By Manju Menon, Kanchi Kohli*
The National Democratic Alliance government has unleashed several extremely unimaginative developmental policies that target areas that have retained some degree of ecological value to turn them into sites for industrial production. This is despite evidence of the damaging effects of such policies. The latest instance of this is the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification of 2018.
The government has announced “amendments” to the CRZ law which, in the words of the fisher leader from Goa, Olencio Simoes, spell the death of the coasts. These changes negate the coastal space entirely of its special socio-ecological uniqueness and open up this niche space that joins land and sea to mindless real estate development, mass scale tourism, and industry.
Devalued fisheries economy
Successive governments have created the impression that India’s coastline is a vast, empty space that economic actors can take over. Industrialists and real estate developers share this view because coastal lands are for the most part outside the regime of individual property rights. Land grabbing by private and government actors has been the norm. These actors forget that this space is the common property of coastal villages, towns and cities, and public beaches.
Over 3,000 fishing hamlets reside along India’s coast, park and repair their nets and boats and organise their economic and social activities here. The fisheries sector employs 4-9 million people. The self-reliant fisher communities generates ₹48,000-₹75,000 crore for the economy, with almost no support from governments in the form of subsidies.
A government that has performed dismally on its promise of employment generation should avoid taking away the jobs of people engaged in this sector. Yet, that is exactly what this notification seeks to do. The misfortune of the fisher communities is their lack of effective political representation. Even though at least 75 MPs are elected from coastal constituencies, as stated by V. Vivekanandan of South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies, fisher people are not a vote bank as they are spread across the coast. This may be why they are the targets of hostile government policies.
With rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, coasts have become convenient dumping grounds. Sewage, garbage and sludge from industrial processes land up on the coastline and makes life for coastal dwellers a living hell. The new amendments legalise the setting up of common effluent treatment plants (CETPs), an impractical technology for cleaning up waste, on the most fragile parts of the coast.
These projects have made the coastal people of Saurashtra and south Gujarat more vulnerable to toxicity in their food, water and air. Since India’s systems to reduce waste generation and comply with pollution standards are so poor, the law now makes the coasts legitimate receptacles for all waste.
India’s coasts are already facing climate change events such as intensive, frequent and unpredictable cyclones and erosion. In 2017, cyclone Ockhi killed over 300 people on the west coast, a region not familiar with such events. The combined effects of harmful coastal development and climate change are apparent in the form of mass migrations from coastal areas like Odisha and the Sundarbans in West Bengal.
These lessons have already sparked decentralised action: mangroves are being planted, sand dunes and coastal wetlands are being protected, and coastal communities and local governments are collaborating on disaster preparedness. But the top-down policy of the Central government to encroach what’s left of the coasts and increase activities that involve dredging, sand removal, and large-scale constructions contradict grass-roots and scientific wisdom.
It is untrue that this notification has been introduced after consultations with “other stakeholders”. The National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), for instance, has vociferously opposed these amendments since the review was announced in June 2014 by the Shailesh Nayak Committee. It has carried out protests demanding fisher rights to the coastal commons and legal action against corporate and government violators of coastal laws. The indifference of the government to coastal and marine regions has even led the forum to demand a separate Fisheries Ministry.
Instead of using the NFF’s knowledge to craft an effective policy, the government has peddled the same development model that has generated conflict and impoverishment. The notification now exposes more people to the unassessed impacts of climate change-related coastal damages. Is the capital too far from coastal India to understand this?
*Environmental researchers at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
This article was first published here