Draft coastal regulations facilitate NDA's Sagarmala project but fishermen, environmentalists feel threatened

The 2018 Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has made way for the easy implementation of several government ventures that lacked necessary environmental clearances. But activists and experts feel that the proposed regulations threaten both the environment and the livelihood of local fishing communities.

One such venture that the NDA government has been trying to implement is the Rs 8 trillion Sagarmala Project. The Centre, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, issued a draft plan in February 2016 to facilitate the project that will see the setting up of six mega ports and the mordernisation of a few dozen more in coastal areas in the country. The ambitious project was adopted in April and plans to develop at least 14 Coastal Economic Zones (CEZ) and 29 Coastal Economic Units (CEU). Besides these, the development of mines, industrial corridors, rail, road and airport connectivity with the ports is expected to yield an export revenue growth of US$110 billion and generate over 1,50,000 new jobs.

But, environmental activists and locals feel the project will be of benefit only to private investors and fishing communities will be at a loss. The changes suggested by the 2018 CRZ is also likely to adversely affect the coastal environment.

 Draft coastal regulations facilitate NDAs Sagarmala project but fishermen, environmentalists feel threatened

“The new CRZ, issued on April 18, is brought to facilitate easy implementation of the Sagarmala Project. It will have a negative impact on the livelihood of fisherfolk and on the marine biodiversity,” said Joseph Vijayan, a Kerala-based activist who has been fighting for over four decades to protect the livelihood of fishermen in the state and the coastal ecosystem.

A significant modification suggested in the CRZ by the 2018 draft is decreasing the buffer zone area from the high tide line (HTL). As per the draft, CRZ will be applicable in a land area up to 50 metres from the HTL. As per the 2011 CRZ, the buffer zone was set at 500 metres from the HTL.

One in force, the regulation will allow eco-tourism activities such as mangrove walks, tree huts, nature trails, etc in areas very close to the coast through the development of coastal zone management plans (CZMPs) and with public consultation. While in CRZ-IA areas (classified as most sensitive coastal zone), no development activities shall be permitted, on mangroves located in private land, the new regulations do not require the setting up of any buffer zone.

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Pointing out that the previous CRZ allowed construction activities in the coast only beyond a distance of 200 metres from the HTL, Vijayan said, “The new CRZ notification allows construction activities at a distance of 50 metres from the HTL. This is going to the affect the livelihood of fishermen and the coast’s ecology.” He added that the new coastal regulations have been drafted only for the easy implementation of the Sagarmala Project that was initially proposed in 2003, under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA-government.

Though the project promises to set up over one lakh jobs in the area, fishermen feel that private parties are trying to steal their livelihoods.  T Peter, general secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), said, “The new CRZ was issued only to help industrialists, especially those in the tourism sector. When this CRZ will adopted, the port and tourism sector will steal the coastline from fishermen,” adding, “Late prime minister Indira Gandhiji implemented the CRZ to protect coastal areas, fishermen and the sea ecology. However, with time, it has been revised in a way to sell the coastline to businessmen, without bothering about the fishermen, their livelihoods, their rights and the coast’s ecology.”

Fishermen from coastal villages in Kerala said construction activities under the project have already started destroying the coast and creating adversities for them.

“Ongoing construction for the Adani group’s $65 million Vizhinjam Port can be seen damaging the coast,” said Simon S, a fisherman from Poonthura.

“Years ago, a 500-metre-long breakwater was built for a fishing harbour in Vizhinjam. That itself had resulted in coastal erosion. I used to fish in Poonthura, but now, I must travel to other areas as there is no coast left here," Simon added.

Vizhinjam Port is one of many projects under Sagarmala. A 3.8-kilometre long breakwater is being developed for Vizhinjam. “At least 15-kilometres of the coast and over 30,000 people will be affected when the Vizhinjam project is completed," said Vijayan.

Over 700 houses were damaged in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts due to the coastal erosion caused by developmental activities when the weather turned rough two weeks ago.

Ajayan Syrus, an activist from the fishing community in Anjuthengu, Kollam district, said that there are at least 40 people still sheltered in schools, after losing their houses due to the rough sea weather.

“Now, we have only a 50 meter broad coast. In my school days, we used to play football on the coast. Day by day, we are losing our coastline,” Ajayan added.

Peter said that NFF has called for a national consultation on the issue on 15 May in Mumbai. The meeting aims to recreate large-scale mobilisation against the CRZ notification.

The NFF has also declared 5 June as National Action Day against the draft CRZ.

“Our demands on this day of action would be to recognise the inalienable traditional and customary rights of fishermen over coastal lands and waters and to enact a national act for the conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity that inter alia protects traditional fish workers’ preferential access and historic use to coastal and marine resources,” said Peter.

A study conducted by the Centre for Earth Science and Studies (CESS) stated that under the physiographic conditions of Kerala, the population density has tended to increase towards the coastal region.

Even the unstable coastline has not deterred large human settlements near the sea. Out of a total area of 38,863 sq km in Kerala, 3,355 sq km falls in coastal regions, supporting a population of over 72 lakh. The density of coastal urban population is 4,228 per sq km, as compared to the average urban density of 2,097 in the state and the coastal rural population density is 1,700, far more than the state’s average rural population density of 603.

“Considering the large number of people, the high concentration of industries, the existence of small and large ports, and the enormous fishing potential, the question of limiting development or putting in place a regime of regulatory measures for human activities on the coast is bound to be a highly contentious,” the CESS study concluded.

The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.

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Updated Date: May 05, 2018 17:59:42 IST