The government is planning to bring in changes to the way the country’s coasts are governed. A draft Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification is reportedly in the offing. The last Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules were notified in 2011. There have been significant changes in land-use along the coast since the CRZ 2011 was notified and it has been argued that a strict implementation of the 2011 rules has led to a neglect of development in coastal areas, particularly in Karnataka, Goa and Kerala. The draft tries to open up coastal areas to development activities, but it does so in a manner that invites accusations that it wavers on its fundamental mandate of protecting coastal ecology and securing the livelihoods of people who depend on marine ecosystems.
The draft proposes to remove the ban on reclamation of land in coastal areas for commercial or tourism activities even in ecologically-sensitive areas. In doing so, it does not adequately acknowledge the idiosyncrasies of coastal areas. Sand dunes, for example, are natural bulwarks against strong sea winds and high waters. Mangroves, the tiny forests along the coastlines, cushion the impact of tidal waves. Flattening them in order to construct tourism infrastructure compromises the coast’s resilience to natural calamities. The new rules continue a trend that began in 2015 with a series amendments to the CRZ 2011. An amendment that year, for example, allowed reclamation of the seabed for constructing roads. Another amendment, last year, allowed commercial establishments like the shacks in Goa to remain erected during the monsoon months.
This was done despite the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority’s objections that the amendment could result in these temporary structures becoming quasi-permanent, in turn, interfering with the activities of fishing communities. The draft does try to take fish communities on board. It proposes setting up of fish processing units and removes the necessity of environmental clearances for constructing infrastructure for fishing. But it is still a climbdown from the 2011 rules, which tried to give space to coastal communities to participate in some regulatory decisions on coasts. The rules mandated the creation of District Level Coastal Committees. But the notification did not specify the roles of these committees. This ambiguity meant that the committees weren’t adequately empowered to deal with exigencies such as those arising from the decision to allow the shacks in Goa to operate during the monsoon months. The draft does not address this concern of the fishing community.
It is nobody’s case that coastal areas should remain impervious to development. However, the new rules could have negotiated a more considered balance between the imperatives of development and securing coastal ecology. The debate that takes place after the draft is put up for public comments should address these gaps and concerns, and, more importantly, the government should take note of them.