Inept Regulation Matches Speedy Clearances in India’s Coastal Zone Management

On Goa's coast. Credit: jo_stafford/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

On Goa’s coast. Credit: jo_stafford/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Tardy progress in regulation or conservation of coastlines on the one hand, matched by prompt project clearances on the other have come to light in one of the few, if any, detailed assessment of coastal zone management in India.

The assessment report, prepared by the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and the non-government organisation Namati Environmental Justice Program, bears significance given the vulnerability of India’s 7,500 kms of coastlines to rising sea levels and fiercer storms due to global warming.

India’s coastline contains some of the country’s largest cities, such as Chennai and Mumbai, many of which are low-lying and densely-populated pockets with nearly 260 million people living within 50 km of the sea coast.

It also houses key infrastructure including ports, oil and gas industries, defence installations, transport and freight networks, and road and rail corridors, all of which are juxtaposed against high-rise buildings with sea views in coastal cities, and local fishing communities along per-urban areas and villages.

The report

The CPR-Namati report is based on primary data, including minutes of over 350 CZMA meetings held between January 1999 and March 2014; 39 interviews with sitting and ex members;  and staff, consultants and officers at the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) in charge of CZMA implementation.

Although state CZMAs are mandated to upload information on minutes of meetings, decisions taken and clearances issued, three states with long coastlines — Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Tamil Nadu – have not done so. Based on the available minutes between 2010 and 2013, the report found that the the discussions were “skewed” towards project clearances; and paid bare attention to conservation. For example, in Odisha and Karnataka states, discussions on project clearances formed 90% of agenda items, and 46% in Goa; while the maximum attention to conservation was a mere 1.5%, in Odisha state.

Projects also appear to be cleared rapidly. The report examined over 4500 project proposals in nine state CZMAs and found that on an average, 15 projects were discussed in a half-day meeting, with an 80% rate of approval in nine states.

As opposed to the rapid rate of project approvals, officials conducted site visits in only 8% of the projects appraised by the state CZMAs.

The rapid approval rate  also “makes the number of projects to be monitored post-clearance quite high,” Meenakshi Kapoor from Namati told Wire.in.  But in reality, “the part-time status of the SCZMAs and high number of ex-officio members who have their main duties in other departments impacts post-clearance monitoring.”

And “neither the CRZ notification nor the orders issued by the MoEF constituting SCZMAs prescribe anything on post-clearance monitoring,” adds Kapoor. “Only in Jan 2014, Karnataka SCZMA has asked the regional directors (environment) to monitor the compliance of 25% of projects that have been granted clearance.  But what transpired afterwards is not known.

All states have missed the December 2014 deadline – and subsequent revision of deadline – to prepare coastal zone management plans (CZMPs), the report found. The states are bogged down with reclassifying the coastal zone regulation (CRZ) areas, particularly the time- and cost-intensive process of demarcating high tide line and low tide line areas.

The result is that states are using the old 1996 CZMPs, to appraise projects and identify violations, leading to confusion over assessment of environment and social impacts, and actions to be taken against violations.

The CPR-Namati report also found that two states, Andhra Pradesh and Goa, do not have DLCCs (district level coastal committees), while Tamil Nadu’s DLCC does not have any representation of coastal communities, which is a legal requirement.

The report examined at depth whether or not  conservation of coastlines was one of the CZMA functions, whether conservation was considered while issuing clearance, and the exact meaning of the terms ‘areas requiring special consideration’, ‘economically important stretches’, ecologically sensitive areas’ and ‘critically vulnerable coastal areas’ (CVCAs).

It found that conservation formed less than 2% of discussions, and that these were restricted to conservation of mangroves. Other ecosystems and habitats that are critical to India’s coastlines were not even considered for discussion.

It also found that no CVCAs have been notified although it was mandatory to do so, and that as of December 2014, the MoEF had not issued guidelines for identification, planning, notification and implementation of CVCAs.

Despite reaching out, the MoEF did not respond to our questions.

Adding to concerns

The report should ring alarm bells for several reasons, given environment minister Prakash Javdekar’s repeated assertions that environmental concerns and protests will not be allowed to “block” projects on ‘development’ and ‘national security’ which would be given priority.

A June 2015 policy brief of the Delhi-based The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) estimates that  India’s investment on infrastructure is likely to be doubled in the coming years, with a substantial chunk going to coastal areas for the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), tourism development, port, rail and road corridors, and housing.

TERI had cautioned that this “needs careful regulation for competing uses such as housing, industry and livelihoods while also maintaining the ecological viability of these niche spaces.”

There have been few, if any, detailed studies on the performance and implementation of programmes of the Coastal Zone Management Authorities (CZMAs), one of the oldest environment regulatory bodies in India, and the CPR-Namati report makes an attempt to plug this gap.

A workshop on coastal zone regulation, organised by the Delhi-based NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in January 2015, had addressed some of the practical issues and ground realties in implementing coastal zone regulation.

For example, demarcation of high and low tide lines involves detailed scientific assessment.  S S Ramakrishnan, professor at the Institute of Remote Sensing, Anna University, Chennai had explained the steps involved at a workshop.  

These included demarcation of high and low tide lines along both coastal stretches and tidal-influenced inland water bodies; superimposition of the tide lines on to digital cadastral maps at a ratio of 1:2960, along with 100 m, 200 m, and 500 m buffer lines; and finally demarcation of mangroves of more than 1000 square metres.

Following demarcation, further planning would involve superimposition of hazard maps; and location of cyclone shelters, rain shelters, helipads and roads for rescue and relief operations – all of which need coordination and planning.

K.V. Thomas, head of marine sciences division at the National Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvanathapuram identified operational issues in coastal zone regulation. These include field level difficulties to deal with conflicting directions; sectoral interests and conflicts; lack of a coordinating platform; difficulty to establish acceptable trade-offs between conflicting development aspirations; dominance of private owners on coastal land; and strong tendency to resist or circumvent any legislation that imposes restrictions on individual property rights.

Other constraints include weak or limited enforcement capacity at the local level; reliance on the already overstretched local administration system; perceptions of coastal zone regulation notifications as obstructing development; and often no great political will at the local level for enforcement of regulations.

Global Warming and Coasts:

Poor coastal management is expected to aggravate future impacts of global warming on coastal areas too.

A working paper by TERI and USAID, released in 2014, which formed the basis of TERI’s June 2015 policy brief, highlighted some of the changes recorded in two Indian coastal cities, Panaji and Visakhapatnam, attributed to global warming.

Visakhapatnam was hit by Cyclone Hudhud that tore into the city into October 2014, leaving 26 dead and a trail of devastation in the city, shattering glass panes, and uprooting trees and telecommunication poles. Exactly a year before, in 2013, cyclone Phailin hit India’s eastern coast off Odisha.

TERI studied the rainfall trends for the last three decades for Visakhapatnam, to understand the trends in extreme precipitation events which may aggravate the vulnerability of infrastructure assets. The analysis showed high rainfall in fewer rainy days from 1979 t0 2009, and an increase in extreme rainfall incidences.

The study said sea-level rise, coupled with extreme events such as cyclones and storm surges or rainfall extremes, will lead to inundation, water logging, and floods in the city. It identified hotspots within Visakhapatnam that were particularly vulnerable to storms surges and flooding due to cyclone and heavy rains.

Some of the  vulnerable areas that are likely to be affected, these areas have land uses ranging from residential, commercial, and institutional to heritage, conservation areas, and also ecologically sensitive areas.