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A tale of two reviews: How two governments amended a coastal land use law

June 6, 2017

6 June 2017
A tale of two reviews: How two governments amended a coastal land use law


Meenakshi Kapoor of the CPR Namati Environmental Justice Program interviews Shri V Vivekanandan and Dr K V Thomas to understand the two review processes of coastal regulation undertaken by two governments before and after the promulgation of the CRZ Notification 2011.

Shri V Vivekanandan
Image: Shri V Vivekanandan
Shri V Vivekanandan has been with the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS) for over 25 years, that organises fish marketing, credit, boat building, supply of outboard motors, technology development, studies and documentation for small scale fishermen. He has also worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He was the Convener of the National Coastal Protection Campaign (NCPC), a network of NGOs and fishing community organisations, from 2009 to 2014. He was also the sole civil society representative in the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) during 2008-2012. He has been a long time supporter and a resource person of the National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF). It is in this capacity that he was involved in the negotiations between the NFF and the MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) over the CRZ 2011.

You have been working on coastal and fisheries issues for 35 years now. What have been the main challenges that face coastal and fisheries communities in India in recent years?

There are many challenges facing marine fishing communities. Some of them are age-old problems that still persist: middlemen control over fish landing, indebtedness to moneylenders, uncertainty in fish catches, vulnerability to natural disasters, socio-economic backwardness, lagging behind in education, etc.

In addition to the age-old challenges, they face many new challenges. Poor fisheries management has led to decline of catches in near shore areas and an inequitable distribution of catch between large and small boats. Increasingly, fisheries issues are being over-shadowed by impact of other sectors that threaten not only their livelihoods but also their very existence on the coast.

The last two decades have seen an increasing invasion of the coast by various industries and sectors. Power plants, SEZs (Special Economic Zones), ports, urban construction, tourism projects, desalination plants, etc., are coming up all over the coast damaging fragile coastal eco-systems. Coastline changes resulting in increasing coastal erosion, destruction of mangroves, levelling of sand dunes, loss of valuable inter-tidal zone areas, degradation of fish habitats and nursery grounds, loss of coastal aquifers, increasing pollution from industrial and urban effluents, etc. are threatening the natural capital that is the basis of fishing. It is also physically displacing fishing communities in many areas.

Climate change impacts that are still emerging, are a major threat in the future.

In your view, what is the need to have a regulation like CRZ? Does it really obstruct development as has been stated by the state governments who the Shailesh Nayak Committee (Report of the committee is available here) spoke to?

A regulation like CRZ is a must to protect the coast from anarchical development. All talk of ‘development’ vs. ‘regulation’ or ‘conservation’ is missing the point completely. Development cannot be unfettered and an assessment is necessary before any project meant for development is executed, both with respect to the short term and long term benefits as well as losses it will bring. While ‘sustainable development’ is often seen as finding a balance between needs of current generation and future generations, even this is only partially correct. Many a development project has an adverse impact on our own generation.

The various threats to the coast are not just problems for the fishing community. These are problems for all of us living in the interior. If we lose the protection given by the coast from the fury of the sea, it will affect even the large population living within the broader definitions the coast that may extend up to 50 kms from the sea. Salination of ground water is affecting water quality and seriously affecting agriculture in coastal areas. Coastal erosion is leading to loss of valuable land and causing enormous economic losses to the nation by the loss as well as the costly protection measures that are often futile. So, coastal destruction is a major national challenge and not just the problem of fishermen. They are just the first to see and experience it.

CRZ has been diluted to such an extent that it doesn’t provide adequate protection. If implemented, it can only protect up to a point but that is not good enough. But it still puts certain limits to development. The fundamental principle of CRZ is that an activity should come up in the first 500 m of the coast if it cannot be done elsewhere. Even then, certain restrictions still decide what and how things are to be done. Restriction is not bad. In fact, it is essential for protection. By doing so, we protect ourselves, not some poor fishermen.

You were centrally involved in the discussions with Shri Jairam Ramesh when he was environment minister and these discussions resulted in the 2011 notification. According to you, what were the key points that were at the heart of these discussions?

I was part of a small team of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) that was involved in a series of discussions towards the end of 2010 with the MoEF on improving and revising the draft notification prepared by the Ministry to replace the 1991 notification. Shri Jairam Ramesh participated in some of these discussions and helped find solutions to some of the issues on which we could not agree with the MoEF positions.

