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Attack On India’s Coastline

Attack On India’s Coastline

India’s 7,000 sq. km. coastline is critical to the survival of all those who live within our borders, irrespective of how far they live from the coast. The biodiversity of our coasts survives in a continuum with the inland biodiversity and ecosystems of India and as the planet’s climate continues to become more unstable by the day, protecting our coastal assets is no longer a luxury, it is a survival imperative.

The Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 2018, draft, envisages the opening of fragile inter-tidal areas for real estate and infrastructure development, which will have a huge impact on coastal ecology and those dependent on fishing for a livelihood. Photo: Aditya (Dicky) Singh

Unfortunately, both State and Central Government authorities do not fully comprehend the risk to which they place over one billion people when they unthinkingly value commerce over ecological sustainability by violating, tampering and often dismantling some of the finest environmental protection laws, rules and policies laid down by visionary thinkers in decades past.

The original intent behind the establishment of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules was to protect coastal ecosystems upon which the livelihoods and dignity of fishing communities are totally dependent. The Coastal Regulation Zone notification (CRZ, 1991) was issued under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. While a few activities were not banned, most were controlled and a list of regulated projects and actions were listed, and Coastal Regulation Zones (I-IV) were to be identified and demarcated between the High Tide Line and 500 metres towards the landward side.

When the devastating tsunami struck in 2004, coastal areas that were protected by natural ecosystems including sandbars, corals, mangrove and riverine vegetation saved thousands of lives and thousands of crores of rupees worth of financial damage to infrastructure. The impact of protection was so definitive that even fishing communities that initially had doubts about the Coastal Regulation Zone began to demand stricter and more nuanced protection. Though the amendments in 2011 offered some additional livelihood security and protection of marine breeding grounds, this notification further diluted CRZ 1991. State Coastal Zone Management Authorities were directed to update the Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMPs) approved under the CRZ, 91 by 2013. However, commercial interests in combination with political influences dominated the final drafts and delayed, or distorted interpretations. As of May 2018, the marking of High Tide Lines, Hazard Lines and even the preparation of the CZMPs remain incomplete in some states. The Public Hearings were conducted almost secretly with minimal notice.

Consequently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order in November 2017 directing all states to file draft CZMPs by April 30, 2018. It also directed that the MoEFCC not grant any Environmental Clearances for development activity within the CRZ areas until the updated CZMPs were prepared.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), now a highly-politicised body, threw caution to the winds and once again manipulated the original intent of the coastal laws and came up with the draft Coastal Regulation Zone notification, 2018 (CRZ,18), which diluted and relaxed the rules to benefit builders, real-estate sharks, irresponsible tourism investors and other sundry developers.

Those in the know correctly point out that crony capitalists used the figleaf of ‘Blue Economy’ to usher in its flagship ‘Sagarmala Programme’, a straightforward mega-project plan that involves borrowing and spending billions of dollars on commercial infrastructures including roads, railways, ports, and real-estate projects, all being located in direct harm’s way of rising seas and increasingly ferocious cyclonic winds and tidal surges that could lay waste to the ‘pipe dreams’ of GDP seekers, while devastating India’s fishing and coastal communities. This will result in migrations away from coastal areas towards already water-stressed inland geographies where social and civil unrest of the kind we have seen destabilise nations across the globe are almost inevitable.

It is to facilitate crony-capitalists seeking quick profit that the Coastal Regulation Zone notification, 2011 (CRZ, 11) is being dismantled. This will then enhance port capacities to handle mega-cargo, will allow widening of highways to facilitate container trucks, and the construction of civil engineering infrastructure along the coastline, and for relaxations favouring the builders.

Tragically, virtually all these ‘assets’ will be laid waste at the hands of extreme climate events since the natural infrastructures that protected coastal areas from the worst impact of storm surges, winds and abnormal tidal events will fall victim to the proposed CRZ, 18 designed to undermine the NGT order and to supercede CRZ, 11.

PLACING MILLIONS AT RISK

CRZ, 18 involved no or grossly inadequate consultation with fishworkers whose livelihoods will be severely disrupted. Sanctuary urges the Ministries of Tourism, Shipping and Urban Development, Commerce and Industry, Petroleum & Natural Gas, Earth Sciences and the Niti Aayog to reconsider such radical steps that have not contemplated future impacts on our people. If we are collectively unable to convince planners to stop denotifying ‘No Development Zones’ only to prioritise commercial coastal infrastructure over biodiversity, ecological sustainability and human rights, India will be wounded beyond repair and could well become an ecological and social ‘failed state’.

The language used for CRZ, 18 sounds hypnotically in favour of Indian people: ‘Defence and Strategic’, ‘Public Utility’ and ‘Security’ Projects, Coastal Roads… CRZ- I areas of ancient mangroves, beaches, sand bars and dunes, turtle nesting sites, salt marshes, coral reefs and more will be lost to land reclamation, bunds, for ports, oil pipelines, breakwaters, storage facilities and desalination plants. Coastal tourism, touted as a justification for such mayhem, will most likely be the first victim of such pie-in-the-sky plans that will drive future generations into debt and into a dystopian life devoid of either safety and security.

YOUR SILENCE AMOUNTS TO SUPPORT

Sanctuary readers are urged to oppose CRZ, 18 in its entirety. The Draft must be rejected on grounds that it scales back safeguards for our coastlines. The last date of submission of objections is June 18, 2018. However, the battle is going to be a long one and the result will determine not just the quality of human life, but our very survival.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Sign the online campaign at: https://act.airalert.in/petitions/send-your-suggestions-on-the-draft-crz-notification
2. Send an email to Arvind Nautiyal at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Director, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, J-615, Jal Block, Indira Paryavaran Bhawan, Jor Bagh Road, New Delhi – 110003.

You can make the following points:

* The Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 2018, draft puts coastal ecosystems at risk from construction activities.
* Prioritise and protect the customary and traditional rights of fishing community over river, sea and coastal commons over development and tourism.
* Protect mangroves and other marine life by banning all mining and industrial activities near coastal areas.
* Prepare specific guidelines for any tourism activities with stringent provisions.

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 6, June 2018.

 
 
 

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