for environment protection was enacted and the Constitution was amended in 1976 providing for an obligation on the state towards protection and improvement of environment and providing safeguards for forests and wildlife in the country, there has always been a conflict between the environmental regulations and the strive towards development. With the business interests in the “development of the nation” growing, the very existence of the forests, water and wildlife has been threatened. The latest of these threats is from approval granted by the Union Cabinet to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2018 which seeks to replace the existing CRZ Notification of 2011.
The CRZ Notification, 2011 was issued with a view to ensure livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities living in the coastal areas to conserve and protect coastal stretches, its unique environment and its marine area and to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles, taking into account the dangers of natural hazards in the coastal areas and sea level rise due to global warming.
India’s coastline runs over 7,500 kilometres. The CRZ Notification includes water area up to 12 nautical miles in the sea and water area of a tidal body such as creek, river, estuaries etc. It notifies no-development zones and prohibits construction activities detriment to the marine environment. It restricts the setting up and expansion of any industry, operations or processes and manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances. Furthermore, activities permissible under the CRZ Notification in the CRZ area are subject to environmental / CRZ clearance. However, there have been various amendments to this notification over years, with an obvious objective to serve the political interests or the interests of the developers and builders.
In April 2018, the draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), 2018, was released by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). In spite of receiving large scale representations by the citizens against the proposed draft of 2018, the cabinet seems to have approved the said notification in complete disregard to the voices of the people.
- No Development Zone Reduced for densely populated areas- There has been the bifurcation of the coastal zones along rural areas based on population density. For CRZ-III (Rural) areas, two separate categories have now been stipulated as below:
(a) CRZ-III A – These are densely populated rural areas with a population density of 2161 per square kilometre as per 2011 Census. Such areas shall have a No Development Zone (NDZ) of 50 meters from the HTL as against 200 meters from the High Tide Line stipulated in the CRZ Notification, 2011. The reduction is made on the ground that densely populated areas have similar characteristics as urban areas.
(b) CRZ-III B – Rural areas with the population density of below 2161 per square kilometre as per 2011 Census. Such areas shall continue to have an NDZ of 200 meters from the HTL.
- Tourism infrastructure permitted in coastal areas- Temporary tourism facilities such as shacks, toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities etc. have now been permitted in Beaches. Such temporary tourism facilities are also now permissible in the “No Development Zone” (NDZ) of the CRZ-III areas as per the Notification. However, a minimum distance of 10 m from HTL should be maintained for setting up of such facilities.
- As per CRZ, 2011 Notification, for CRZ-II (Urban) areas, Floor Space Index (FSI) or the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) had been frozen as per 1991 Development Control Regulation (DCR) levels. In the CRZ, 2018 Notification, it has been decided to de-freeze the same and permits FSI for construction projects, as prevailing on the date of the new Notification. This will enable redevelopment of these areas to meet the emerging needs.
- Furthermore, the procedure for CRZ clearances has been streamlined. Only such projects/activities, which are located in the CRZ-I (Ecologically Sensitive Areas) and CRZ IV (area covered between Low Tide Line and 12 Nautical Miles seaward) shall be dealt with for CRZ clearance by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The powers for clearances with respect to CRZ-II and III have been delegated at the State level with necessary guidance.
- For islands close to the mainland coast and for all Backwater Islands in the mainland, in wake of space limitations and unique geography of such regions, bringing uniformity in the treatment of such regions, NDZ of 20 m has been stipulated.
- The Notification also contains provisions for defence and strategic projects. The draft also allows for construction of roads and roads on stilts, “by way of reclamation in CRZ-1 areas”, only in exceptional cases for “defence, strategic purposes and public utilities,” to be recommended by the CZMA and approved by the Ministry. However, it does not explicitly state what strategic projects are.
The press release by the Government stated that “The changes brought about in the CRZ Notification will further add to creating additional opportunities for affordable housing. The new notification will boost tourism in terms of more activities, more infrastructure and more opportunities and will certainly go a long way in creating employment opportunities in various aspects of tourism.” It is thus evident that these changes to the CRZ notification are introduced majorly with a view to promoting development with a complete disregard to the possible detriment to the fragile coastal ecology and ignoring the fact that it will displace the local communities and affect the biodiversity.
What is pertinent to note is that by reducing the No Development Zone in some areas to mere 50m from the high tide line, coastal areas have been thrown open to commercial interests like tourism, industrialisation and real estate. The notification states that, on the landward side of such roads in the NDZ, Resorts/hotels and associated tourism facilities shall be permitted. Such permissions for reclamation of land for ecotourism and infrastructure projects makes the fragile ecosystem vulnerable to rapid destruction.
It is known that excessive beach lighting is harmful and distressing to some marine species, like the migrating turtles. The amendment may thus help boost the employment and grow local business, but without strong environmental safeguards, it would seriously damage the fragile ecology. None of these issues are taken into consideration by the state while pushing for promoting the commercial interests.
Furthermore, the de-freezing of the floor space index (FSI), reconstruction of buildings and permit for higher FSI for construction along the coastline will allow for reconstruction of the old buildings along the coastline and would increase the land prices. Such a provision further encourages densification of the population on the coast and also the investment on the coast.
The approved 2018 notification is thus evidently made with an intention to relax norms to appease the development and tourism lobby. The nationwide protests by the fishermen communities speak volumes of the harm that this notification would cause to their livelihood, besides the harm to the ecology.
The challenges related to the conservation of sensitive ecology, the rights of fishing communities and other coastal communities, tourism development, planning and policy remain under constant flux. However, a sustainable solution to all these issues is impossible to be arrived at if the state continues to blatantly ignore the interests of local communities and disregard their voices.