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Coastal commons for private tourism and entertainment?

Coastal commons for private tourism and entertainment?

More projects on the coast will put public beach space and fishing and coastal communities at risk

In the last week there have been two news reports on an impending new Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) Notification replacing the existing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011. As per the news reports, two big changes in the offing are to open the ecologically sensitive areas of the coast for tourism projects, and lift the ban on reclamation for commercial and entertainment purposes. These changes will have a significant negative impact on millions of locals whose lives are dependent on the coast and its ecological health. They are already paying the price for current illegal violations, captured in narratives below, but the proposed changes will completely sideline their interests.

Background of the CRZ Notification, 2011

CRZ Notification, 2011 governs development on the 7500 km long coastline of India. It notifies 500 metres of land from the sea all along the coast as CRZ, and prescribes a different set of regulations for rural, urban, ecologically sensitive and water areas that are demarcated within this zone. CRZ Notification, 2011, in its original form, allowed tourism in urban and rural areas but not in ecologically sensitive areas of the CRZ. It also put in safeguards such as:

not allowing tourism related structures to be constructed within the first 200 metres of the high tide line (HTL) – this zone is termed as No Development Zone (NDZ) in view of coastal vulnerability;
a 20 metres wide gap between two structures to allow public access to the beach;
and no withdrawal of groundwater within the first 200 metres of the HTL to avoid saltwater intrusion into the groundwater aquifers.
However, these safeguards were removed for urban areas through an amendment to the Notification in February, 2015.

Reclamation for commercial and entertainment purposes is a prohibited activity under the CRZ Notification, 2011. But in 2015, the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) allowed reclamation of sea for construction of roads, memorials and monuments.

Voices from the ground

As per the latest news reports, the MoEFCC is looking to lift the ban on reclamation completely and permit tourism in coastal areas that are ecologically sensitive. Opening up areas for additional activities makes sense only when the existing activities and demands are being handled well. The CPR Namati Environmental Justice Program has recorded several cases of CRZ violations that are related to illegal reclamation and tourism activities. These violations pose significant impacts on people living around such activities. These cases, as described by CPR-Namati’s enviro-legal coordinators below, illustrate how millions of fisherfolk, artisanal salt producers and bivalve collectors are forced to alter their lives in order to make room for ‘new development opportunities’. Reduced income, longer distances to access their sites of work and water sources, or even shifting their sites of work are examples of alterations they are pushed to make. They also find themselves at the receiving end of the negative environmental impacts that are a fallout of the operations of these projects. Thus, their lives and livelihoods, which are closely tied to the ecological health of the coast and unrestricted access to common spaces such as beaches, creeks and estuaries are put to risk with policies that undermine their existence and need for coastal space. The stories below highlight the impacts of tourism projects and reclamation activities for commercial purposes on the coast and the locals.

In the first story Vinod Patgar talks about the inconveniences faced by the coastal communities of Uttara Kannada, Karnataka because of some inherent biases in the CRZ Notification that have given a push to tourism and development.

Government response to coastal violations

These three stories show how commercial activities and tourism projects sidestep the traditional livelihoods of coastal people by committing gross violations of the Notification. These violations go unchecked because the violators have political connections, enjoy favours from government agencies or are seen as symbols of development. Enforcement mechanisms of CRZ law seem to be unable to deter violations on the coast.

CPR-Namati’s enviro-legal coordinators have spent two years bringing well drafted complaints to the notice of district level coastal committees and coastal zone management authorities at the state level, and seeking remedial actions in close to 20 cases. They meticulously build evidence of violations and produce it with these complaints, and yet have to write to these institutions incessantly, and visit their offices at least 3-4 times before they even get an official recognition of the problems faced by the communities. Even after obtaining an official acknowledgment of the problems and their links with the CRZ violations, remedies are not easy to come by.

All the above stories underline the challenges faced in extracting enforcement and remedies from institutions – more stories on impacts of CRZ violations and efforts of the communities at mitigating those can be found in the recent report on effectiveness of environmental laws. If this is the current situation, opening the coasts for more such activities will mean bigger costs and risks for the fishing and coastal communities.

This piece can also be accessed in हिंदी

The other pieces in this series can be accessed below:

Is it the end of participatory coastal planning?
States ask Review Committee to loosen up the Coastal Regulation
Crucial aspects of proposed Marine Coastal Regulatory Zone Notification revealed
In conversation with Dr Shailesh Nayak – the man who led the review of coastal regulation
The proposed Marine Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) Notification
A tale of two reviews: How two governments amended a coastal land use law
The Supreme Court’s guiding principles for coastal regulation
Coastal Regulation Zone Disputes before the National Green Tribunal
CRZ drives a wedge between communities in Mumbai