Coastal ecosystems refer to ecosystem formed at areas where land and water join and give rise to an environment. Coastal ecosystems have a distinct structure, diversity and flow of energy. Coastal ecosystems include mangroves, wetlands, estuaries, bays etc. India has around 7500km long coastline and due to the wide range of benefits that coastal ecosystems provide us with, it becomes a necessity to regulate activities in and near coastal areas and there is a need to protect these ecosystems.
In order to regulate the activities in coastal areas, India’s first Coastal Regulation Zone notification was issued in 1991 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) under the Environment Protection Act of 1986. The CRZ notification empowered the central government to restrict industrial and other activities and processes in order to protect India’s coastline. Since its inception the CRZ notification 1991 has undergone numerous changes and has been amended over two dozen times. In 2011, CRZ notification 1991 was replaced with CRZ notification 2011. Recently, in 2018 Indian government issued the CRZ notification 2018 after modifying the 2011 notification and brought about certain important changes aimed to increase employment opportunities significantly and to add better life and value to Indian economy. The changes in the notification were brought about by taking into account the recommendations of the Shailesh Nayak committee and in the backdrop of a series of representations received by MoEFCC from different coastal states, union territories and other stakeholders asking for a proper review of the provisions outlined in the CRZ notification 2011.
In the 2011 version of notification coastal regions were divided into 4 categories- CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV, however, the 2018 notification has divided the coastal regions into 7 categories- CRZ-I A,CRZ-I B,CRZ-II, CRZ-III A,CRZ-III B,CRZ-IV A and CRZ-IV B. Among the categories, CRZ-I A is the most environmentally sensitive and critical zone including areas like mangroves, coral reefs, salt marshes, national parks, marine parks nesting grounds for turtles, birds, reserve forests, heritage sites etc. As per the notification, projects in areas under CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive) and CRZ-IV (includes area between low tide line and 12 nautical miles seaward) will need to obtain clearance from MoEFCC and projects in areas under CRZ-II (areas close to the shoreline) and CRZ-III (areas which are relatively undisturbed) will need to get clearance at state level. Another introduction in the notification is the permission granted for Floor Space Index (FSI) or Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for governing size of buildings in urban areas fall under CRZ-II zone. For rural areas the notification has introduced the zone CRZ-III. In rural areas of dense population (population of 2161 per square km as per 2011 census), the CRZ-III applies restrictions to an area of 50 metres from the high tide line thereby making it the no development zone (NDZ) and in rural areas of lesser population the restriction will be on an area of 200 metres as the NDZ.
The notification also has set NDZ of 20 metres for islands close to the mainland coast and for all backwater islands in the mainland. Further, the notification has permitted building temporary tourism facilities like toilet blocks, change rooms, drinking water facilities etc in beaches and these facilities can also be built in NDZ of CRZ-III areas. The new notification has also mentioned that permit shall be granted for construction of roads on silts by means of land reclamation in CRZ-I areas but only for specific cases involving defence, strategic purposes and public utilities, however, permission shall be granted only after detailed marine/terrestrial environment impact assessment recommended by the Coastal Zone Management Authority and with due approval of MoEFCC. In case if such construction of roads etc has to pass through mangroves or if it may likely damage the mangroves then a minimum three times the affected area during construction shall be taken up as a compensatory plantation of mangroves.
Recently, government issued an Extraordinary Gazette Notification related to CRZ in which it has mentioned certain CRZ areas of certain beaches that will obtain the ‘Blue Flag’ certification. ‘Blue Flag’ is a certification that will serve as an eco-label for beaches, marina etc and is awarded by the Denmark based non-profit Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) as per its own stringent set of environmental, safety-related and access-related criteria. The certification is globally known as an indication of high environmental and quality standards and the certified areas will have permit for a list of activities and facilities like ‘portable toilet blocks, grey water treatment plants, solid waste management plants, solar power plants, purified drinking water facility, beach access pathways, landscaping lighting, outdoor play/fitness equipment, seating benches, CCTV surveillance, control room, first aid station, cloak room facility, safety watch towers, beach layout and environment information boards, parking facilities etc’ to be allowed within the CRZ areas of the certified beaches. In 2019, the Environment ministry identified some beaches for the ‘Blue Flag’ certification like Shivrajpur (Dwarka,Gujarat), Golden (Puri, Odisha), Bhogave (Sindhudurg, Maharashtra), Miramar (Panjim, Goa), Mahabalipuram (Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu), Rushikonda (Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh) etc.