Overall, NFF was trying to achieve the following in the negotiations:

  • To roll back many of the dilutions that had crept into the original CRZ notification of 1991 through a series of 25 amendments, most of which violated the original spirit of the notification to protect the coast.
  • To scuttle new plans of building big projects like ‘greenfield airports’ which violated the original principle that only activities that require a seafront can be considered in the CRZ areas; to ward off new dilutions planned for specific areas/states that would open a pandora’s box and lead to further dilution of CRZ regulations.
  • To further strengthen the protection to the coast, incorporating the experiences in over the previous two decades. Cumulative impact assessments, halting port development in erosion prone areas, regulating sea walls and other so-called coastal protection measures, etc., were part of this agenda.
  • To improve the enforcement and punitive aspect of the notification and ensure that the violators of the past did not get away because a new notification has come.
  • To ensure the fishing community’s interest on the coast is protected and that housing and development needs of the community are taken care off, something the original 1991 notification did not address adequately.

We won some, lost some. On paper, the MoEF incorporated many of our suggestions. However, a more critical look would show that our ‘success’ was less brilliant. We were unable to make much gain on the roll back of the ‘bad amendments’ of the 1991 notification. Of the new dilutions proposed, we were able to block only a few of them or put some additional safeguards. However, we were much more successful in getting provisions on enforcement and punishment of the past violations.

Our biggest success was in getting many specific provisions for protection of fishing community interests. These included:

-Concessions to fishing communities for expanding their housing into the 100 to 200 metre zone of CRZ-III. Mapping of all coastal fishing settlements and the space used by them and affording protection to these in the new  Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plans (ICZMPs.)

-Representation of fishing community organisations in all coastal institutions (National and State Coastal Zone Management Authorities (NCZMA and SCZMAs) and District Level Committees (DLCs).

We were conscious that making provisions to meet the development needs of fishermen could also lead to further coastal degradation. Hence we sought and got a provision for the State Governments to take responsibility for preparing long term plans for every fishing village. These may have to keep in view that the population would expand over the years but fishermen settlements should expand only on the landward of the CRZ.

We were aware that we had not accomplished all that we had set out to achieve. However, the Minister and senior officials exhibited willingness to continue with the dialogue and work together on the implementation of the notification in a manner that will address most of our concerns. More importantly, the Minister was agreeable to convert the CRZ notification into an Act of Parliament that would give it greater importance and less scope for periodic dilutions by the MoEF under pressure from various lobbies (see details of the meeting between NFF and MoEF to discuss the outstanding issues around CRZ).

Unfortunately, the subsequent implementation of the CRZ 2011 has been poor and many of the progressive provisions of the notification have not been implemented. This can be attributed to unwillingness to continue the dialogue with fishermen organisations by those who succeeded Shri Jairam Ramesh in both the UPA and NDA Governments.

The Ministry’s role was much appreciated by many because they spoke to all the stakeholders and came up with a notification that was somewhat acceptable to all. What did you feel about this process that resulted in the 2011 notification. Did the process matter at all and did it influence the final result?

Yes, the Ministry’s role was much appreciated for the extensive stakeholder consultations it organised and the final rounds of negotiations it held with the NFF to find common ground. However, it needs to be recognised that these discussions took place only after a long and protracted struggle of the fishing communities and civil society organisations from 2005 when the Swaminathan Committee-I proposed that the CRZ concept itself be discarded and replaced with a CMZ (coastal management zone). In particular, the coastal march by the NFF in 2008 from Kutch to Kolkata, created a massive mobilisation of the fishing community for retaining the CRZ. When Shri Jairam Ramesh took charge, he opened the door for dialogue with a series of stake holder consultations across the coastal states in 2009.

Even then, the draft notification which came in 2010 seemed to completely ignore all that was said in the public consultations and contained provisions at complete variance to the sentiments expressed in the consultations. This required a fresh round of struggles and pressure. A few state Chief Ministers, sensing the anger of the fishing community had to write to Shri Jairam Ramesh and the Prime Minister to hold back the notification and undertake a dialogue with fishermen organisations.

However, we have to acknowledge the extraordinary openness and willingness exhibited by Shri Jairam Ramesh in engaging in dialogue and finding solutions that are acceptable to all.

Media reports say that there is a new notification in the offing. What are your concerns if any regarding this and what would you like to see in this new notification for the coast?

Though one should not pre-judge a notification till we see the actual draft, the proposal for a new notification is not good news. All trends indicate that it is clearly meant to make things easier for projects to be established in the coastal areas. The level of protection to the coast is irksome to investors and those who believe in untrammeled development. If a new notification is issued pandering to this constituency, it will be a major set-back to all the efforts of the last three decades in protecting the coast.

I do not wish for a new notification, but for the better implementation of the current notification with constant dialogue with all those concerned for the coast including fishing community organisations. However, if a new notification is put up with provisions adverse to the coastal eco-system and fishermen, we may have to go through a fresh round of struggles and resistance.

Dr K V Thomas
Image: Dr K V Thomas
Dr K V Thomas has been a member of the Lakshadweep Coastal Zone Management Authority (LCZMA) since 2008.

