India changes coastal rules, bonanza for the industry

The North Chennai Thermal Power Station in the distance and the banks of the river Kosasthalaiyar, in Puzhuthivakkam, Tamil Nadu. The fishing community here rely on the river for their livelihood. We were told by the local fishermen that due to the ash sludge pouring into the river from the thermal stations, the population of fish has reduced significantly. The thermal plant also dumps hot water from the boilers into the river mouth, which is drastically affecting the marine life.

  • A few months ahead of elections, the Indian government has overhauled the rules governing developmental activities along India’s coastline, opening it up for sectors like real estate, ports and tourism.
  • The revision comes within seven years of the last update of the coastal rules. Industry experts hailed the move as they believe it will lead to huge economic activity and thus job creation.
  • Environmentalists are concerned about the potential environmental damage to the coasts and fishing communities feel going ahead with the rules will destroy their livelihood.

Eyeing massive economic growth and employment generation, the Indian government has overhauled the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules which govern developmental activities along the ecologically sensitive 7,500-km-long Indian coastline. Doing so, it is stirring a hornet’s nest as it lays open a chunk of the coast to infrastructural activity, threatening environment and interest of fishermen.

The fishermen community, whose livelihood depends on work along the coast, is already planning to protest against the move as it alleges that the move to relax the coastal norms ignores the community’s interests and is a bonanza for industry and in line with government’s Sagarmala Project.

The proposal to update the CRZ notification 2011 was on the cards from the early days of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government that came to power in May 2014. In June 2014, the government had constituted a committee under the then secretary of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, Shailesh Nayak, to examine the CRZ notification 2011 in light of the issues specified by the various coastal states and union territories.

Following that, a draft of the CRZ notification 2018 was unveiled in April which was criticised by environmentalists alleging that it is against the principles of protecting the environment and will open up the ecologically sensitive coastline for developmental projects.

Now, a few months before the scheduled elections to parliament, the union cabinet led by the PM on December 28 2018, approved the CRZ notification 2018. It stated that the decision has been taken in the backdrop of “a series of representations” received by the environment ministry from various coastal states, besides other stakeholders, seeking a comprehensive review of the provisions of the CRZ notification 2011 particularly related to the management and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems, development in coastal areas and eco-tourism.

The government emphasised that the CRZ notification 2018 will lead to enhanced activities in the coastal regions thereby promoting economic growth while respecting the conservation principles of coastal regions, will result in significant employment generation, add value to Indian economy and rejuvenate the coastal areas while reducing their vulnerabilities.

Industry experts expressed similar views as well.

“It will lead to unlocking of a large amount of high-value land parcels which can be used for many purposes like warehouses, tourism, logistics parks and multi-modal transport. The relaxation in the CRZ notification opens up a huge amount of tourism opportunities. From the industry’s perspective, we welcome this move,” Jaijit Bhattacharya, a former partner at KPMG and president of the Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research, told Mongabay-India. “We recognise the sensitivity from civil society but that is more to do with proper implementation and monitoring of the development work on the freed up CRZ land parcels.”

India has a huge coastline and it is often pointed out that it is under threat due to rising sea levels. Photo by Sudhanshu Malhotra/Greenpeace.

However, environmentalists and fishermen groups state that the 2018 notification is aimed at massive real estate activities rather than protecting the environment.

The National Fishworkers Forum has already rejected the 2018 notification stating that the government is selling off the coast to corporate interests and eliminating small scale fishing communities who are dependent on the coast.

“The government of India, by giving the cabinet approval to the CRZ notification 2018, has turned a deaf ear to the protests and objections raised by the thousands of fishing communities, concerned organisations and individuals from all around the coast and the country. The sole purpose of the Government of India in drafting and approving the CRZ 2018 Notification has been to pave the way to further sell off our coastal land and water to corporate and business houses by removing restrictions on constructions and activities detrimental to coastal natural resources,” said a statement from the National Fishworkers Forum.

The forum has already called for nationwide protests for a total withdrawal of the CRZ notification 2018 and is scheduled to organise a meeting at the end of this month to decide the future course of action, including making it an election issue.

Olencio Simoes of the Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott, a group of traditional fishermen in Goa, said that the 1991 and 2011 CRZ notifications had come with the principles of protecting the coastline, eco-sensitive areas, mangroves but the latest notification opens up the area for rampant concretisation. “This will only benefit industries and government’s Sagarmala programme. It is entirely anti-environment, anti-people and anti-traditional communities. It nullifies the importance of coastal ecology,” Simoes told Mongabay-India.

The central government’s Sagarmala programme has identified over 400 projects related to port modernisation, new port development, port connectivity enhancement and port-linked industrialisation over the 2015 -2035 period at an estimated cost of Rs. eight trillion.

Kanchi Kohli, legal research director at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environmental Justice Programme, said that the new notification is a “call for commercialising the entire coastline which will be dotted with linear projects on the ground, landscaped elevated towers and reclaimed for human consumption”.

“This notification is not for farming, fishing, salt and other traditional livelihoods on the coast. It is creating space for ports, wind farms, transmission lines, pipelines, real estate and tourism in the most fragile areas important both for ecological and livelihood security. Even as the CRZ calls for massive land use change on the coastline, there is no sound of how the impacts of this will be dealt with. Sea erosion, livelihood displacement are realities that this notification will have to reckon with, with actually no plan on how to do deal with them,” Kohli emphasised.

Where is the CRZ 2018 notification heading?

The latest version of the CRZ notification, which was made public on January 18, comes out with a series of changes compared to the CRZ notification 2011.  

Among them, the most notable is that the CRZ shall apply to the “land area between high tide line to 50 meters or width of the creek, whichever is less on the landward side along the tidal influenced water bodies that are connected to the sea …” compared to the existing 100 meters as in the 2011 notification.

