New Delhi: India’s environment ministry has again amended the coastal zone rules to give relief to projects that started in the fragile coastal areas without required clearances. This, environmentalists warn, will have a serious impact on livelihoods and ecology.

India’s first coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification was issued in 1991, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, empowering the central government to restrict industrial activities and processes to protect the 7500km long coastline. The notification, which governs the conservation and protection work of India’s coastline, was amended 25 times before being comprehensively revised in 2011.

In June 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government constituted a committee under Shailesh Nayak, then secretary in the ministry of Earth sciences, to look into issues raised by states regarding the 2011 CRZ notification. In January 2015, the Nayak panel submitted the report.

But activists pointed out that rather than taking an overall decision on the recommendations in the report, the government is diluting the present norms by turning recommendations into a series of amendments to the 2011 notification.

Also read: Govt makes changes to coastal zone rules to allow construction

The latest amendments in the 2011 CRZ notification were notified on 6 March by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC).

The latest notification, which was reviewed by Mint, said that “all activities, which are otherwise permissible under the provisions of this notification, but have commenced construction without prior clearance, would be considered for regularisation only in such cases wherein the project applied for regularization in the specified time and the projects which are in violation of CRZ norms would not be regularised."

“Such cases where the construction have been commenced before the date of this notification without the requisite CRZ clearance, shall be considered only by MoEFCC, provided that the request for such regularisation is received in the said ministry by 30 June 2018," it added.

The notification further stressed that “concerned Coastal Zone Management Authority shall give specific recommendations regarding regularisation of such proposals and shall certify that there have been no violations of the CRZ regulations, while making such recommendations".

In May 2017, documents shared by conservationists had revealed that MoEFCC is planning to revamp CRZ norms which would open the coastline for activities for several developmental activities like tourism and real estate. It had, however, upset activists who called it dilution of present laws and said that the proposed norms would have serious implications for the marine environment. Read more

Experts have criticised the move even now.

“The notification only continues the trend of the environment ministry to allow violators a lease of life, rather than taking affirmative action that can act as a deterrence. These violations have serious impacts on livelihoods and ecology. Unfortunately, those who would face the impacts are have once again been kept out of the process," said Kanchi Kohli, legal research director at the centre for policy research (CPR)-Namati environmental justice programme.

Meanwhile, the notification noted that the central government received representations from various stakeholders, including state governments, regarding “extension of validity of clearance issued under CRZ notification and for consideration of post facto clearance". It observed that the National Coastal Zone Management Authority, in its meeting in November 2017, too decided that these issues need consideration. Therefore, the notification said, the central government was of the opinion that “it is in public interest to dispense with the requirement" of consulting with all stakeholders for amending the CRZ notification 2011.

The latest amendment also held that the CRZ clearance “accorded to the projects under this notification shall be valid for a period of seven years from the date of issue of such clearance".

“Provided that the construction activities shall commence within a period of five years from the date of the issue of clearance and the construction be completed and the operations be commenced within seven years from the date of issue of such clearance," it added.

It further said that the “period of validity may be extended for a maximum period of three years in case an application is made to the concerned authority by the applicant within the validity period, along with recommendation for extension of validity of the clearance by the concerned State / Union Territory Coastal Zone Management Authority".

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