In News: the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India tabled a report in Parliament on whether steps taken by the Union Environment Ministry to conserve India’s coastal ecosystems have been successful.
- The CAG frequently undertakes ‘performance audits’ of government programmes and ministries.
- This latest report contains the observations from an audit of Conservation of Coastal Ecosystems from 2015-20.
What are the Centre’s obligations on conserving the coastline?
- The government has issued notifications under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, to regulate activities along India’s coasts particularly regarding construction.
- The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (CRZ) 2019, implemented by the Ministry, classifies the coastal area into different zones to manage infrastructure activities and regulate them.
- The three institutions responsible for the implementation of the CRZ are the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) at the Centre, the State/Union Territory Coastal Zone Management Authorities (SCZMAs/UTCZMAs) in every coastal State and Union Territory and the District Level Committees (DLCs) in every district that has a coastal stretch and where the CRZ notification is applicable.
- These bodies examine if CRZ clearances granted by the government are as per procedure, if project developers once given the go-ahead are complying with conditions, and if the project development objectives under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Programme (ICZMP) are successful.
- They also evaluate the measures taken up by the government towards achieving the targets under Sustainable Development Goals.
Why did the CAG undertake this audit?
- The CAG has a constitutional mandate to investigate and report on publicly funded programmes.
- The CAG conducted pre-audit studies and found that there were large-scale CRZ violations in the coastal stretches.
- Incidences of illegal construction activities (reducing coastal space) and effluent discharges from local bodies, industries and aquaculture farms had been reported by the media and this prompted it to undertake a detailed investigation.
What did the audit find?
The audit pointed out various categories of violations.
- For one, the Environment Ministry hadn’t notified NCZMA as a permanent body and it was being reconstituted every few years.
- In the absence of defined membership, it was functioning as an ad-hoc body.
- There were instances of the Expert Appraisal Committees — a committee of scientific experts and senior bureaucrats who evaluate the feasibility of an infrastructure project and its environmental consequences — not being present during project deliberations.
- There were also instances of the members of the EAC being fewer than half of the total strength during the deliberations.
- The SCZMA had not been reconstituted in Karnataka and there was delayed reconstitution in the States of Goa, Odisha and West Bengal.
- The DLCs of Tamil Nadu lacked participation from local traditional communities.
- There were instances of projects being approved despite inadequacies in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.
- These included non-accredited consultants preparing the EIA, using outdated data, not evaluating environmental impacts of the project, not appraising the disasters which the project area was prone to and so forth.
What are CRZ norms?
- In India, the CRZ Rules govern human and industrial activity close to the coastline, in order to protect the fragile ecosystems near the sea.
- They restrict certain kinds of activities — like large constructions, setting up of new industries, storage or disposal of hazardous material, mining, reclamation and bunding — within a certain distance from the coastline.
- Under the section 3 of Environment Protection Act, 1986 of India, Coastal Regulation Zone notification was issued in February 1991 for the first time.
- In 2018-19, fresh Rules were issued, which aimed to remove certain restrictions on building, streamlined the clearance process, and aimed to encourage tourism in coastal areas.
- While the CRZ Rules are made by the Union environment ministry, implementation is to be ensured by state governments through their Coastal Zone Management Authorities.
Classifications of Coastal Zones under CRZ Notification 2011
CRZ-I (ecologically sensitive areas like mangroves, coral reefs, biosphere reserves etc.).
- No new construction shall be permitted in CRZ-I except
- Projects relating to the Department of Atomic Energy;
- Construction of trans-harbour sea link and roads without affecting the tidal flow of water, between LTL and HTL. etc.
- Between Low Tide Line and High Tide Line in areas which are not ecologically sensitive, the following may be permitted;
- Exploration and extraction of natural gas;
- Construction of basic amenities like schools, roads, etc. for traditional inhabitants living within the biosphere reserves;
- Salt harvesting by solar evaporation of seawater;
- Desalination plants;
- Storage of non-hazardous cargo such as edible oil, fertilizers within notified ports;
CRZ-II (Areas which are developed up to the shoreline and falling within the municipal limits; includes built-up area – villages and towns are that are already well established),
- Buildings are permissible on the landward side of the hazardous line.
- Other activities such as desalination plants are also permissible.
- Some construction is permitted only as per guidelines specified by the notification.
CRZ-III: Areas that are relatively undisturbed and do not fall under either in Category I or II and also include rural and urban areas that are not substantially developed.
- Between 0-200 metres from HTL is a No Development Zone where no construction shall be permitted.
- Only certain activities relating to agriculture, forestry, projects of Department of Atomic Energy, mining of rare minerals, salt manufacture, regasification of petroleum products, non-conventional energy sources and certain public facilities may be permitted in this zone.
- Between 200-500 metres of HTL, those permitted in 0-200 metres zone, construction of houses for local communities and tourism projects are permissible.
CRZ-IV: The aquatic area from low tide line up to territorial limits is classified as CRZ-IV including the area of the tidal influenced water body.
- There is no restriction on the traditional fishing undertaken by local communities.
- No untreated sewage or solid waste shall be let off or dumped in these areas.
New Rules under CRZ regulations
- The government notified new CRZ Rules with the stated objectives of promoting sustainable development and conserving coastal environments.
- For the so-called CRZ-III (Rural) areas, two separate categories have been stipulated.
- In the densely populated rural areas (CRZ-IIIA) with a population density of 2,161 per sq km as per the 2011 Census, the no-development zone is now 50 m from the high-tide level, as against the 200 m stipulated earlier.
- In the CRZ-IIIB category (rural areas with population density below 2,161 per sq km) continue to have a no-development zone extending up to 200 m from the high-tide line.
- The new Rules have a no-development zone of 20 m for all islands close to the mainland coast, and for all backwater islands in the mainland.
Source: The Hindu