Coastal commons for private tourism and entertainment?

29 March 2017
Part 1 of a series on ‘Coastal Regulation’ by the CPR-Namati Environment Justice Program

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. 

Vinod Patgar, CPR-Namati’s enviro-legal coordinator
Image: Vinod Patgar, CPR-Namati’s enviro-legal coordinator

‘Today, in the district, the tourism industry and government developmental projects occupy at least 18 percent of the coast that was once the home of traditional fisherfolk and coastal farmers. This has not only affected the poor families who have sold their lands at throwaway prices, but also large sections of the coastal communities who eventually lose access to the beachfront and the village commons.’

The next story is by Vimal Kalavadiya who lives in Mundra, Gujarat. He talks about an instance of illegal reclamation by a commercial salt making company at Bavdi fishing harbor in Mundra. 

Vimal Kalavadiya, CPR-Namati’s enviro-legal coordinator
Image: Vimal Kalavadiya, CPR-Namati’s enviro-legal coordinator

‘Neelkanth, a large salt production company, procured a lease for salt production on the ‘bander’ (fishing harbour). It then started to bund, by reclaiming the sea using stones and soil, (covering) more than one kilometer of the inter-tidal area to create saltpans to divert and collect seawater for the production of salt.’

‘Exactly where Neelkanth had carried this out, a fishing community would spend 7 to 8 months every year, fishing with small boats or on foot (known as pagadiya fishing). They used the tidal area for parking their boats but once the bund was built, they had to keep their boats far into the sea and further away from the coast line and so faced difficulties in the transfer of the fish catch from the boats on to the harbour where it would be sorted and dried before being sold. This was not all. The construction of the bunds also destroyed approximately 20 hectares of mangroves.’

Reclamation for making a bund at Bavdi fishing harbour
Image: Reclamation for making a bund at Bavdi fishing harbour

The last story is again by Vinod about multiple violations committed by a tourism project, Nayak Hospitalities (NH) in the coastal village of Baad located in Uttara Kannada, Karnataka. He lists violations such as construction in the NDZ, restricted access to the beach and community wells, and drawl of water in the first 200 m from the HTL. He highlights the impacts of these violations on people.

’…farmers’ fields, some public wells, and even a cremation yard, was acquired. Public access to a beach was also blocked. The loss of the wells affected the supply of drinking water to three villages – Baad, Jeshtapura, and Gudeangadi. After NH built a wall of about 15 to 20 metres height around the occupied land, fresh breeze from sea stopped blowing into the village.
Compound wall of the resort falling within NDZ (No Development Zone)
Image: Compound wall of the resort falling within NDZ (No Development Zone)
Project construction in NDZ (No Development Zone)
Image: Project construction in NDZ (No Development Zone)

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:

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.