Monday, August 31, 2009

CRZ violations: Insert mandatory punitive provisions

(Left: Nityanand Jayaraman)

Published : 31 Aug 2009

If Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh really wants to strengthen the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) 1991 notification, he must introduce penal and punitive provisions to put the fear of God in the violators.
That is the main gray area in the proposed legislation.
“Any improvement to the CRZ notification should incorporate mandatory penal and punitive provisions in the event of willful violation of the rules,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, independent journalist and researcher tracking issues of corporate crime and environmental justice. “The regulation must be clear about the mandates of various regulatory agencies involved in implementing the law,” he adds.
Citing a few CRZ violations in the city, Jayaraman points out that government agencies too are guilty of such acts. For example, at the northern end of the Marina Beach lies a massive dump for construction debris.
The Corporation and Public Works Department dumped it there, after undertaking construction activities within the Secretariat or other government buildings.
Private parties too dump debris in that area, which comes within the CRZ-I limits. The dumping area is bound on the north by the estuary formed by the Cooum River, and on the east by the sea, he said.
Similarly, in Adyar creek, an area that could clearly be identified as creek land with sea water ingress and eg ress well after 1991 (the year of the notification), a spate of high-rise construction for elite housing, software parks and five-star hotels has been permitted.
The extraction of groundwater for construction activities and the discharge of untreated sewage into the estuary continue unabated.
In Besant Nagar, Marina and Thiruvanmiyur beaches, the Chennai Corporation had undertaken a series of works on the pretext of “beach beautification”. Much of it involves sand excavation and construction on the beach area, which is part of CRZ-I.
The work went on even after media reports and public complaints on the illegal nature of the project.
The construction of a bathroom complex adjacent to the Marina Swimming Pool and a semifinished and now abandoned brick-and0cement viewing gallery on the Besant Nagar beach stand testimony to such violations. No punitive action has been taken against those responsible for the violation, says Jayaraman.
The PWD also undertook massive construction works within the premises of the abandoned Governor’s bungalow in Besant Nagar beach. This, again, did not have any prior permission and went on despite public opposition. The CRZ permission was hurriedly obtained when the construction was well underway, the researcher said.
Reportedly, the permission was merely for renovation within the pre-existing plinth area. But the PWD and the Governor’s office undertook whole-scale landscaping, replacing the beach sand with earth, lawns, a pool, and expanding the plinth area from the pre-existing 79 sq m to 117 sq m.
The Highways Department plans to set up a coastal elevated expressway from Lighthouse on the Marina Beach to Kottivakkam, to connect to the East Coast Road. The project goes through 14 fishing villages and residential areas of the coastal poor. Movement of private vehicles is its priority.
The project would have little bearing on improving the public transport infrastructure in the city, argues Jayaraman.
The proposed expressway runs through the ecosensitive Adyar Estuary, and along the Marina, Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur beaches. These beaches are well documented as the sites of annual nesting of the Olive Ridley sea turtles, a Schedule 1 species. The expressway project along with another road project - the high speed Adyar- Porur Corridor - would not only violate the CRZ, but also cause damage to the coastal environment of South Chennai.
The proposed Adyar corridor runs along the southern bank of the Adyar River starting from the estuary. On the southern bank, along the estuary, is the densely-wooded Theosophical Society.
Here the native mangroves are making a comeback.
The Adyar corridor proposes to run right through the society grounds, lopping off the last remaining mangroves in this area.
As for the northern bank of the estuary, some elite investors working in collusion with the State have allegedly encroached upon the area. Now, it is just a high-rise concrete jungle.

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