Bringing in some significant changes in the way it governs its coasts, the government is moving to remove the ban on reclamation of land in coastal areas for commercial or entertainment purposes while also allowing tourism activities even in ecologically sensitive areas along the shores.
The Environment Ministry is learnt to have finalised a new notification to replace the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 2011 that regulates all kinds of activities along India’s coastline. The new order, to be called Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification, is likely to be issued soon.
The draft MCRZ notification also allows setting up of fish-processing units, makes allowance for facilities meant for patrolling and vigilance activities of coastal or marine police, and removes the necessity of obtaining environmental clearances for constructing housing units, and related infrastructure, for local fishermen community. The new order, however, does not make any changes in the definition of areas that would be classified as the regulation zone. The MCRZ would extend to at least 500 m towards the landward side from the high-tide line demarcated by the government.
Activities within this zone would continue to be regulated but certain activities like land reclamation for commercial purposes that were banned earlier can now be taken up. The demand for permitting reclamation of land had been voiced mainly from Maharashtra. The Environment Ministry has reasoned that reclamation of coastal areas was being undertaken across the world to address economic, social and security issues, and that such reclamation could be allowed in India as well after detailed studies.
The Ministry has also acknowledged the “tremendous tourism potential” in the classified ecologically sensitive areas, like wildlife reserves, along the coasts that have remained unexploited because of restrictions under the CRZ regime. It has argued that these areas are getting destroyed or are neglected and are becoming dumping grounds or being encroached. Karnataka, Kerala and Goa had been asking for this change.
The decision to open up these areas for tourism activities is in line with the recommendations of Shailesh Nayak Committee that had submitted a report in 2015 on the changes that needed to be made in the existing CRZ regime after listening to the grievances and demands of the state governments and other stakeholders. That committee had also recommended relaxation of restrictions for creating infrastructure for local communities like housing, and for setting up security-related infrastructure.
The state governments are being asked to prepare tourist development plans and to ensure that the beaches are maintained clean, and no waste or effluent is disposed near them. The new notification also removes certain ambiguities in the previous regime with regard to development activities in populated areas. Now, all coastal cities and towns having a population density of 2161 persons or more would come under restricted zone where development activities would have to be regulated in line with a Marine and Coastal Zone Management Plan to be developed by every state government. Earlier, only certain “developed areas” of these towns which were “substantially built-up” were under regulation.
In the ecologically sensitive areas, defined as NCRZ-I areas, development activities will be permitted only if these are required in the “national interest” as recommended by the state government. Sewage treatment plants, coastal roads, defence structures, basic infrastructure facilities for local communities, and temporary tourism facilities are some of the activities that can be allowed.