Monday, August 31, 2009

Coast clear for revival of CRZ notification

Some of the high profile CRZ violations at Injambakkam Beach, near ECR

Published : 31 Aug 2009

IT was a tough piece of proposed legislation of 1991 vintage. But it failed to deliver because there was no political will to implement it.
Over the years, it underwent multiple amendments, which diluted its provisions and reduced it to a toothless tiger.
Realising that it was a dud, the Union government last year replaced it with a new proposed law. But the new formulation ran into a huge wall of fire almost immediately, with stakeholders feeling that the emaciated 1991 proposal was infinitely better than the new one. Failing to convince anybody on the credibility of the new law, the government smoked it out and decided to revert to the 1991 proposal after strengthening it. Stakeholders now argue that the original proposed legislation in itself was pretty robust. What is needed is the will to strictly enforce it.
This, in sum, is the tortuous history of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), which was notified in 1991 but never strictly implemented. The law was meant to protect the coastal ecosystems and regulate development along the coastline. In the last 18 years, it underwent 25 amendments under pressure from vested interests, rendering it impotent.
“The CRZ was tinkered merely to help corporates grab the land of the fishermen for mindless development,” rues K Bharathi, president, South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association (SIFWA), which has a considerable presence in the coastal districts across the State.
Over the years, the government constituted several committees to strengthen CRZ 1991. But none of the panels had fishermen as part of the decision- making process.
Last year, the Union government trashed the CRZ and introduced a new law, the draft Coastal Management Zone (CMZ) notification. But CMZ drew universal criticism as it was seen as proindustry and heavily loaded against the fishermen.
So, on July 22 this year, the CMZ was allowed to lapse. Union Minister of Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh now wants to revive the CRZ after strengthening it.
A few weeks ago, the Union government began a series of public consultations for incorporating amendments to the 1991 notification.
But fishermen argue that the original CRZ 1991 notification is a solid piece of legislation. “It does not need fortification. What is needed is a firm political will to implement the law,” says Bharati.
Other fishermen organisations in the State echo Bharati. “The livelihood of crores of fishermen families can be saved only by implementing the CRZ notification in toto and by ensuring the traditional and customary rights of the fishing community in the coastal zone,” says S A Mahesh, president of the Union of Tamil Nadu Puducherry Fishermen Associations.
Then there is the case of illegal structures that are violative of CRZ. “If the State government can be firm on clearing encroachments within the city, should it adopt a different yardstick while dealing with structures that violate the CRZ?” wonders Bharati.
Displaying rare candour, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh recently admitted in Chennai that the country’s record in environment protection was pathetic. Fishermen hope he will be equally candid in admitting that the undiluted CRZ needs no strengthening.
But for now they are keeping their fingers crossed.

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