Recently, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India tabled a report in Parliament on whether steps taken by the Union Environment Ministry to conserve India’s coastal ecosystems have been successful. This latest report contains the observations from an audit of Conservation of Coastal Ecosystems from 2015-20.
Key findings of this audit –
- The audit pointed out various categories of violations.
- For one, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had not notified NCZMA (National Coastal Zone Management Authority) as a permanent body and it was being reconstituted every few years.
- In the absence of defined membership, it was functioning as an ad-hoc body.
- There were instances of the Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs) not being present during project deliberations.
- EAC is a committee of scientific experts and senior bureaucrats who evaluate the feasibility of an infrastructure project and its environmental consequences.
- There were also instances of the members of the EAC being fewer than half of the total strength during the deliberations.
- The SCZMA had not been reconstituted in Karnataka and there was delayed reconstitution in the States of Goa, Odisha and West Bengal.
- The DLCs (District Level Committees) of Tamil Nadu lacked participation from local traditional communities. In Andhra Pradesh, DLCs were not even established.
- Also, there were instances of projects being approved despite inadequacies in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.
Coastal Zone Regulation –
- The Union government has issued notifications under the Environment Protection Act (1986), to regulate activities along India’s coasts particularly regarding construction.
- In India, the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules govern human and industrial activity close to the coastline, in order to protect the fragile ecosystems near the sea. They restrict certain kinds of activities — like large constructions, setting up of new industries, storage or disposal of hazardous material, mining, reclamation and bunding — within a certain distance from the coastline.
- CRZ along the country has been placed in four categories, which are as follows
- CRZ I – Ecologically sensitive areas
- Areas like mangroves, coral reefs, biosphere reserves etc. No new construction shall be permitted in CRZ-I except Projects relating to the Department of Atomic Energy; Construction of trans-harbour sea link and roads without affecting the tidal flow of water, between LTL and HTL etc.
- Between Low Tide Line and High Tide Line in areas which are not ecologically sensitive, the following may be permitted – Exploration and extraction of natural gas; Construction of basic amenities like schools, roads, etc. for traditional inhabitants living within the biosphere reserves; Salt harvesting by solar evaporation of seawater; Desalination plants; Storage of non-hazardous cargo such as edible oil, fertilizers within notified ports.
- CRZ II – Shore Line Areas – (Areas which are developed up to the shoreline and falling within the municipal limits; includes built-up area – villages and towns are that are already well established). Buildings are permissible on the landward side of the hazardous line. Other activities such as desalination plants are also permissible. Some construction is permitted only as per guidelines specified by the notification.
- CRZ III – Undisturbed Areas – Areas that are relatively undisturbed and do not fall under either in Category I or II and also include rural and urban areas that are not substantially developed. Between 0-200 metres from HTL is a No Development Zone where no construction shall be permitted. Only certain activities relating to agriculture, forestry, projects of Department of Atomic Energy, mining of rare minerals, salt manufacture, regasification of petroleum products, non-conventional energy sources and certain public facilities may be permitted in this zone. Between 200-500 metres of HTL, those permitted in 0-200 metres zone, construction of houses for local communities and tourism projects are permissible.
- CRZ IV – Territorial Area – The aquatic area from low tide line up to territorial limits is classified as CRZ-IV including the area of the tidal influenced water body. There is no restriction on the traditional fishing undertaken by local communities. No untreated sewage or solid waste shall be let off or dumped in these areas.
- Implementing Agencies –
- The three institutions responsible for the implementation of the CRZ are –
- National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) at the Centre,
- State/Union Territory Coastal Zone Management Authorities (SCZMA/UTCZMA) in every coastal State and Union Territory,
- District Level Committees (DLCs) in every district that has a coastal stretch.