The 2018 notification divides the CRZ into seven categories – CRZ-I A, CRZ-I B, CRZ-II, CRZ-III A, CRZ-III B, CRZ-IVA and CRZ-IV B compared to only four classifications (CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV) in the 2011 version.

Of the seven classifications, CRZ-I areas are “environmentally most critical” and shall include the ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) like mangroves, corals and coral reefs, sand dunes, biologically active mudflats, national parks, marine parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, wildlife habitats, biosphere reserves, salt marshes, turtle nesting grounds, horseshoe crabs’ habitats, seagrass beds, nesting grounds of birds, areas or structures of archaeological importance and heritage sites.

On the other hand, CRZ-II shall include the “developed land areas up to or close to the shoreline, within the existing municipal limits or in other existing legally designated urban areas, which are substantially built-up with a ratio of built-up plots to that of total plots being more than 50 percent”.  

“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 permit the 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,” said the government in a statement.

The 2018 notification said that land areas that are relatively undisturbed (like rural areas) and those which do not fall under CRZ-II shall constitute CRZ-III, which is further divided into CRZ-III A and CRZ-III B. In CRZ-III A, the notification said that “area up to 50 meters from the HTL on the landward side shall be earmarked as the no development zone (NDZ)” and in CRZ-III B the area up to 200 meters will be earmarked as NDZ. But it specified that the NDZ shall not be applicable in the areas falling within “notified port limits”.

The 2018 CRZ notification paves the way for erecting monuments in the sea. Photo by Udit Kapoor/Wikimedia Commons.

The government believes this will afford “greater opportunity for development” to “densely populated rural areas”. The notification also allows development of airports in wastelands and non-arable lands in CRZ-III areas with adequate environmental safeguards.

The latest notification is also silent on special provisions that the 2011 notification had for Koliwadas, which are the fishing settlement areas in Mumbai, and for ecologically sensitive areas of Goa and Kerala.

Kiran Koli of the Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti (MMKS) alleged that the 2018 notification is only for serving interests of the industry.

“The changes that have been brought by the government are only for its Sagarmala project and is against the interests of the fishing community of the entire country. They will simply get displaced. The golden belt along the coastline on which fishermen depend for 90 percent of their fishing needs will be destroyed. It is only going to benefit big companies,” said Koli who informed that they will soon decide their future course of action in a meeting later this month and it can even become an election issue.

However, Jaijit Bhattacharya disagrees as he stated that businesses are not against the environment as any harm to coasts will also threaten their investments.

“The 2018 notification will lead to unlocking a large amount of economic value but now if it is at the cost of environment then even the industry is not amenable to that. We would like to have economic development but while protecting the coastline because if it actually damages the coastline then our investments will also get impacted. We would like to have returns in a responsible and sustainable manner,” said Bhattacharya.

He said he doesn’t think that the notification will harm the environment. “I think that this aspect is being blown up out of proportion. The changes are quite benign. The excuse for not using the land can’t be that govt will not be able to monitor and implement the development work properly. We desperately need jobs and tourism and logistics are among the largest creator of jobs,” he added.

Special provision for monuments

The latest notification also provides for “construction of memorials or monuments and allied facilities in exceptional cases” in CRZ-IV A areas which includes the “water area and the sea bed area between the low tide line upto 12 nautical miles on the seaward side”.

The insertion of this clause, which had no mention in the 2011 version, is significant due to the Maharashtra government’s controversial plan to erect over a 200-metre-high statue of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian Sea. It is feared that this project will threaten the marine environment near the site and impact the livelihoods of the local fishing community.

The notification also stated that to protect and preserve the ‘green lung’ of the greater Mumbai area, “all open spaces, parks, gardens, playgrounds indicated in development plans within CRZ-II shall be categorised as no development zone and a floor space index up to 15 percent shall be allowed only for construction of civic amenities, stadium and gymnasium meant for recreational or sports-related activities”.

The government also stated that temporary tourism facilities like shacks, toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities have now been permitted in beaches.

The government stressed that the CRZ clearances process will be conducted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) for projects that are in the ecologically sensitive areas like CRZ-I and the CRZ-IV (area covered between low tide line and 12 nautical miles seaward) and “the powers for clearances with respect to CRZ-II and III” are with the states.

Similar to the 2011 version, the 2018 notification prohibits certain activities within the entire CRZ but it also provides for exceptions and permitting some activities with proper regulation in specific CRZ categories.

It prohibits activities like setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries, manufacture or handling of oil, storage or disposal of hazardous substances, setting up of new fish processing units and land reclamation in the CRZ. It also aims to control pollution with prohibition on discharge of untreated waste and effluents from industries, cities or towns, dumping of city or town wastes including construction debris, industrial solid wastes, fly ash for the purpose of landfilling, port and harbour projects in high eroding stretches of the coast, sand mining, altering of active sand dunes, withdrawal of groundwater and disposal of plastic into the coastal waters.

Environmentalists believe the move will only benefit the shipping and tourism industry. Photo by Nilanjan Majumdar/Wikimedia Commons.

It, however, stated that “construction of roads and roads on stilts, by way of reclamation in CRZ-I areas, shall be permitted only in exceptional cases for defence, strategic purposes and public utilities, subject to a detailed marine or terrestrial or both environment impact assessment”.

The 2018 notification also stressed that all “coastal states and union territory administrations shall revise or update their respective coastal zone management plan (CZMP) framed under CRZ notification, 2011”.


Banner image: India’s coastline is dotted with many ecologically sensitive areas. Photo by Sajjan Ponappa/Greenpeace.

Exit mobile version