He retired as scientist, National Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram and is presently with the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies.  He coordinated the preparation of Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) for Kerala, Lakshadweep and Maharashtra and also the Integrated Island Management Plan (IIMP) for Lakshadweep. He participated in the meetings held on CRZ in Kerala in 2010.


You have been involved in coastal issues for 40 years. As a scientist and someone who has been closely involved in coastal planning, what have been the main challenges of coastal planning and management?

Challenges now are varied from the ones in older days. Currently, the biggest challenge is that the coastal communities are still marginalised. Even after all these years and amendments to laws, their living conditions have not improved to the level we claim. Fishing as a profession is not respected socially. This has not changed over time. This will happen only when the standard of living of the fisher people and the working environment improves along with financial return.  Fisher people do not get benefits due to them as an extremely marginalised community. Coastal communities don’t have a say in coastal governance. Elected people’s representatives most often do not represent the fisher community and proper participation of the community does not happen in coastal and ocean policy formulation and economic development. Development remains sectoral and not integrated.

Another challenge is that we do not have environmentally acceptable and financially viable coastal protection measures. For instance, hard structures like sea walls cause loss of beach. Even scientists and technologists are not able to give appropriate solutions, therefore coastal vulnerability remains.

Though the concept of integrated management plan was introduced in CRZ 1991, this is yet to happen. Even the management plan under the CRZ, 2011 is pending, though it was due in 2013. Planning means proactive measures and requires reference maps before any activities are permitted on the coast but there are no baseline maps and no integrated plan. National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) is involved in plan preparation but it is very secretive. Transparency and involvement of stakeholders have to be there.

Also, canals and small water bodies are being ignored in the CZMP now under preparation. These are blood vessels of the coastal zone.

In your view, what is the need to have a regulation like CRZ? Does it really obstruct development as has been stated by the state governments who the Shailesh Nayak Committee spoke to?

It doesn’t affect development. It only restricts activities in the coastal zone for which shoreline is essential. It tries to decongest the coastal zone. Most pollutants generated in the hinterland land up on the coasts and near shore waters. Coastal regulation zone acts as a buffer zone for the sensitive coastal systems. Sandy beaches and mudflats are themselves morphologically sensitive. CRZ is the only legislation that says that the primary stakeholders of the coast are fisher and coastal communities.

You have followed the CRZ discussions and developments since its first version in 1991. According to you, how has the 2011 Notification been different from the 1991 Notification?

Both the notifications made beach a common property and ensured public access to the beach. The 1991 and 2011 notifications acknowledged that fisher and other coastal people have the first right to use the coast. At the same time, both the notifications failed to acknowledge that fish workers are ecosystem people and the notification must allow them to have basic requirements like construction of dwelling units and associated community and livelihood requirements (subject to certain limits of course) as has been allowed for tribals in forests.

The 2011 notification has included the water area within India’s territorial limits as part of CRZ which is the most positive modification brought in the notification. The 1991 Notification considered aesthetics of the coast and created a category called ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB) to protect the associated unique ecosystems. The 2011 notification did away with this category.

2011 Notification, in text says a lot on transparency but now the process has become secretive. Everything should have been up on the website. Even the process of preparation of CZMP 2011 is highly secretive. Secrecy leads to corruption.

You were part of the discussions that went into the making of CRZ 2011. What did you feel about this process that resulted in the 2011 notification. Did the process matter at all and did it influence the final result?

2011 Notification came after a lot of discussion. The then Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh took a lot of interest in it. After the draft notification was issued, different groups were consulted all along the coast. Three meetings were held in Kerala alone. It was a good exercise as there was transparency and we knew all along what was happening. But surprisingly, not much changed from the draft to final notification. Still the process was worth appreciating. Major modification that people like me suggested was that fishing communities should be considered ecosystem people. They should be able to live there with basic facilities. Facilities like small shops required for community life may be allowed. But this was not taken on board in its entirety.

Media reports say that there is a new notification in the offing. What are your concerns if any regarding this and what would you like to see in this new notification for the coast?

Changes based on the Shailesh Nayak Committee report may go against the basic concepts on which the CRZ notifications are built upon. Shailesh Nayak Committee consulted only state governments. It means essentially only the departments that look for ‘development’ were consulted. If recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak committee come through as such, National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) and State Coastal Zone Management Authorities  (SCZMAs) that are currently responsible for implementation of the CRZ Notification (read our report on performance of CZMAs) will be looking at only ESAs (Ecologically Sensitive Areas). Their ToR will be limited to protection, conservation and planning for ESAs as opposed to the entire area notified under CRZ. Government bureaucrats are mostly biased to development slogans. Their activities will always be sectoral, never integrated. Without working on the governance mechanism, limiting CZMAs’ role to ESAs and project clearance is not fair.

The other pieces in this series can be accessed below: