The Union government recently approved draft coastal regulation zone notification, 2018, permitting various activities which were banned in the earlier notifications. The thrust of the notification is on tourism promotion. The Centre has reduced no development zone from 200 metres from the high tide line to just 50 metres. For islands, no development zone has been reduced to a mere 20 metres. The Union cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has delegated powers to the state governments to give clearances to projects falling in CRZ-II and CRZ-III with necessary guidance. The Centre claims to have approved the draft in order to encourage activities to promote economic growth and to help conservation of coastal regions. The idea of economic growth with environmental conservation has been a worn-out rhetoric of governments.
Voices have been raised in Goa against the draft CRZ notification. Even BJP MLA Alina Saldanha has said that if the notification is implemented it will be “suicidal” for the state and its entire 105-kilometre coastline will be affected. The fears have a strong basis. The draft CRZ notification streamlines the process of CRZ clearances; only projects located in the CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive areas) and CRZ IV (area covered between low tide line and 12 nautical miles seaward) will go to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for clearance. The changes have been made in the backdrop of representations received by the Union government from various coastal states/Union territories and other stakeholders, though several objections from the state have been ignored. Though the approval for the coastal zone management plans will be based on the suggestions and objections raised by the public at public hearings, many have raised questions about the efficacy of the provision. The Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott (GRE) has said that the draft notification was a blatant violation of section 3 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The earlier CRZ notification was issued with a view to guaranteeing security of livelihood to the fishing communities and other local communities living in the coastal areas. The earlier notification was aimed at conserving and protecting coastal stretches, unique environment and marine area and to promote sustainable development based on scientific principles taking into account the natural hazards in the coastal areas and sea level rise due to global warming. The new draft plan does not give these assurances.
There are grounds for apprehension that the changes to the CRZ rules would disrupt the livelihood and life of coastal communities. Worse, there is serious erosion in trust of the central government. Several quarters have noted that the draft notification Coastal Regulation Zone, 2018 ignores the comments and suggestions of the coastal communities and concerned civil society groups. As the government did not incorporate people’s suggestions, fear is growing that the provision of public hearing at the district level on the draft notification might come to nothing, as even after adverse suggestions and objections are received, the central government would ignore them and go ahead to approve the draft plan in order to achieve the objectives. Many groups that had given their suggestions during public hearing based on solid scientific studies have lost hope for justice from the government, which means a conflict situation is building up. Though the Centre has said that the coastal zone management plans would be revised based on suggestions and objections, this does not inspire much confidence among the people.
The draft rules provide for permissions to ecotourism projects such as mangrove walks, tree huts and nature trails but they need to be featured in the CZMPs after the due consultative process and public hearing. The draft also speaks about permitting temporary tourism facilities at beaches, including shacks, toilets/washrooms, change rooms, shower panels, walkways constructed using interlocking paver blocks, drinking water facilities and seating arrangements. These facilities, the central government says, would be permitted subject to the tourism plan of the state. However, Goa does not have a tourism plan. A tourism master plan has been in the making for last seven years and there are no signs that it would be finalized soon. Development of the coastal areas has already caused much damage to the ecology and livelihood of the traditional coastal communities. Over-development will bring about a ruin in the coastal areas. The state government must conduct a free and fair public hearing in both the districts on the draft notification on the coastal zone management. Objections and suggestions of the concerned communities must be incorporated in the new coastal zone management plans.