Democratic decision-making eludes amendments to India’s Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011

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In the following blog, researchers of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environment Justice Program argue that  there has been little public engagement during the revisions carried out since 2014 in the Coastal Regulatory Zone notification, 2011, despite requests and suggestions from the fishers, urban planners, dwellers of coastal cities, environmentalists and academics:

India’s Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011 is an important legislation that governs the land use on the first 500 m of coastal land from the high tide line of the sea in India. This law, which replaced the earlier original version – the CRZ, 1991 will soon be eight years old. Of these eight years, the environment ministry and other associated institutions have spent extensive time in the last four years in reviewing, revising and seeking to replace this regulation.

Since 2014, the environment ministry has reviewed at least five drafts of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 2011. File notings received from the ministry clearly tell that there have been serious internal debates within the ministry on amending this law, since a formal review was set up through the Shailesh Nayak Committee constituted in June 2014. The CPR – Namati Environment Justice Program has reviewed multiple drafts of the CRZ notification and analysed the discussions within the ministry related to aspects of tidal demarcation, width of the CRZ and No Development Zone (NDZ) and tourism enhancement on the coast. Even as a consensus was to emerge on these aspects, the ministry has continued to introduce amendments to the CRZ Notification, 2011 (see here). Throughout this time, there has been little public engagement on these revisions, despite requests and suggestions from the fishers, urban planners, dwellers of coastal cities, environmentalists and academics.

Quick recap: 2014-2018

Almost immediately after the new national government came to power a committee was constituted to review the CRZ regulation. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) appointed Shailesh Nayak, the then Secretary Ministry of Earth Sciences to lead a six-member committee. The committee was constituted on June 17, 2014 to look into the “concerns raised by the state governments, examine errors and inconsistencies, and bring procedural simplification”. After examining the issues brought to it by the states, the committee prepared its report and submitted it to the MoEFCC in January 2015 (find the report here). This report was never made public by the ministry. However, it was disclosed following a Central Information Commission judgment, details of which are here.

In October 2014, the committee made a preliminary presentation before the ministry and since then a series of amendments to the CRZ Notification, 2011 have been issued. These amendments have systematically incorporated the suggestions made by the committee in the Notification (see details in our analysis here). At the same time the ministry has also revealed a Draft CRZ 2018 for public comments in April 2018. Specific aspects of this review and the details of the amendments have been publicised by researchers, journalists and fishing unions, there is still a lack of clarity of the thinking within the ministry of the road map for this law. Through this analysis, we present details of how the process of amending the CRZ law has progressed within the environment ministry. The analysis is based on file notings obtained through a file inspection carried out in October 2018 in response to an RTI application filed with the MoEFCC in June 2018.

What has been the process of CRZ review from 2014 till the issuance of the Draft CRZ Notification 2018?

In February 2015, report of the Shailesh Nayak committee was shared with senior officials within the ministry seeking their views on it. A senior official made an observation on the report to say that even before individual officers could finalise their views, the committee report needed further thinking. He later on added: “due to the new notification a lot of area will become potentially available for horizontal & vertical development. Analysis of the potential environmental impact of such an eventuality should be done along with the steps that we intend to take to contain/mitigate it before putting up the proposed notification for approval of MoS (Minister of State) EFCC.”

However, the internal process of reviewing the committee’s report appears to have gone ahead. In April and May 2015, two senior officials in the ministry shared their views on specific recommendations of the Committee. These views as presented below highlight the differences within the ministry observed on key recommendations of the committee. To address the divergence in viewpoints, the ministry, in the last four years, has considered multiple drafts of the new CRZ Notification to supersede the current notification. These drafts were reviewed by several senior functionaries within the ministry including the Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan. Despite the multiple drafts, certain issues such as what should be the basis for deciding the width of the No Development Zone (NDZ) within CRZ III (rural areas) remained contentious and no consensus could be reached on these till as late as the end of 2017.

Divergent views of senior officials on the suggestions of Shailesh Nayak Committee

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In between in April 2017, in a meeting of Committee of Secretaries it was decided that the Ministry of Law & Justice be requested to do away with the need to seek its approval on the draft rules and then again on the final rules while framing any subordinate legislation. Instead any subordinate legislation should require views of the Ministry of Law only once at the finalisation stage. The Ministry of Law & Justice accordingly requested the Ministry of Parliamentary affairs to make the change. The same was incorporated by the ministry of parliamentary affairs in May 2017, through O.M No. 2/5/2017-ME.

An inter-ministerial meeting was also organised on March 20, 2017 to take inputs on draft Marine Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) Notification. The meeting was attended by the representatives from the ministry of shipping, urban development, tourism, agriculture and farmers’ welfare, rural development and the ministry of commerce. Find details of the meeting and concerns raised by these ministries here. In the end of 2017, the prime minister’s office was also appraised of the progress on the new notification. In April 2018, despite the unresolved issues and pending decision on and incorporation of certain suggestions, the ministry decided to publish the draft for public comments. It was decided that remaining changes could be put in the notification while finalising it.

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How many drafts of the CRZ have been considered internally by the ministry? 

Starting from the Draft CRZ Notification proposed by the Shailesh Nayak Committee, at least four more drafts have been considered within the ministry at different points in time.

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Besides, there have been slightly revised/modified versions of these drafts as well which the various members have looked into.

What do these drafts propose? How do they fare against the suggestions of the Shailesh Nayak Committee?

The draft suggested by the Shailesh Nayak Committee is available here. The Draft IMCC Notification, 2015 can be accessed here. After the IMCC 2015, came the MCRZ 2017. Read about this draft and how it compares against the Shailesh Nayak Committee suggestions suggestions here and here.

The MCRZ 2017 was further revised and shared with the Prime Minister’s office (PMOs) in November 2017. In this draft, according to the file notings, certain suggestions of Shailesh Nayak Committee were altered to accommodate the court directions and eliminate certain ambiguities. On comparing this draft against the suggestions of the Shailesh Nayak Committee, following points of divergence emerge:

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The latest draft, which has also been issued in the Indian gazette for public comments, is the CRZ Notification 2018. To find out how the draft CRZ Notification 2018 compare against the Shailesh Nayak Committee report, see our earlier analysis here.

The above analysis is only a broad insight of the range of opinions and concerns raised within the ministry that reflect the extremely conflicting nature of coastal governance. What is important to stress here is that at no point during this review and revision process has the ministry proactively reached out to coastal communities, researchers, environmental groups and fishing unions seeking their participation in prioritising what a CRZ law should look like. This is despite requests. The file notings have made it clear that consensus even if sought only from within the ministry has been hard to come by. At various points of time the ministry could have opened up the space of coastal policy making for larger public inputs, beyond seeking comments on specific amendments. This might have muddied the conversation some more, but eventually has the potential of demonstrating a process of democratic decision- making.

 


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