On 19th August 2009, a public consultation was organized at Kamaraj Memorial Hall, Chennai as part of the series of public consultations being organized by the Centre for Environment Education (on behalf of the MoEF) for reviewing the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991. The MoEF has commissioned the Centre for Environment Education to conduct 10 public consultations across the country as a part of this process of reviewing the coastal regulation framework of the country after taking into account the experiences of fishing communities with the CRZ.
In 2008, the MoEF had proposed to replace the CRZ Notification with a Coastal Management Zone Notification – marking a shift from a regulatory approach to a planning based approach towards coastal management. The CMZ Notification met with stiff resistance from fishing communities, social action groups and environmentalists as it essentially opened up the country’s coast to all sorts of developmental activities, and was significantly weaker than the CRZ Notification, 1991. In July 2009, the MoEF constituted an Expert Committee chaired by Dr. Swaminathan to review the objections received by the Ministry to the Draft Coastal Management Zone Notification. The Committee recommended that the CMZ Notification be allowed to lapse, and that the CRZ Notification, 1991 be retained and further strengthened to protect coastal ecosystems and the livelihoods of fishing communities. The MoEF allowed the Draft CMZ Notification to lapse, in accordance with the recommendations of the Review Committee. Further, the Report of the Review Committee has formed the basic framework for the entire process of public consultations.
The panel for the Public Consultation in Chennai comprised of Mr. Jairam Ramesh (Minister of State for Environment and Forests), Mr. Thangabalu (Chairman of the District Congress Committee), two representatives from NGOs working in the Tamil Nadu coast , Dr. Nalini Bhat and an official from the Tamil Nadu Department of Environment & Forests. It is surprising that a Chairman of the Congress Committee was present even when no Minister from the State Cabinet was part of the panel. The public consultation was attended by representatives of fishing communities from various districts of Tamil Nadu (Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Thiruvallur, Ramanathapuram, Kanchipuram and Chennai), the Union Territory of Pondicherry and even Andhra Pradesh.
The major district-wise issues of fishing communities, raised during the public-consultation:
- Kanyakumari district: Fishing communities want the ban on harvesting sea cucumbers to be withdrawn. Another problem that was reiterated by various speakers from Kanyakumari was the extensive sand mining in recent years that was eroding the beaches and disturbing the sand dunes. One speaker also raised the issue of how post Tsunami shelters were badly planned in the district. She pointed out that the shelters had been constructed very far from the sea and that now, people of the relocated community were spending Rs. 40/ on auto fare everyday, just to get to the beach so that they could go fishing. This is becoming an economic burden for the fishermen/women.
- Ramanathapuram district: Mr. Arnold was the only speaker from this district and he made a detailed presentation of the problems faced by the fishing communities in Pamban, Mantapam and Rameshwaram areas. In Pamban, a sea wall of 300-400 m length has been constructed along the coast which blocks the access of fishing communities to the sea. A National Highway runs along the coast, and at certain points has been reinforced with boulders. This has cut off the access of fishing communities to the sea, for another 1.5 miles.The district administration’s recent move of converting a boat jetty into a park has further compounded the woes of the fishermen/women. Many fishing villages in Pamban also are exposed to the pollution from a fish processing unit that was set up under the INEP project, a few years ago. Effluent discharge from this unit has affected the population of dolphins and sea cows in the area.In Mantapam, a Coast Guard station that has been set up in the middle of the beach which obstructs the free movement of fishers to various parts of the beach. Mantapam also has a number of constructions on the beachfront in violation of CRZ norms, and some of the violators include governmental agencies.In Rameshwaram, fishermen have been displaced from a beach where they earlier stored their boats and nets when the beach was converted into a tourist zone. CRZ violations are a problem, just as in the case of Mantapam.
- Cuddalore district: Four factories and four desalination plants have been proposed in Cuddalore . The Upanad river which is used by the fishermen/women has become highly polluted because of an underground pipeline carrying factory effluents. (details were not specified by the speakers). Aparently, the clearance for the pipeline was granted by the State Pollution Control Board without checking the CRZ norms applicable for the area. A common view among the speakers was that future clearances for industrial projects should be granted in Cuddalore only after conducting a study of cumulative environmental impacts.
