Why oppose the proposed Coastal Zone Management Notification
Over the past decade, as the world has worked to strengthen environmental regulations and norms, India has worked to dilute them. The process began with the BJP led NDA government at the Centre setting up the Govindarajan Committee on Investment Reforms in the late 1990s which was essentially a bureaucrat and technocrat led initiative. The Committee’s mandate was to identify bottlenecks for investment growth and they zeroed in on environmental, forest and coastal zone regulations as obstacles in assisting India’s economic growth. No other consideration, including growing concerns over climate change, seems to have affected the implementation of the Govindarajan Committee recommendations. Subsequent governments have unquestioningly endorsed the Committee’s recommendations.
Soon after, the World Bank gave a large IDA grant to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, utilising which the Committee’s recommendations were systematically transformed into legislative and policy changes. The most critical changes were to dilute the already weak Environment Impact Assessment Notification and the Coastal Zone Regulation Notification. Both were subordinate legislations, hence any modification and comprehensive amendments were proposed without Parliamentary oversight and based essentially on consultations with industrial and investment lobbies. Assisting this process was the National Environmental Policy, which was evolved without any discussion on public platforms, legislatures or the Parliament. In 2006, the EIA Notification was comprehensively amended including several undemocratic features to make the clearance mechanisms investment friendly. A thorough analysis of its weaknesses and potential impacts is available in a book ESG published, entitled “Green Tapism”.
One of the key reforms that MoEF initiated during this time was to set up the M. S. Swaminathan Committee on Coastal Zone Management. The functioning of this Committee was highly undemocratic and designed to respond to inputs from bureaucratic, technocratic and investment lobbies. The result was the draft Coastal Management Zone Notification to replace the CRZ Notification, issued on 22 July 2008 by MoEF. Fisher communities across India strongly opposed the Swaminathan report and the CMZ proposals on grounds it would open up the beaches, which are commons, to intense commercialisation, infrastructure development, and consequent displacement of traditional communities besides causing widespread and irreversible environmental and social impacts.
A Parliamentary Committee has endorsed these concerns and categorically stated that “Govt. should not make haste in implementing the CMZ notification without addressing the conflict of interests between the stakeholders – mainly the fisher folk/coastal communities and all out efforts must be made first to assuage their feelings and meet their concerns which the Committee feels, is not unfound, through education, social mobilization and their active participation and involvement in decision making. Panchayats can play a crucial role in generating awareness among them. For this, Govt. should get the CMZ notification translated into local languages and circulated widely in every village/hamlet so that the local communities are made aware of the actual implications of the notification and are not swayed by hearsay or guided by misgivings about it. Govt. may also seriously think of bringing out a legislation to ensure protection of rights of coastal communities to coastal resources on the lines of the one meant for forest dwellers.” Excerpts of the Committee’s Report finalised in March 2009 are enclosed and the full report can be accessed here.
Mr. Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, has made some very clear and categorical statements clarifying that MoEF will not allow environmental priorities to be subordinated to investment concerns. Soon after his appointment he has travelled across the country meeting various interest groups and communities, and demonstrated a zeal to implement progressive reforms to conserve our environment and livelihood rights. This is a much desired and refreshing change in a Ministry which has largely been a victim of political opportunism, bureaucratic manipulation to advantage investors, and rarely, over the past decade, served the purpose for which it was established. Mr. Ramesh even confirmed in a meeting with us in Bangalore that the further dilution of the EIA Notification (pending since January 2009) by ways of introducing “self certification” mechanisms for industries to invest and expand, would not be allowed. However, on the issue of the draft CMZ Notification, Mr. Ramesh had proposed that a “hybrid” law would be introduced by July 09. This was perceived as retrograde step that went against the very specific recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee not to “make haste.” Mr. Ramesh’s clarifications in this regard are deeply appreciated.
Responding to widespread demands from fishing communities and environmental groups, MoEF allowed the controversial Draft CMZ Notification 2008 to lapse. Soon after, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh held nationwide public consultations with the intent of producing coastal regulation laws that were stringent against violators, community friendly and progressive in meeting emerging challenges of climate change. Thousands travelled great distances to participate in these consultations, and hoped that the Minister would keep his promise of genuine reform.
On 8th February 2010 Jairam Ramesh concluded the last consultation in Cochin. The report of the consultation clearly acknowledges ESG’s key demands that reform of coastal laws should not resort to issuing Notifications that are easily amended under pressure once more. Instead a progressive independent Act must be initiated to oversee the regulations of coastal development keeping primary the interests and traditional rights of fisher people and conservation of coastal ecosystems.
Within days of releasing the Consultation reports, MoEF has now proposed to comprehensively dismantle the existing Coastal Regulation Zone Notification and replace it with two separate Notifications: one for islands and the other for mainland coastal areas. These Notifications actively promote opening up our coastline for establishing SEZs, tourism projects, nuclear power plants, amongst other socially and environmentally destructive projects.
ESG has strongly criticised such regressive legislative proposals in a representation to Jairam Ramesh.
- Representation to Jairam Ramesh by ESG regarding amendments proposed by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) during 2010 to the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991, 29 May, 2010.
- Report of the MoEF Public Consultation to review the CRZ Notification, 1991 held in Chennai on Aug 19, 2009
- Representation submitted to Mr. Jairam Ramesh by Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation – KSMTF) along with endorsements
- Excerpts from the Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests Two Hundred and Second Report on Coastal Management Programmes; 20 March 2009