Operation of Coastal Zone Regulations: Its Legal Implications – An Insight

Anshu Bansal, Research Associate

Mrs. Gandhi’s concerns about protecting the environment and ecology of India’s coasts which held sway for almost 20 years, now go for a toss under a regime supervised by her daughter-in-law and grandson ((REPORT OF THE EXPERT COMMITTEE ON COASTAL REGULATION ZONE NOTIFICTION, 1991)).

Indira Gandhi during her tenure restricted any kind of activities within 500 meters of the high tide line. In 1991, notification relating to the coastal regulation zone was issued under the Environment Protection Act. Since the issuance of the notification, it always remained a highly debatable topic and various committees were also being set up in order to suggest changes. These committees include B.B. Vohra committee, Prof. N. Balakrishnan Nair Committee on issues relating to Kerala on Coastal Regulation Zone. The most important committee constituted by the Ministry to carry out comprehensive review of the CRZ Notification, 1991 was Prof. M. S. Swaminathan Committee.

It is sad but true that in less than 20 years the 1991 notification has amended more than 25 times and finally in 2011 all the amendments along with recommendations of various committees including the recommendations made in the “Final Frontier” Report by the Committee chaired by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan has been incorporated in a single document. The Swaminathan report castigated the Environment Ministry for the 25 amendments and said they were all in the nature of unwarranted dilutions. Nevertheless, rather mysteriously, it recommended scrapping the notification altogether and substituting it with a fresh notification called the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) notification ((Id.)).

Internationally, there exist documents such as the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean ((Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean, adopted at Barcelona 16 February 1976, and amended on 10 June 1995 available at a Proposal for a Model Law on Sustainable Management of Coastal Zones together with a draft European Code of Conduct for Coastal Zones ((Available at http://www.unesco.org/csi/act/russia/legalpro5.htm#model.)). The purpose of model laws is to provide a standard text that states can use as a basis for national legislation. The Model Law and the Code of Conduct do not have the status of international conventions, since there is no obligation on any state to apply them, and they can be modified to suit national circumstances ((Id.)).

Environment law Perspective of the Coastal regulation zone

To put it simple, Coastal regulation zone is the boundary from the high tide line up to 500m in the land -ward side ((Available at http://gisserver.nic.in/czm/coastal%20regulation%20zone.htm.)). Broadly, coastal regulation zone can be divided into 4 categories. They are CRZ-I (sensitive and inter tidal), CRZ- II (urban or developed), CRZ-III (rural or undeveloped), CRZ-IV (Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands).

Coastal pollution is a change in the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water & sediments. It causes degradation of the natural quality of the coastal environments. It affects the health and survival of all forms of life ((Coastal Zone Management in India: An Environmental Law Perspective available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1692296)). The National Environmental Policy, 2006 also mentions that “Development activities in the coastal areas are regulated by means of the Coastal Regulation Zone notifications and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) plans made under them. However, there is need to ensure that the regulations are firmly founded on scientific principles, including the physical, natural, and social sciences. This is necessary to ensure effective protection to valuable coastal environmental resources, without unnecessarily impeding livelihoods, or legitimate coastal economic activity, or settlements, or infrastructure development. Islands offer unique ecosystems and coastal planning and regulation in their case needs to take into account features such as their geological nature, settlement patterns, volcanic or coral nature of the island, size of the habitations, unique cultures, livelihood patterns, etc ((Available at  http://www.envfor.nic.in/nep/nep2006e.pdf.)).

Journey from 1991 notification to 2011 notification

The notification has undergone a huge change in 2 decades. In order to understand the present relations it is pertinent to first analyze the 1991 notification. Flaws of notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests regarding Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) on 19.2.1991 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 ((Frequently Asked Questions on the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011 and Island Protection Zone Notification, 2011.)):

  • It stipulated uniform regulations for the entire Indian coastline ((It includes 5500 Km coastline of the mainland and 2000 Km of coastline of the islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep)). It therefore, failed to take into account that the Indian coastline is highly diverse in terms of biodiversity, hydrodynamic conditions, and demographic patterns, and natural resources, geomorphologic and geological features.
  • In the 1991 Notification, no clear procedure for obtaining CRZ clearance was laid down and no time lines stipulated. Furthermore, there was no format given for the submission of clearance applications.
  • It also did not provide a post clearance monitoring mechanism or a clear cut enforcement mechanism to check violations.
  • It sought to regulate all developmental activities in the inter-tidal area and within 500 metres on the landward side. No concrete steps were indicated in the 1991 Notification with regard to the pollution emanating from land based activities.

