New Delhi: India’s 7,500km-long coastline will be governed by a new coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification from Friday that seeks to balance the interests of fishing communities and business.

Jairam Ramesh, minister for environment and forests, said the new notification will reconcile livelihoods with coastal ecology and the promotion of economic activity. In recent months, Ramesh has been in conflict with various ministries and industry over his strict implementation of environmental laws. He said the CRZ notification 2011 demonstrates a better balance between the environment and development.

“We have to get used to the idea of power plants on the coast, especially because they need port links for gas or coal and water supply. We can’t take the position of no economic activity on the coast," he said.

One of the key differences from the earlier 1991 notification is the halving of the no-development zone from 200m from the high-tide line to 100m to meet increased demands of housing for fishing and other traditional coastal communities. Special economic zone projects will no longer be allowed in the CRZ area.

Creating balance: Jairam Ramesh says the environment ministry is also considering a river regulation zone notification along similar lines. Sonu Mehta / Hindustan Times

“We are not happy with the notification as some of the major proposals have not been adopted in the notification," said Matanhy Saldanha, chairperson of the National Fishworkers’ Forum. “The notification allows local communities to build/protect their house which is falling between 100-200m, but the definition of local communities is not clear. By not defining local communities, the notification has not plugged the loopholes."

He also said the notification doesn’t provide any clarity on the concept of the hazard line.

“We also strongly oppose the establishment of nuclear plant/atomic plants in the CRZ area," he said.

Activists aren’t very hopeful that the implementation of the new notification will be any different from the previous one as the institutional framework remains the same.

“The CRZ notification was supposed to be a tool to maintain fisherfolks’ livelihood. Its biggest failure was its inability to protect that interest. I don’t know if (this) will be any different," said Manju Menon of Kalpavriksh, an environmental activist group. “This rhetoric that you have to get used to thermal power plants doesn’t help their case. They have kind of decided that the constituency (of coastal communities) is not important."

Also, for the first time, an island protection zone notification has been issued for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep islands. The 1991 CRZ notification was amended 25 times till 2009, and the new notification includes the amendments.

Over the past 18 months, the ministry of environment and forests held countrywide public consultations on the draft and an expert committee headed by M.S. Swaminathan had made its recommendations. The draft was opened to public discussion in September.

Ramesh said the ministry is considering a river regulation zone (RRZ) notification along similar lines for protection of ecologically fragile riverbeds.

“The devastation of the Yamuna riverbed by construction should be a wake-up call. The Akshardham temple (in east Delhi) was the first culprit, which led to a series of other constructions. We are seriously considering an RRZ, and hopefully we can notify it in the next few months," he said.

On being questioned as to why large riverbed projects such as the Akshardham temple and the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village were approved, Ramesh said the temple never applied for clearance. “The CWG Village did get a clearance, but it shouldn’t have gotten it. We can’t go and demolish it now," he said.

In a major departure from the earlier rules, the new notification makes way for exceptions or special provisions for areas such as Greater Mumbai, Goa, Kerala and critically vulnerable coastal areas such as the Sunderbans (West Bengal), Chilka and Bhitarkanika (Orissa), the Gulf of Khambhat and the Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat), Malwan (Maharashtra), Karwar and Kundapur (Karnataka), Vembanad (Kerala), East Godavari and Krishna Delta (Andhra Pradesh), and the Gulf of Munnar in Tamil Nadu.

Menon of Kalpavriksh said the system of adding exceptions could set a bad precedent as more could possibly be added later.

In Mumbai, the special provisions pertain to allowing slum redevelopment and the refurbishment of old, dilapidated buildings. The Navi Mumbai airport is also another exception made for greenfield airports, not allowed otherwise.

“To the extent that the notification deals with slums and old buildings in the CRZ, it is useful because their redevelopment was not possible as no FSI (floor space index) in excess of what was prevailing in 1991 could be granted. This demand was pending for quite sometime, so it’s a favourable decision," said V.K. Phatak, former principal chief town and country planner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

Increased FSI will allow developers to increase the number of storeys they can build.

States will now be given the responsibility to draw up coastal zone management plans with the participation of local communities and measures to combat pollution in these areas will be implemented. This is the first time marine pollution has been included in the CRZ rules, having earlier been included in the Environment Protection Act.

Existing violations under the earlier notification will not be condoned or regularized, with the exception of cases involving fishing families, Ramesh said. All state and Union territory coastal zone management authorities will be asked to identify all violations and initiate action within four months, he added.

Khushboo Narayan in Mumbai contributed to this story.