By Ms. Meera Gopal*

In 1981, the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi wrote a very impassioned letter to all the Chief Ministers of the coastal states with an earnest request to protect the coast and the beaches which had “aesthetic and environmental value as well as other uses[1] India has a large coastline covering more than 7500 km in length. A coast which is home to the famous beaches of Goa and Kerala, fishing communities and their traditional and sustainable fishing practices, hundreds of acres of mangrove forests home to a vibrant floral and faunal ecosystem, coral reefs, coastal estuaries, lagoons and backwaters, etc.At the same time, this coast is becoming increasingly vulnerable.The population of the coastal districts of India is ever-increasing[2]– this means tremendous stress on the natural resources, increased discharge of effluents into the sea, increased construction activities, thousands of MT (metric tonnes) of cargo handled on a daily basis at the 200 odd major and minor ports, clearing of eco-fragile mangrove forests, reclamation of the sea for infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, dredging for large ports to fit larger container ships, etc. In addition, the coast has also become highly vulnerable to the visible adverse impacts of climate change in terms of increasing sea levels and extreme weather events such as cyclones. This brings to fore the age-old debate of environment v/s development. How do we balance the needs of an ever-increasing population and the urgent requirement of protecting these highly vulnerable coasts? It was in these circumstances, that the Government of India promulgated the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification for the first time in 1991 by utilizing its powers conferred under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to bring in a formal framework of regulation of coastal commons in the country.  In the first part of the series, the scope and ambit of the regulations in successive CRZ Notifications have been discussed.

Coastal Regulation Zone Notification

The 1991 Notification envisaged protection of the coastal areas and for this purpose, declared “the coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters which are influenced by tidal action (in the landward side) upto 500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL) and the land between the Low Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL as Coastal Regulation Zone.” Activities within this CRZ were to be strictly regulated as per the provisions of the Notification. In 2011, this notification was revised, this time, the Central Government brought in an important facet which was missing in the 1991 Notification, livelihood security of the fisher and other coastal communities. The Notification also sought to recognize the issue of climate change related impacts such as natural hazards and sea level rise. Thus, the preamble stated that the main objective of the notification is to ensure “livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities, living in the coastal areas, to conserve and protect coastal stretches, its unique environment and its marine area and to promote development through sustainable manner based on scientific principles taking into account the dangers of natural hazards in the coastal areas, sea level rise due to global warming,”  The 2011 Notification was again revised and re-notified in 2019. This Notification is currently in force across the country. It may be noted that the CRZ Notification is thus the most amended, and most revised environmental law in the country.[3]

What Areas Constitute the CRZ?

As per the provisions of the CRZ Notification, 2019, the following areas have been defined as CRZ-

  1. the land area from High Tide Line (HTL)[4] to 500mts on the landward side along the sea front.
  2. the land area between HTL to 50 mts[5] or width of the creek (whichever is less) on the landward side along the tidal influenced water bodies[6] that are connected to the sea.[7]
  3. land area between HTL and Low Tide Line[8] (LTL) which is known as the intertidal zone.
  4. the water and the bed area between the LTL to the territorial water limit (12 Nm) in case of sea and the water and the bed area between LTL at the bank to the LTL on the opposite side of the bank, of tidal influenced water bodies.

Thus, the demarcation of the HTL and LTL becomes the most critical step in terms of locating the coastal zone across the coastal states of India. The demarcation becomes the basis of all regulations under the Notification. The Notification states that demarcation of High Tide Line (HTL) and Low Tide Line (LTL) as carried out by National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, Chennai (“NCSCM”) for the entire coastline of the country, has been made available to the Coastal States or Union territories and only such demarcation of HTL and LTL shall be applicable for all purposes of this notification.[9] In 2014, the National Coastal Zone Management Authority, India’s central coastal authority which comes under the environment ministry, handed over the responsibility of demarcating the High Tide Line to the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management. It may be noted that this demarcation in itself has received critical response from the public as the same was never shared by the NCSCM with the larger public.[10]

Classification/Zoning of CRZ

Foremost measure while managing coastal resources is the demarcation of the coast into various zones, each zone having its own set of prohibitions and regulations. The Notification classifies the above defined CRZ into four Zones- CRZ-I, CR-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV.[11] The purpose for such classification has been stated as “conserving and protecting the coastal areas and marine waters”. As mentioned above, the Zones are to be demarcated on the basis of the High Tide Line (HTL). Each of the four different zones has its own regulatory regime wherein certain activities are prohibited and certain activities are permissible, however, such activities are regulated as per the provisions of the Notification.