Earlier provisions in the CRZ notification
The first issue of CRZ notification was released in 1991 in order to regularise population and commercial pressure on the active play zone of sea waves and had demarcated area up to 500 metres from high tide line as CRZ. The 2011 notification on coastal zones was brought in the backdrop of 2004 tsunami which caused death of about 10000 people and it was along the lines of the 1991 notification. The 2011 notification on CRZ had divided coastal zones into 4 categories- CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III, CRZ-IV as was demarcated by the 1991 notification based on factors like land use, sensitivity etc. CRZ-I included areas that were ecologically sensitive like mangroves, coral reefs etc, CRZ-II included areas that developed up to or close to the shoreline, CRZ-III included areas which were relatively undisturbed and those that do not belong to CRZ-I, including the coastal zones in the rural areas and CRZ-IV included areas from the Low Tide Line to twelve nautical miles on the seaward side. The 2011 notification had earmarked 200 metres from the high tide line as the NDZ for densely populated rural coastal areas.
The notification also permitted construction of houses for coastal communities after 100 metres. For islands the coastal protection zone as mentioned in the 2011 notification was at 500 metres from the high tide line same as the 1991 notification. The 2011 notification had kept the CRZ-I off limits from tourism and infrastructural activities except for defence, strategic and rare public utility projects. Under CRZ-III areas, hotels and beach resorts were allowed but not in the NDZ of CRZ-III which extended landwards up to 200 metres from high tide line. For CRZ-IV areas offshore activities like oil exploration, mining, shipping etc were restricted by giving due importance to regulation of pollution because these areas were crucial fishing zones for small fishers and were most affected due to waste from offshore activities. The 2011 notification also had clearly established that fishing activity by communities would not be regulated. As per the notification for Floor Space Index (FSI) or Floor Area Ratio (FAR) had been frozen keeping in view the 1991 Development Control Regulation levels.
How the CRZ have been eased?
The CRZ 2018 notification was aimed to relax the development controls along coastline in an effort to encourage construction of buildings, boost tourism activities in areas closer to the high tide line. For facilitating this purpose, the notification brought in certain significant changes to the 2011 notification. The FSI or FAR in urban areas under CRZ-II that was frozen in order to restrict construction has been allowed by removing the restrictions. In rural areas, the CRZ-III A applies restrictions on developmental activities (earmarked as NDZ) only up to 50 metres from the high tide line which was earlier kept at 200 metres from high tide line. For boosting tourism activities, the notification has eased the restrictions on construction of facilities like shacks, toilet blocks, changing rooms etc up to a margin of 10 metres from high tide line.
The easing of NDZ criteria is expected to boost tourism by allowing more activity, construction of infrastructure and will ultimately create employment opportunities. The permission granted to local communities to construct houses after 100 metres from high tide line has also been relaxed and the limit has been reduced to 50 metres from high tide line. For islands, the notification has relaxed the NDZ limit from previous 500 metres from high tide line to 20 metres. The notification has also laid down provisions for road construction and roads on stilts by using means of land reclamation in CRZ-I areas but only for specific purposes like defence etc. The notification has also laid the base for construction of mangrove walks, tree huts, nature trails, sea links, salt harvesting and desalination plants etc. The procedure for obtaining clearances for projects and other activities in coastal zones has been simplified by the CRZ notification. The 2018 notification has modified the system of granting permission and clearances for projects. As per the new notification projects/activities in the areas under CRZ-I and CRZ-IV will need to obtain clearance from MoEFCC or basically the central government and the projects in areas under CRZ-II and CRZ-III will need to obtain clearance from authorities at the state level.