In order to correct the above flaws 2011 notification was issued. The main objective of 2011 notification is to ensure livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities, living in the coastal areas, to conserve and protect coastal stretches, its unique environment and its marine area and to promote development through sustainable manner based on scientific principles ((S.O.19(E).- whereas a draft notification under sub-section (1) of section and clause (V) of subsection (2) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 was issued inviting objections and suggestions for the declaration of coastal stretches as Coastal Regulation Zone and imposing restrictions on industries, operations and processes in the CRZ was published vide S.O.No.2291 (E),dated 15th September, 2010.)).

Changes made in 1991 notification

  • The CRZ Notification, 2011 lays out the method and the time frame in which actions shall be taken against any violations of the Notification. The CZMAs at the State level and the NCZMA, at the Central level shall be strengthened in a time bound manner and their capacities enhanced by MoEF for effectively enforcing the Notification ((Supra note 9)).
  • To ensure transparency in the working of the CZMAs, the Coastal Zone Management Authority has to create a website and post on such website the agendas, minutes, decision taken, clearance letters, violations, action taken, court cases etc. including the CZMPs. Such provisions were not provided for in the CRZ Notification, 1991 ((Id.)).
  • No more SEZ projects in Coastal Regulation Zone area will be allowed.
  • The provisions pertaining to the regulation of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep have been dropped and in view of the specific geographical issues, environmental sensitivity and to meet the needs of the islanders, a separate Notification has been issued called IPZ Notification ((Id.)).

It is also to be noted that no restrictions are being imposed on any fishing activities and allied activities of the traditional fishing communities in this area. Special provisions have also been incorporated for the fishermen communities living in sensitive areas.

Recently, in the Himmatbhai case, it was said that Corporation assuming for a moment that the land falls within the Coastal Regulation Zone, then in such circumstances, the regulations restrict certain type of usage, but does not restrict the disposal of the land by its owner by way of sale, gift or lease ((Himmatbhai  Bhimjibhai  Menia v. By on 30 July, 2013 the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad writ petition (PIL) no. 130 of 2011.)). In other cases also importance is being given to coastal regulation zone and it is vehemently contended that judiciary tend to protect these zone from unnecessary interruptions. Some of the cases are The Goa Foundation and Others v. The North Goa Planning ((The Goa Foundation and Others v. The North Goa Planning, AIR 1995 Bom 342)), Susetha v. The Union of India ((Susetha v. The Union of India, Writ Petition No.30725 of 2008.)).

Conclusion and recommendations

The major shortcoming of costal regulation zone notification is that instead of restricting and limiting the activities in the CRZ, in a way it is legitimizing the activities. Now even atomic reactors and stilt bridges are operated in these areas. It has also been stated that India’s beaches are now facing an imminent danger of disappearing as result of many factors ((Available at http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/new/NDTV-Show-Special.aspx?ID=169.)).

The best way to tackle the situation is to first create public awareness and then set standards. Strict implementation of Laws related to prevention of coastal zones should be done. In order to conserve & guard the coastal environment Judiciously, scientific knowledge on all aspects of pollution is essential. Addressing all the concern of people depending on coastal zones for their livelihood is of prime importance.

 Harekrishna Debnath, chairperson, the National Fish- workers’ Forum rightly pointed out “The CRZ should not just be a matter of notification, it should be a matter for discussion, and full public debate in the coastal state assemblies and the Parliament should be done, before a comprehensive legislation is enacted ((Sebastian Mathew, Coastal Management Zone: Implications for Fishing Communities, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 25 (Jun. 21 – 27, 2008) available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/40277582.)).”