Early in November, the Chief Minister of the State wrote to the Prime Minister of India urging the latter to reconsider the proposed draft Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 2010. In his letter he has expressed the opinion that the revised regulations proposed in the draft do not take into consideration the views of the fisher-folk and those concerned with ecology. The letter has come as a shot in the arm for those opposing the draft regulations though the timing of it has many commenting that the move is a politically opportunistic one.

The CRZ Notification was issued in 1991 for protecting the environment of the coastal regions of the country. It divided the coast regions into four categories – CRZ-I (eco-sensitive areas such as mangroves, coral, forest areas etc.), CRZ-II (urban areas), CRZ-III (rural areas) and CRZ-IV (Islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep). The Notification regulates all development activity in the CRZ which is 500 metres from the high tide line and 150 metres along the banks of water-bodies affected by tidal action. Any proposed activity here has to be undertaken only after permission from the Ministry for Environment and Forests.

In reality, this has been observed more often in the breach. Development sanction has been given on a case-to-case basis, ostensibly after due investigation into the merits of each case. Most such permits have been the subject of controversy as in the case of the permission for high-rise along the Quibble Island area in Chennai and the development of properties along the East Coast Road. More recently, the State Government decided to de-notify stretches along the Buckingham Canal largely under pressure from the IT lobby. The idea was later shot down by the National Coastal Zone Management Authority.

In the meanwhile, the Government of India had constituted the MS Swaminathan Committee to look into ways and means by which the CRZ Notification could be strengthened. The Committee submitted its report in 2009 and called for the drafting of a Sustainable Coastal Zone Protection Notification with an objective to protect the livelihood of local communities and promoting sustainable development in the coast. But when the Ministry issued its draft CRZ Notification 2010, it included clauses that allowed for the development of ports, SEZs, nuclear power installations, elevated roads and tourism – in short massive private investment and the degradation of the environment. The draft was prepared ostensibly after public consultations with those who live along the coast.

The fisher-folk have been up in arms on this. Their livelihood is the most vulnerable in the light of the draft regulations. Also concerned are environmentalists. People in Chennai are alarmed at the prospect of elevated roads along the beach and the Adyar river. The impact of building the MRTS on the Buckingham Canal is still being felt every year, particularly during the monsoons.

It is in the light of this that the Chief Minister’s letter is being welcomed. Interestingly, the letter does not ask for a complete reworking of the draft notification. It merely calls for a postponement fearing unrest among the fishing community. Whether this means the Government will do a complete U turn after the elections is anybody’s guess.