CRZ – I

The CRZ-I zone has been further subclassified as CRZ-1A and CRZ-IB. The former includes ecologically sensitive and the geomorphological features which play a role in maintaining the integrity of the coast while the latter includes the area between the as Low Tide Line and the High Tide Line. The ecologically sensitive areas include mangroves, corals, sand dunes, salt marshes, protected areas, nesting grounds of turtles, birds and horseshoe crabs’ habitats and sea grass beds, etc[12]. It also includes areas or structures of archaeological importance and heritage sites. The Notification requires that a detailed environment management plan shall be formulated by each State for such areas. However, the same has to be mapped and identified by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (“NCSCM”), Chennai. This EMP has to be then integrated with the Coastal Zone Management Plan of each State.[13]

CRZ – II

The Notification defines CRZ-II area as those areas that have been developed up to or close to the shoreline. Developed area has been clarified to mean the area within the existing municipal limits or in other existing legally designated urban areas which are substantially built-up and has been provided with drainage and approach roads and other infrastructural facilities, such as water supply and sewerage mains.

CRZ – III

CRZ-III areas include those that are relatively undisturbed and rural areas that do not belong to either CRZ-I or II. The Notification has further sub-classified this Zone into CRZ-III A and CRZ-III B on the basis of population density[14] In the said Area, the Notification has earmarked the area upto 50 m from HTL in case of CRZ IIIA and 200 m from HTL in case of CR-III B on the landward side, as well as 50m from HTL along tidal influenced water bodies or the width of the creek whichever is less as No Development Zone (NDZ).

CRZ – IV

The CRZ-IV which constitutes the water and bed area, has also been subclassified into CRZ-IV A and CRZ-IV B. The water area and sea bed between the low tide line upto 12 nautical miles has been designated as CRZ-IV A. CRZ-IV B relates to the water  and bed area within the a tidal influenced water body.

Special Consideration Areas:

Apart from the above classification, the CRZ Notification also identifies certain coastal areas for special consideration for protection of the critical coastal environment and the difficulties faced by the local communities. These include the following:-

  1. Critically Vulnerable Coastal Areas which includes Sundarban region of West Bengal and other ecologically sensitive areas identified as under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 such as Gulf of Khambat and Gulf of Kutchh in Gujarat, Malvan, Achra-Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, Karwar and Coondapur in Karnataka, Vembanad in Kerala, Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, Bhaitarkanika in Odisha, Coringa, East Godavari and Krishna in Andhra Pradesh shall be treated as Critical Vulnerable Coastal Areas (CVCA) and managed with the involvement of coastal communities including fisher folk who depend on coastal resources for their sustainable livelihood. Identified CVCAs require to have an approved Integrated Management Plan which are to be prepared in line with the guidelines for the preparation of the CZMPs. The IMP must keep in view the conservation and management of mangroves, needs of local communities, such as dispensaries, schools, public rain shelter, community toilets, bridges, roads, jetties, water supply, drainage, sewerage and the impact of sea level rise and other natural disasters.[15]
  2. Inland backwaters and islands along the mainland coast: These include all the inland islands in the coastal backwaters and islands along the mainland coast. For such areas, CRZ of only 20 m from HTL would be applicable. No new construction is permissible within this 20m zone. However, foreshore activities may be taken up subject to environmental safeguards.[16]
  3. CRZ falling within municipal limits of Greater Mumbai: In order to protect and preserve the ‘green lung’ of the Greater Mumbai area, all open spaces, parks, gardens, playgrounds indicated in development plans within CRZ-II shall be categorised as No Development Zone and a Floor Space Index up to 15% shall be allowed only for construction of civic amenities, stadium and gymnasium meant for recreational or sports related activities and the residential or commercial use of such open spaces shall not be permissible.[17]

Prohibited Activities Inside CRZ:

The Notification, in essence has given a general prohibition, applicable to all Zones, and has carved out several exceptions to the said prohibition.[18]The table below shows the list of prohibited activities.

Setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries, operations or processes.

Manufacture or handling of oil, storage or disposal of hazardous substances.

Setting up of new fish processing units.