Effects of Eased Rules
The CRZ notification will help boost tourism, increase job opportunities and will help boost the economy. The notification will aid government’s flagship programmes like Sagarmala which aims for port modernisation, new port development, enhancement of port connectivity, port linked industrialisation etc, the Bharatmala Pariyojana phase-I under which roads are to be built along the coast in order to boost tourism and assist industrial development of coastal areas. The notification will increase coastal constructions thereby increasing tourism and ultimately boosting the economy and industrial growth.
However, the relaxations that have been brought will have negative effects on the environment. Excessive beach lighting will affect marine species like migrating turtles etc in a negative manner. Rapid urbanisation and construction at coastal areas will convert the coasts into convenient dumping grounds. Sewage, garbage, industrial waste will land up along the coastline and will adversely affect life of coastal dwellers apart from damaging life of marine species. The setting up of common effluent treatment plants has been legalised and such practises have proved to be detrimental in the past like in the coastal areas of Saurashtra and south Gujarat similar projects have made the food, water and air more vulnerable to toxicity. The permission for construction of taller buildings, houses of coastal communities and other infrastructures along the shoreline will spell doom for many regions along the coast like South Mumbai which are already suffering from erosion, cyclones, storms etc. Decreasing the gap between high tide line and structures will heighten the vulnerability of these structures to natural calamities and will cause loss life and property.
Further, projects like Sagarmala which will be benefitted by the notification, have been responsible for causing ecological devastation like in Valiyathura, Kerala hundreds of houses were gobbled up by the sea, part of office of Valiyathura branch of National Centre of Earth Science Studies was levelled due to coastal erosion. Similarly, in West Bengal’s Haldia district the fishing community has reported reduction in their income from fishing due to effluents from a nearby plant which has been poisoning the river Hooghly. India has already lost about 45% of its coast in the past two decades due to erosion and natural disasters. There have been reports of increasing sea levels at a rate of 0.33 to 5.16mm per year. Further as per the report of Central Water Commission’s Shoreline Change Atlas, ‘coastal erosion is natural phenomenon however due to human activities like land reclamation, construction of jetties and other structures etc on the coast the situation gets aggravated.’ In such a scenario, the relaxation of NDZ, decrease in the limit of gap to be maintained for constructions along the coast, construction of sewage treatment plants near the coast etc as mentioned in the 2018 CRZ notification will lead to a aggravation of environmental degradation and will increase loss of life, loss of property, loss of income of coastal dwellers.
India has a vast coastline of about 7500km. In the recent times due to changing climate conditions and increase in occurrences of natural calamities like floods, tsunami etc the coastal dwellers have become more exposed to the risk from climate change. The CRZ notification is a guiding and regulatory mechanism to control and maintain the coastal areas. It is extremely necessary that CRZ notification takes into account all the risk factors involved in allowing construction and other activities along the coast and then provides necessary guidelines to protect the coastal areas. Besides, the effect on human population, the CRZ notification also has a major role to play in maintaining the coastal environment and marine life. Increased human activities and construction of plants, tourism facilities etc along the coast not only make the people more vulnerable to disasters like flood, coastal erosion etc, but also it leads to pollution of the land and water in the coastal areas due to waste materials from human activities, waste disposal from plants etc.
The CRZ guidelines have to be so designed that it strives for sustainable growth and strengthens the conservation principles of coastal regions. The basic idea of formation of CRZ notification should not be diluted by maintaining a bias only for economic growth and increasing tourism. The 2018 CRZ notification has relaxed the guidelines set by its predecessor and though it aims for sustainable growth along with protection of wildlife, it needs to be modified further keeping in view the various reports that highlight the risks related to such activities and also there is need to involve all stakeholders and take their viewpoint and suggestions from the public and thereafter a holistic CRZ notification needs to be issued.