- Tuticorin district: Fishing community representatives said that their catch had been affected because of the fly ash dumping from the 1000 MW Thermal Power Plant that has recently been set up.(near the Nettukuppam area)
- Tiruvallur district: Pollution due to the pipeline discharge from Ennore port, fly ash dumping from the Atthipet thermal power station and the recently instituted Forest Department ban on using 21 islands in this district were seen as problems. The ban was seen as extremely disruptive as most of these islands were being used as temporary shelters by fishermen during storms and bad weather.
- Nagapattinam district: The proposed acquisition of 1200 acres of agricultural lands for a port project was seen as the immediate problem. There was no mention of concerns specifically relating to the fishing villages.
- Chennai district: In Chennai, most speakers from fishing communities said that they were troubled constantly by the police and their fishing routines were disrupted for any minor official function on the coast, because of ‘security’ concerns. Another issue was that almost all of Chennai had been classified as CRZ-II zones, except the Adayar estuary that has been classified as CRZ-I because of its species diversity and the fact that it was one among the Olive Ridley turtle nesting grounds. There are other areas along the Chennai coast which are equally eco-sensitive and need to be classified as CRZ-I, but this has not been done. Even more shocking is the decision of the CMDA to construct a High Speed Circular Corridor right through the Adayar estuary, though the area is protected as CRZ-I.
- Union Territory of Pondicherry: Over 15 fishing villages in Pondicherry have lost their access to the beach front as hotels, resorts and tourist homes have proliferated along the beach. Explosive development of the tourism industry is leading to the slumming of the fishing villages, according to one speaker. Another issue raised was that the UT administration was quick to clear developmental projects like the SPM port but dd not show the same enthusiasm in completing the construction of post-Tsunami shelters for fishing communities.
Issues that were raised,pertaining to the CRZ Notification and its implementation:
- The issue of instituting a mechanism to track the violations of the CRZ Notification,1991 and punishing violators was constantly raised in the course of the public consultation.
- The idea that the CRZ Notification,1991 was a better legislation when compared to the CMZ Notification that had been allowed to lapse was repeatedly expressed, throughout the consultation.
- It was pointed out that the 25 amendments to the CRZ Notification, 1991 had considerably weakened the original notification and hence, the notification needed to be restored to its 1991 status.
- Most representatives from fishing communities expressed their opinion that a separate Parliamentary legislation to protect the entitlements and traditional rights of fishermen needs to be enacted, along the lines of the Forest Rights Act.
- One speaker from Chennai expressed his opinion that strengthening and reviewing the CRZ Notification should not be done through a process that relied merely on 10 public consultations across the coastal states. He pointed out that there were 581 fishing villages in the State of Tamil Nadu alone, and that any sincere effort to reform coastal regulation had to involve the fishing community in large numbers. This would involve going to each fishing village through the gram panchayats, and also instituting debates on the rights of the fishing communities in the Parliament and the Legislatures of the coastal States.
Response of Mr. Jairam Ramesh to some of the issues raised:
- Mr. Ramesh felt that the development of fishing villages was a concern of the State and District level administration, and he could not do much about their access to infrastructure. However, the concerns raised pertaining to industrial pollution, port development and the threats to their access to the beach front and other traditional rights because of CRZ violations by developers could be certainly addressed.
- Mr. Ramesh said that he would examine the ban on fishing near the Gulf of Mannar and set up a Committee to study the necessity of banning the harvesting of sea-cucumbers. He clarified that sea cucumbers were part of the protected species under the Wildlife Act and he could not commit to lifting the ban without careful deliberation.
- Mr. Ramesh said that the National Green Tribunal Bill that he had tabled in Parliament could help fishing communities seek redressal for threats because of pollution along the coastline. He also said that IIT Mumbai has been commissioned to conduct a detailed study of all the ports along the coastline in order to look at the cumulative impact of ports.
- For taking action against CRZ violators, Mr. Ramesh proposed a scheme for temporal satellite mapping of the coastline. He said that the Environment Protection Authorities that is being planned by the MoEF to strengthen EIA legislation could also play a role in coastal monitoring. A detailed scheme of monitoring CRZ violations needs to be put in place.
- Mr. Ramesh said that in two months, a legislation that would protect the traditional rights of the fishing communities would be tabled in Parliament. He assured that any further efforts to rework the coastal regulation framework would use the CRZ Notification,1991 as the basis and that no attempts would be made to revive the CMZ Notification.
Report prepared by:
Environment Support Group