The coastal regulation zone (CRZ) is a meeting point of different interests for decades. Tourism development projects, interests of big time fishing industry and the livelihood issues of traditional fishermen often clash with one another.
The sad fact is that after agriculture, the area that is the source of tsunamis are government-made rules which seriously impact the lives of fishermen which is mostly insecure and ridden with tension. They may mostly come in the name of fulfilling the primary needs of fishermen. But when they are actually implemented, they will turn out be in tune with interests of big business. And in the case of the relaxations in the CZR rules approved by the central cabinet prime minister, the fisheries sector is in a dilemma whether to welcome it or reject it. The reason is that it is both a solution to the problems existing in the coastal region, and at the same time a door leading to new crises.
The CRZ rules of 1991 had introduced tight freeze on the construction of buildings and development activities in view of environmental sensitivity. Although it put a brake on unchecked constructions in sea shores and banks of backwaters, it also took away the right of fishermen, who had been living in coastal belt for generations, to build modest homes. Of course the 2011 amendment of CRZ provisions reduced the minimum distance required for constructions from shore to 200 meters from the original 500, but that did not satisfy any one completely. The Modi government which took office in 2014 appointed a committee led by Shailesh Naik, Secretary of Ministry of Earth Sciences, to recommend solutions to the problems of the coastal region. After consultations with state governments and representatives of various organizations, the committee submitted its report to the government in 2015. It is in line with this that the Central Government has, through a new notification at the fag end of its term, granted liberal concessions to the construction activities in the coastal region. The explanation given by Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad is that this step is intended to ensure both the protection of the environment of coastal region and economic development. He also explained that relaxations in CRZ rules have been made with the aim of residential and tourism development and creation of employment in accordance with the changing times. But the criticism against the new rules is that the amendments are intended to please the giant builders of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the tourism industrialists of Goa and Kerala.
It is estimated that with the new concessions in coastal region protection, the restriction in house construction of ten lakh coastal residents will be sorted out. With this, a quarter of Kerala's sea shore and half of banks of backwaters will be free from construction freeze. In 244 panchayats with a population density of 2,161 per square kilometer, there will be no bar any more for construction activities beyond 50 metres from shore. In ecologically sensitive areas under NRZ-1, construction and development projects will continue to require the clearance by Central Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change. But construction activities in coastal areas under CRZ-2 and 3 categories will now require only the clearance of state governments.
Although it has been made mandatory to obtain clearance of the Central Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change for projects in ecologically sensitive areas and within 12 nautical miles in the sea, the government is aiming at promoting tourism and industrial development in coastal regions. By relegating the authority for clearance to the state level for majority of constructions in sea coasts, the Central government deems that the hurdle of controls on large-scale constructions can be eliminated. This may lead to harming the livelihood of traditional fishermen in the coastal region. Already fisherman organizations have raised the apprehension that in the pitfalls created by real estate interests, the residential plots of coastal population may be lost. And removing the restrictions on setting up waste-treatment plants will actually result in making the sea more polluted. Even as it is, the dumping of waste from the country's factories into the sea is going on at an alarming rate.
Legal experts share the apprehension that the new notification will pave way for encroachments in backwater coasts and sea coasts, obtaining legal validity. Equally strong is the observation that under the cover of construction, indirect mining may get intensified in the coastal region. If these concerns come true, the notification will amount to opening the doors for huge ecological repercussions. Although coastal residents will be the immediate beneficiaries of the relaxations, going by past experience of legislations, the lasting beneficiaries are likely to be the industrial tycoons. Damaging the environmental and cultural significance of the coastal region will be a huge setback economically and socially in the long run. Any amendment of coastal region rules demand constant vigilance by the general public.