Since November 2014 there have been at least four amendments to India’s Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011. In all but one instance, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has emphasised on the “public interest” clause, allowing the dispensation of the requirement of a public notice and seeking citizen’s inputs before the issuance of the notifications.
The CRZ notification was issued under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 that gives powers to the Central Government to restrict industrial activities and processes in an area for the protection of the environment. The regulations and management clauses of this notification are applicable to the over 7500-km coastline of the country. It was first issued in 1991 and went through 25 amendments before it was comprehensively revised in 2011 (Menon et al, 2007).
In spite of the massive exercise undertaken in 2011, amendments continue to be introduced to the new notification. The changes that have been brought about through executive orders since 2014 almost run parallel to the process of a special committee set up to review the CRZ notification. This committee that had been set up in June 2014 under the Chairmanship of Shri Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences was to submit its report to the MoEFCC in October 2014.
Since there was no public announcement on whether this Committee completed its work or submitted a report, it is anyone’s guess whether the new amendments since November 2014 have any relation to this Committee at all. In a Right to Information (RTI) response received from the MoEFCC on 18 March 2015, the ministry indicates that while the committee has submitted its report, it will be made public only after it is accepted by the “competent authority”.
The new changes relate to the transfer of substantial decision-making powers for specific projects to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities (SEIAAs), as they now have powers to approve projects, which are not listed in the EIA notification, a power that was with the MoEFCC earlier.
The amendments also specifically exempt the construction of memorials and monuments in CRZ areas from the notification. Further they allow for the construction of beach resorts within 200 metres of High Tide Line in CRZ II (municipal areas), which was otherwise restricted under the existing guidelines of the CRZ notification.
While the amendments related to increased powers of the SEIAA for final approval may be lauded by some who see it as a channel for greater federalism, from the point of view of decentralised implementation, this barely changes the status quo. The amendments do not push for institutional reform for better implementation and outcomes, nor do they take into account the need for multiple levels of institutions.
One of the most significant changes brought in by the 2011 CRZ notification was the introduction of a new institution, the District Level Coastal Committee (DLCC). DLCCs were introduced by the new notification in order to support the huge burden of work and realise the lofty objectives of the CRZ notification.
In the absence of DLCCs, this burden rested upon a wafer-thin and distant institution such as the Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA) in the state capitals (Menon et al, 2015). The introduction of DLCC members as mandated by the notification takes the number of people directly engaged in coastal governance from a mere 119 CZMA members to a minimum of 671.
According to initial notifications issued by various state governments, DLCCs are expected to add 585 members to the implementation structure of the notification, as the table below illustrates.
Another objective of introducing the DLCC was to ensure greater participatory governance of the coasts. These committees were to be set up under the Chairpersonship of the District Magistrate and had to include at least three representatives of local traditional coastal communities, including fisherfolk.
One of the main advocates for involving fishing and other coastal communities in CRZ decision-making was the country’s largest non-partisan union of fishing people and coastal dwellers, the National Fishworker’s Forum. They systematically convinced the Union government to create official space for their representation on CRZ decision-making bodies, rather than treat them as mere recipients of expert decisions.
Pre-2011 district level institutions
However, it would not be correct to state that DLCCs were the first ever attempt at ensuring district level participation in decision-making over coastal regulation. States such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had district level committees or authorities related to coastal protection even prior to this clause being introduced formally in the law.
The state of Tamil Nadu pioneered the setting up of District Coastal Management Authorities at the state and district levels (DCZMA) back in June 1998, using Section 4 of the CRZ notification, 1991. The MoEFCC set up State Coastal Zone Management Authorities (SCZMAs) in all coastal states in November 1998.
In Tamil Nadu, the SCZMA acknowledged the significance of district level bodies and held that these district committees were ‘suitable’ to scrutinise the project proposals and give their recommendations to the state authority.
In its fifth meeting in June 1999, the TNSCZMA delegated the task of verification of complaints about CRZ violations and proposals for re-categorisation of CRZ areas to these district level bodies. It also formalised the process of taking inputs from DCZMAs while screening project proposals for clearance.
Similarly, Karnataka constituted district level committees in 2001 following a High Court order which directed the State Government to designate an officer to examine a request for the issue of building licences in CRZ areas that were yet to be demarcated officially.
The State Government, by its order dated 14 June, 2001 constituted committees in each of the coastal districts under the chairmanship of the District Commissioner to verify whether the proposed building is likely to violate CRZ regulations. After examining such requests the committee would forward the case to the KCZMA (state) with its opinion. The KCZMA gradually came to depend heavily on this committee for ensuring that building licenses were not issued in contravention of CRZ regulations.
Both these cases imply that the SCZMAs were in dire need of an additional and decentralised workforce to ensure implementation of the notification. They have depended on these district-level bodies for bringing real time ground realities to weigh in on CRZ cases and ensure its implementation.
Despite the agreement to have district level bodies as part of the new CRZ notification and implementation mechanism, the follow up by state governments on this crucial and progressive aspect of the CRZ notification remains a subject that nobody in power is really interested in pursuing. Unsurprisingly then, the issue has also failed to make any appearance in the recent amendments clarifying institutional roles.
Most government efforts made to study the notification have been through special committees set up to recommend amendments to the law; not a single one concerned itself with the structure and role of the institutions set up for implementation. It is not known yet if the Shailesh Nayak committee, discussed earlier, looked into the issues of DLCC functioning as part of its review.
But the implementation of Section 6(c) of the CRZ Notification, 2011, which mandates the setting up of DLCCs, requires critical enquiry. The following summarises the findings of a comprehensive study of the institutional aspects of the CRZ notification and its implementation which is currently under print. Such a study is the first for this legal instrument that has been part of official environment law since 1991.
