On the 18th of April 2018, the Center released a new draft of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification(2018) for comments.The draft contains a number of new provisions, including reducing the limit of the Coastal Regulation Zones along tidal influenced water bodies from 100 to 50 metersfrom the High Tide Line (HTL), further bifurcating CRZ III areas on the basis of population density – allowing for a different calibration of prohibited and permitted activities. It decreases the importance of the Hazard Line. These and other further changes (still being scrutinized by groups and activists)suggest that the draft dilutes provisions of environmental protection, allowing greater space for the encroachment of real estate and industries on the coast.
The draft comes just a month before the Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) and Hazard Line, is to be approved, as mandated by the NGT last year. In 2017, the NGT had ordered that the Environment Ministry has to issue approvals of plans submitted by the State government by July 31st 2018. This notification itself came after a delay of 6 years. As of now, the Ministry of Environment and Forests & Climate Change has approved no such plans and many states have not submitted any plans to the central Ministry. Draft CZMPs of states such as Tamil Nadu have been under scrutiny for being inaccurate and incomplete. The process seems entirely in disarray and the critical infrastructure needed for implementation of CRZ is nowhere near complete. The first CRZ Notification came out in 1991- a good 27 years ago.
Regulating the coast: not a smooth sail
This is not the first such delay or public outcry regarding the legislation; rather it is the most recent in a history of amendments and changes. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification was issued under the Environment Protection Act 1986 in 1991. The CRZ was the first-of-its-kind legislation that recognized coastal regions as a special environment that needs State protection. Acknowledging that different areas need different kinds of safeguards, it demarcated the coastal zones or areas near the coastline from the High Tide Line to 500 Meters landward as CRZ areas. It specified what kinds of activities could and could not be undertaken in which zone. For example, those that could damage existing environment, livelihood or did not need access to the seashore. An amendment to the Act in 2011 included Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) and the notification of a Hazard Line (a demarcation of coastal areas that are under threat from climate change impacts such as sea level rise and other factors such as land erosion). These were meant to demarcate the land use plans and existing developments in the CRZ, determining a blueprint for future development projects and enabling proper implementation of the Notification.
But the CRZ Notificationhas the curious distinction of being one of the most amended laws, with more than 25 amendments till date and repeated reports and drafts on the same that have been either discarded or have led to partial changes. The fishing community and civil society groups have been pushing back against the further dilution of the CRZ, with industrial and infrastructure development and the tourism industry on the other side – pushing for further industrial and infrastructural development of the coastline.
Such contestation results from the nature of the legislation and the forum, i.e. the coastal zone that it attempts to govern. Historically the coastline has had multiple uses and the competition for access to coastal space and resources are only increasing.
Conflicts in law and legislation
For the sake of understanding the legislation and the tensions or conflicts that the law confronts – three actors become particularly relevant in today’s context. 1) The coast is an environmentally important region with multiple different kinds of habitat and bio diversity, 2) it is occupied by traditional communities such as fishworkers, pastoralists and other communities whose livelihoods and community identity are connected to the coastline as seas 3), capital intensive economic activities or industriesthat either require natural resources or become economically viable by being on the coast. While some of these can exist in cooperation, at other times they are in competition. With increasing industrialization of the coast, the first two factors are increasingly threatened by the third.
A slew of legislationsexist to govern the coastal regions. These include various environmental protection acts, laws regarding marine and inland fisheries (including aquaculture), laws (both State and Central) that regulate land acquisition and industries. In between this multiplicity of laws, the CRZ provides a framework upon which other laws are applied- it can almost be imagined as a first point of contact between the utilization of land and its legality in the coastal regions.
A quick segue to the Forest Rights Act, 2006 in an effort underscore the importance and gaps in the CRZ – The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was a critical legislation for communities living in forest regions. Through guaranteeing the protection of community rights to forest resources, it also protects forest resources, ecology and environment. It does so by recognizing and building upon the relationship between forests and the communities that have lived there since generations.No equivalent legislation exists for coastal zones that are as fragile and contested as forest regions have historically been. But until such legislation comes into being, the CRZ – through mapping, classifying and zoning – implicitly provide certain guarantees and protections. This it does through the following-
- Recognizes part of the intertidal zone and coastal areas as being unique and deserving of protection
- Recognizes that it has various uses which can be in competition
- Upholds the existence of a traditional community that depends upon and utilizes coastal resources and lands – by allowing for their residence and activities associated with fishing, as well as talking of long term housing and settlement plans.
But with the kind of changes that the CRZ has undergone, this recognition has come into conflict. With the power of classification and use under the state, different actors (primarily those connected with industrial and infrastructural economic activities) are pushing through a process of legislative change that promote the following; a process of privatization of land as well as the commons, a single-use of land and natural resources – which also monopoly,and the creation of para-statal bodies (private or public – private bodies that serve similar functions as the State) that govern and administrate (for example tourism or special economic zones), the dilution of local governance systems (as larger areas come under industry or private companies). As well asthe quick transition in political economy of different regions (for example, from fishingharbors to a port for import and export of goods), which are harmful to local communities that are forced into this change or are thrown out to accommodate the same.
While programmes of coastal infrastructure and industrial development are not new – since 2013, the current government seems to be shifting its extractive gaze from central regions to the 7,500 km long coastline- through programmes such as the SagarmalaProgramme– that shifts the transport and infrastructural machinery of the country towards the rivers and seas. However, these programmes require greater leeway to change the geography and the composition of industrial activities that take place on the coast, and hence necessitate the dilution of law and itsutilisation.