Land reclamation, bunding or disturbing the natural course of seawater except for the activities permissible under this notification and executed with prior permission from the competent authority.

Discharge of untreated waste and effluents from industries, cities or towns and other human settlements.
Dumping of city or town wastes including construction debris, industrial solid wastes, fly ash for the purpose of land filling.

Port and harbour projects in high eroding stretches of the coast.
Mining of sand, rocks and other sub-strata materials.

Dressing or altering of active sand dunes.

Disposal of plastic into the coastal waters shall be prohibited and adequate measures for management and disposal of plastic materials shall be undertaken in the CRZ.

Extraction of ground water.  

The list would give an impression to a first-time reader that the law is very stringent in terms of regulating any activity on the coast. However, as the next section would clearly show, there are several exceptions to these general prohibitions.

Permissible Activities in CRZ

CRZ – IA :

The Notification envisages that generally no activity shall be permitted in this Zone, as the area is ecologically most sensitive. However, exceptions permitted include eco-tourism activities in identified stretches which would be subject to the eco-tourism plan given in the approved CZMP. Public utility projects such as laying of pipelines, transmission lines conveyance systems, roads on stilts are permissible in the buffer zone of mangroves. Roads and roads on stilts have been permitted in the name of projects for “defence, strategic purposes and public utilities”[19] It may be noted that none of these terms have been well defined in the notification.

CRZ – I B :

While there is a general prohibition on new construction activity within the CRZ-I area, the effect of the same is quite diluted due to the several exceptions that have been carved out. As many as eighteen activities have been permitted in the inter-tidal zone.[20] This includes land reclamation and bunding etc. for certain activities such as foreshore facilities, defence projects, erosion control measures, maintenance and clearance work of waterways, ports etc.; activities which require waterfront and foreshore facilities such as ports harbours etc.; non-conventional power projects; projects of the Department of Atomic Energy, projects for transportation of raw materials; salt harvesting plants; desalination plants; exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas; pipelines and transmission lines; etc.

CRZ – II :

The Notification states that all activities permissible in CRZ IB would also be permissible in CRZ-II as far as applicable. In the CRZ-II Zone, construction has been permitted with certain safeguards and conditions. For instance, building construction is permitted only on the landward side of an existing road, or already existing authorized structure. The said construction is subject to existing local town and country planning regulations. Reconstruction of authorized buildings has also been permitted subject to conditions. Tourism projects such as hotels and resorts have been permissible subject to the guidelines given in the Notification. Temporary tourism facilities have been permitted in beaches on the condition that a minimum distance of 10 m would be maintained from the HTL.[21]

CRZ – III :

All activities permissible in CRZ I-B have been permitted in CRZ-III area.[22]The Notification also permits activities such as hotels and tourism projects, limestone mining, etc.[23]

The NDZ- a misnomer?

As mentioned earlier, the Notification declares the area up to 50 m in densely populated areas and 200 m in the relatively less populated areas as No Development Zone. While the name suggests that no development/activity would be permissible within the NDZ, there are several activities which have been made permissible as an exception to the no development rule.[24]These include limited construction activities, i.e., only repairs or reconstruction of existing authorised structure not exceeding existing Floor Space Index (FSI),existing plinth area and existing density is permitted. Further, facilities essential for activities and construction or reconstruction of dwelling units of traditional coastal communities including fisher folk, incorporating necessary disaster management provisions and proper sanitation arrangements have also been made permissible. Other activities which have been permitted inside the NDZ are agriculture, horticulture, gardens, pastures, parks, play fields and forestry; construction of public utilities such as dispensaries, schools, public rain shelter, community toilets, bridges,roads, provision of facilities for water supply, drainage, sewerage, crematoria,cemeteries and electric sub-station which are required for the local inhabitants, permitted on a case to case basis by Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA).Certain fishing related activities have been made permissible including fish drying yards, auction halls,net mending yards, traditional boat building yards, ice plant, ice crushing units, fish curing facilities and the like. Even though, NDZ area covers rural and relatively undeveloped coastal areas, temporary tourism facilities have been made permissible in beaches in the CRZ-IIIareas and such temporary facilities shall only include shacks, toilets or washrooms, change rooms, shower panels, walk ways constructed using interlocking paver blocks, etc, drinking water facilities, seating arrangements etc. The 2019 notification also made mining of atomic minerals permissible in the NDZ which was not permissible otherwise.

