The Supreme Court last week ordered the demolition, within a month, of five apartment complexes in Maradu municipality in Ernakulam, Kerala, for violating Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. The order came on a special leave petition (SLP) filed by the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA).
While the CRZ Rules are made by the Union Environment Ministry, implementation is supposed to be done by state governments through their Coastal Zone Management Authorities. The states are also supposed to frame their own coastal zone management plans in accordance with the central Rules.
The CRZ Rules
CRZ Rules govern human and industrial activity close to the coastline, in order to protect the fragile ecosystems near the sea. The Rules, mandated under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, were first framed in 1991. They sought to restrict certain kinds of activities, like large constructions, setting up of new industries, storage or disposal of hazardous material, mining, or reclamation and bunding, within a certain distance from the coastline. The basic idea is: because areas immediately next to the sea are extremely delicate, home to many marine and aquatic life forms, both animals and plants, and are also threatened by climate change, they need to be protected against unregulated development.
In all CRZ Rules, the regulation zone has been defined as the area up to 500 m from the high-tide line. Several kinds of restrictions apply, depending on criteria such as the population of the area, the ecological sensitivity, the distance from the shore, and whether the area had been designated as a natural park or wildlife zone.
Despite several amendments, states found the 1991 Rules to be extremely restrictive. They complained that if applied strictly, the Rules would not allow simple things like building decent homes for people living close to the coast, and carrying out basic developmental works. The 1991 Rules also created hurdles for showpiece industrial and infrastructure projects such as the POSCO steel plant in Odisha and the proposed Navi Mumbai airport in the first decade of the new century.
Evolution of Rules
The Centre notified fresh CRZ Rules in 2011, which addressed some concerns. An exemption was made for the construction of the Navi Mumbai airport. (The POSCO project had failed to take off due to other reasons.) Projects of the Department of Atomic Energy, which plans to set up nuclear power plants near the coast, were exempted.
After even these Rules were found inadequate, however, the Environment Ministry in 2014 set up a six-member committee under then Earth Sciences Secretary Shailesh Nayak to give suggestions for a new set of CRZ Rules. The committee submitted its report in 2015. Simultaneously, the Chennai-based National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management defined a new high-tide line along India’s entire coastline to remove ambiguities. Separately, the Survey of India defined a hazard line along the coasts — to be used mainly for disaster management planning.
Based on these and other inputs, the Environment Ministry issued fresh CRZ Rules in December 2018, which removed certain restrictions on building, streamlined the clearance process, and aimed to encourage tourism in coastal areas.
The current situation
The January this year, the government notified new CRZ Rules with the stated objectives of promoting sustainable development and conserving coastal environments.
For the so-called CRZ-III (Rural) areas, two separate categories have been stipulated. In the densely populated rural areas (CRZ-IIIA) with a population density of 2,161 per sq km as per the 2011 Census, the no-development zone is now 50 m from the high-tide level, as against the 200 m stipulated earlier. In the CRZ-IIIB category (rural areas with population density below 2,161 per sq km) continue to have a no-development zone extending up to 200 m from the high-tide line.
The new Rules have a no-development zone of 20 m for all islands close to the mainland coast, and for all backwater islands in the mainland.
Cases in Kerala
There have been cases of courts in Kerala ordering demolition of resorts or apartments for violating CRZ norms earlier. But stakeholders have either obtained stays, or have got relief in the Supreme Court.
In 2014, a Single Bench of Kerala High Court ordered the demolition of a waterfront residential complex of DLF in Kochi. A Division Bench cancelled the demolition order, but fined the builder Rs 1 crore. After KCZMA appealed, the Supreme Court in January 2018 upheld the verdict of the Division Bench.
In 2013, the High Court ordered a Rs 350-crore resort in Alappuzha pulled down. The order was stayed by the Supreme Court.
Kochi’s Lakeshore Hospital was in the dock for violating CRZ norms. But in 2003, the project got a breather from the High Court, which dismissed a public interest plea that had come after the construction had been completed.
Some 26 resorts and hotels on Thiruvananthapuram’s Kovalam beach have been served notices for violations of CRZ Rules. In the Kochi Municipal Corporation area, 35 violations have been reported.