As per the information received in response to over 15 Right to Information (RTI) applications filed before the State CZMAs, all state governments except Goa have either issued orders or sent out letters to District Collectors for constituting DLCCs. These RTI responses were received between May and November 2014. However, even to date, DLCCs are yet to be constituted in many districts, leave alone be made functional.
In Gujarat an order was issued on 14 October 2013 directing the setting up of DLCCs. This order also laid down the powers and functions of DLCCs in Gujarat, which included powers to verify complaints, assist in enforcement and also take measures to protect the coast. The progress on constituting these bodies has been slow and low on priority in almost all districts of the state. As of early 2015, DLCCs had not been set up in 7 out of 14 coastal districts of the state.
Minutes of the meetings of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu SCZMAs accessed through RTI applications and from the respective SCZMA websites indicate that DLCCs are functional in these states.
Even in states where DLCCs are already in place or where orders have been issued to set them up, there are huge variations in the role prescribed for these bodies in different states.
The CRZ 2011 only gives broad directions on the purpose and composition of DLCCs. It would have been important for the MoEFCC to notify an amendment clarifying the role of the DLCCs and reaffirm their importance in coastal governance. Doing this would show the government’s intent to realise decentralisation and devolution of powers, which goes beyond the ‘centre vs state’ tussle on decision-making.
With no such step taken so far since the promulgation of the notification, SCZMAs have worked with DLCCs in a variety of ways. For instance, according to the minutes of meetings held in 2013-14, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have involved DLCCs in the task of conducting public hearings on Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMPs) and seek feedback from them on project proposals that require approvals.
Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Karnataka have empowered DLCCs to take cognizance of violations suo moto and on complaints received by them. This is evident from the constitution orders issued by each of the SCZMAs between March 2011 and October 2013.
As per the State Government orders constituting DLCCs, the committees have been authorised to take appropriate steps to act on the violations. Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal empower their respective DLCCs to remove illegal structures and encroachments and they can take help of the district police authorities for the same.
In Karnataka, the DLCC has to take action as per the directions given to them by the KCZMA. In Tamil Nadu, the district level institutions or DCZMAs have been made responsible largely for monitoring and enforcement of the CRZ notification. Using Section 4 of the CRZ Notification 1991, they have been empowered to take action on violations. However, how these powers are being used by the DLCCs could not be tracked from the meeting minutes obtained from SCZMAs.
In each of the states where DLCCs have begun functioning, the number of members varies from 7 to 20 members. The minimum is in Kerala, where there are 7 members and the maximum is seen in Ganjam District of Odisha with 20 DLCC members.
The representation of traditional fisherfolk on the DLCC is a minimum of three persons as suggested by the CRZ notification, 2011. In all cases except the following, the figure remains three. In Karnataka’s districts, it ranges from three to five people, in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha it is five and in the districts of Tamil Nadu, the representation of traditional fisherfolk is nil.
The information related to constitution of DLCCs in various districts received through RTI responses indicates that the Pollution Control Board (PCB) is a member of all constituted bodies. The Superintendent of Police and coastal experts have also been made members in DLCCs of Maharashtra and West Bengal.
Though the composition of DLCCs does provide for membership of various government departments managing the coast, their representation is much greater than the non-departmental members. This could cause conflict especially as government departments could violate clauses of the notification or abet it.
To cite an example, Gujarat made it mandatory for the Department of Ports to be a member in the DLCCs of the state. It is important to contextualize this move in light of the fact that the state of Gujarat has 40 major and minor ports, second only after Maharashtra (Indian Ports Association, undated). Their membership in the DLCC can have an important influence on the decision making, especially in instances when action needs to be taken on violations by port projects and on carrying out tasks of conservation.
Similarly, irrigation or canal divisions of the state have been brought into the membership of DLCCs in Odisha.
Making DLCCs work
It has been over four years since the new notification was issued and commitments were made to improve coastal governance and the lives of people that depend on coastal space and resources. DLCCs are key to the realisation of such commitments.
However, as the analysis above shows, there has been almost no attention paid to this layer of coastal governance. They are yet to be set up in two states: Goa and Andhra Pradesh. In other districts where they have been set up, they are yet to find their voice.
Orders, directions and circulars issued by the MoEFCC to the SCZMAs have never mentioned DLCCs, leaving one to believe that they don’t exist. While the SCZMAs report regularly on their responsibilities and decision making, there is little by way of documenting the day-to-day functioning of the DLCCs.
Except in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, DLCC meetings and decisions may not even be documented and therefore invisible to themselves. They are quite naturally unavailable to researchers and policy makers also.
DLCCs form the fulcrum of the institutional structure for the implementation of the notification, a crucial bridge between coastal communities and the law. They need to be carefully shaped and nurtured as an institution, built up with capacity, resources and powers, studied and advised for good practices and monitored for the best possible outcomes.
- MoEF team, Ministers to discuss CRZ norms today, The Hindu, 22 August 2014
- Recognise rights of fishing community: NFF, Deccan Herald, 24th May 2008
- Indian Ports Association: State Wise Number of Ports, accessed on 4 March 2015
- CZMAs and Coastal Environments: Two decades of regulating land use change on India’s coastline. CPR-Namati Environment Justice Program, India (in print).
- Coastal Zone Management: Better or Bitter Fare? Economic and Political Weekly, Vol – XLII No. 38, September 22, 2007, pp 3838-3840
- NFF (National Fishworker’s Forum) Report 2011, as on 4 March, 2015
- Coastal regulation zone norms: Central team to submit report in October, The Times of India, 24 August 2014.