CRZ – IV :

The territorial waters and seabed as well as waters and bed of the tidal influenced bodies were included under the framework of the CRZ Notification in 2011 for the first time. Permissible activities include traditional fishing and allied activities undertaken by local communities, limited reclamation and bunding activities, activities related to ports and harbours, etc., projects in the name of defense and security, maintenance dredging and clearing of waterways and ports, generation of power from non-conventional energy sources and associated facilities, etc.[25]

Conclusions

Even though the intent and objective of the CRZ Notification is laudable which takes into consideration all issues- protection of ecologically fragile coast, protection of rights of traditional fisher folk and coastal communities, as well as recognition of the adverse impacts of climate change,it is quite clear that the CRZ Notification is heavily tilted in favour of allowing all sorts of activities on the already fragile coast. There is a definite dichotomy that is clearly visible between the purported objective of the Notification and the regulations brought forth in the subsequent provisions. Unfortunately, neither the issue of livelihood security of traditional fisherfolk as well as coastal communities nor the issue of climate change induced coastal vulnerability have been adequately addressed by the present legal framework. Further, over the years, the provisions of this regulation have been consistently diluted by allowing more and more activities within the CRZ. The ‘protected’ areas are all being opened up to activities which were hitherto prohibited. The reduction of the NDZ area as well permission of mining of atomic minerals are prime examples of such provisions. In addition to the already diluted legal regime, the coast has suffered due to a lacklustre implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Notification. This aspect has been discussed in the next part of the series.

About the Author

*Ms. Meera Gopal is an Associate Litigator at Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE). She pursued LL.B. from National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi, and has completed her Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Law and Policy from National Law University, New Delhi. She has a keen interest in Environmental Law.


[1]Ramesh, J, Indira Gandhi: A life in Nature, pp. 325-326(Simon & Schuster India, 2017)

[2] As per available official information, there are 70 coastal districts in India supporting a population of 171 million people (http://iomenvis.nic.in/index2.aspx?slid=758&sublinkid=119&langid=1&mid=1)

[3]Kukreti, I “Coastal Regulation Zone Notification: What development are we clearing our coasts for” (Down  To Earth, 4 February 2019)

[4] The High Tide Line is defined as the mark where the water touches during the High Tide.

[5] This has been reduced from 100 meters as was prescribed under the 2011 notification. This has been a cause of serious concern amongst coastal and fishing communities, as more and more areas are being opened up for the purpose of development.

[6]The water bodies influenced by tidal effects from sea, in the bays, estuaries, rivers, creeks, backwaters, lagoons, ponds connected to the sea or creeks and the like.

[7]the distance up to which development along such tidal influenced water bodies is to be regulated shall be governed by the distance up to which the tidal effects are experienced which shall be determined based on salinity concentration of 5 parts per thousand (ppt) measured during the driest period of the year and distance upto which tidal effects are experienced shall be clearly identified and demarcated accordingly in the Coastal Zone Management Plans (hereinafter referred to as the CZMPs).

[8] The Low Tide Line is defined as the mark where the water touches during the low tide.

[9] Annexure IV

[10] Govindarajan, V. “The future of India’s coast depends on a line that the government is treating as a commercial secret” (Scroll.in, 22 May 2017), https://scroll.in/article/837204/no-transparency-central-bodies-are-refusing-to-share-data-for-indias-new-coastal-management-plan

[11] Para 2

[12] The Notification of 2011 had included Mudflats in the list of eco-sensitive areas, this has been now modified and qualified as “biologically active mudflats”

[13] The Guidleines for preparation of the EMP has been given in Annexure- 1 of the Notification.

[14] If the population density is more than 2161/sq.km then the area would be designated as CRZ-IIIA and other areas would be CRZ-IIIB. This sub-classification on the basis of population did not exist in the earlier notification and was introduced on the basis of the recommendations of an Expert Committee constituted by the MoEF to suggest changes in the existing CRZ Notification in 2015.

[15] Paragraph 10.1

[16] Paragraph 10.2

[17] Paragraph 10.3

[18] Paragraph 4

[19] Paragraph 5.1.1

[20] Paragraph 5.1.2

[21] Paragraph 5.2

[22] Paragraph 5.3 (i)

[23] Paragraph 5.3 (iii)

[24] Paragraph 5.3 (ii)

[25] Paragraph 5.4

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