The Ministry of Environment and Forests has come out with a blueprint for river regulation zones where it proposes to prohibit or regulate developmental activities on riverfronts and floodplains.
The flooding of the Kashmir valley and later Chennai had happened in large part because uninhibited construction had blocked the flood basinsof the rivers in the respective cities. In the wake of these calamities, the ministry has sent a draft river zone notification to state governments seeking their views. The proposed river regulation zones will be under the ambit of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
The draft notification, sent earlier this month and accessed by The Indian Express, seeks to declare river stretches and floodplain zones as river conservation zones and prohibit certain activities in those zones. River stretches including their tributaries have been divided into three categories —floodplain rivers, seasonal rivers and mountain rivers/hill streams. The draft notification has suggested three kinds of river regulation zones to mark out the limits where development activities will be banned or restricted.
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PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES ZONES:
These zones (floodplain area with most frequent flooding and vulnerable to negative impacts of human activities) will extend from the riverbank to the outer edge of the floodplain and beyond — 500 metres from the highest flood level during the past 50 years. Wherever the floodplain area has embankments, the Prohibited Activities Zone will extend from the riverbank to the existing outermost embankment, and a 100m buffer outside that embankment.
In cases where the floodplain area lies in ecologically sensitive and fragile watersheds, areas of outstanding beauty, heritage sites, areas rich in genetic diversity or otherwise important for rare and endangered species and within national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves or similar protected areas, the Prohibited Activities Zone will include the entire area irrespective of the 50-year floodline on riverbank on either side.
RESTRICTED ACTIVITIES ZONES:
These zones will be floodplain areas which are subjected to less frequent flooding than areas under the former category and which lie farther from the river. The limits will extend up to 1 km from the outer limits of the prohibited zone.
REGULATED ACTIVITIES ZONE:
The limits of such zones will extend up to 3 km from the outer limits of the restricted activities zone.
In river conservation zones, certain activities will be permitted — traditional organic farming, traditional capture fishing, groundwater withdrawal with hand-pumps, traditional grazing by domestic animals, discharge of treated domestic waste waters, recreational activities that do not require boat jetties. However, construction of new embankment, spurs, land reclamation, bunding, dumping of solid waste, storage of inflammable or toxic materials, withdrawal of water for commercial purposes except for hydro-power and irrigation projects will be prohibited.
The draft also seeks to have a National River Conservation Authority headed by secretary of the ministry, and a State River Conservation Authority headed either by the chief secretary or additional chief secretary.