| Environment | Livelihood | Law |

SEZ? Yes. Fisher Folk? Who Are They?

P N Venugopal

30/10/2007

The proposed Coastal Zone Management notification, which is expected to replace the existing Coastal Regulation Zone notification (1991), will hit the coastline like a second tsunami, say activists. With the shifting of `zones', entire fishing communities will be moved out of coastal areas, making way for unbridled construction in the name of `development'

What can there possibly be in common between high-flying industrialists promoting Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and fishing communities eking out a living along the country's coastline? Nothing. But clubbing them together becomes inevitable when SEZs find a mention in the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) 2007 draft notification, whereas the fisherfolk do not merit even two words in the document.

MS Swaminathan
MS Swaminathan
The proposed CZM notification is expected to replace the existing Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification (1991). It is believed to be based on the report of a 13-member expert committee under the chairmanship of Dr M S Swaminathan, a scientist of international repute also known as the pioneer of the Green Revolution in India.

According to the introduction of the draft notification, the committee was set up to study the situation, "perceiving the continuing difficulties in effective implementation" of the clauses "for the sustainable development of coastal regions as well as conservation of coastal resources". It submitted its report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in February 2005; the government came out with the draft notification in mid-2007.

As far as the fishing community is concerned, the CZM draft is akin to a cyclone ravaging the coast. According to Charles George, president of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikyavedi, it is really a second tsunami. "Our people are being shifted from the coastal areas under the guise of tsunami rehabilitation," he says. "This notification will ultimately result in the massive eviction of the coastal population."

The battle lines are clearly drawn. A coordination committee has been formed with Harekrishna Debnath, chairperson of the National Fish Workers Forum, as coordinator. The resulting National Campaign Against CZM Notification held massive rallies and protest meetings across the country on August 9. "The CRZ notification of 1991 includes livelihood protection for traditional fisherpeople, with fishing activities allowed within the 500-metre High Tide Line (HTL). Only they had this right. But now, with the CZM notification, this right has been taken away," says T Peter, president of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilai Federation.

"Yes, there are many proposals in the new notification that undermine the spirit of the existing notification," concurs Dr B Madhusoodana Kurup, professor, industrial fisheries department, Cochin University.

First among these is the fact that the CRZ is a regulation whereas the CZM is a management plan. This in itself dilutes the provisions contained in the former. There are literally thousands of ongoing cases throughout the country challenging violations of the CRZ; unless the regulatory aspect is retained, these violations are likely to be legitimised.

However, as far as the present coastal population (read: traditional fisherfolk) is concerned, this is the least of their problems. It is not only that their interests are not protected under the notification, say Dr Kurup and Charles George, but the existence of 10 million human beings who live on Indian shores have not even been acknowledged.

Under the CZM, the present CRZ III, which includes coastal zones in rural areas (developed and undeveloped) as well as areas within municipal limits or in other legally designated urban areas that are not substantially built up, will become CMZ II (see box).

The CZM plan provides opportunities for unbridled construction in these areas -- subject only to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and an assessment by the local body. EIAs issued in the past have hardly been encouraging, from the environmental perspective, and the competency/impartiality of local bodies to take decisions in such matters remains questionable. Areas specified under CMZ II -- such as SEZs and notified tourism areas -- stand to gain as they will be subject to hardly any regulation. All coastal panchayats with a population density of over 400 people per square kilometre, which are presently under CMZ III, are proposed to be included under CMZ II.

How does all this affect the coastal population? Until now, restrictions were imposed only up to 200 metres from the tidal line. But the fishing community was allowed to use this area for livelihood-related activities like landing their craft, drying and mending nets, and storing fishing gear. They were also allowed to locate public resources such as healthcare and education facilities, toilets, roads etc, within this area. They could build dwelling places within an area of between 200 and 500 metres from the tidal line.

With the draft CZM notification, based on the Swaminathan Committee report, all activities in this area are subject to schemes adopted by the local panchayat. According to Dr Kurup, a typical panchayat with 10 or more wards will have two or, at the most, three wards within this coastal area. Under the circumstances, "whose interests will be uppermost in the minds of the panchayat leaders? Certainly not the interests of the fishing community that represents a minority within the panchayat," says Peter.

The changes in zone will mean all sorts of deprivation, especially for the fisherfolk in states like Kerala where the per square kilometre population density is over 1,000. The entire coastal belt of Kerala will now come under CMZ III.

If the CRZ had the `tidal line' as a base, the CZM moots a `setback line' for the application of restrictions. This setback line will be `based on the vulnerability of the coast to natural and manmade hazards,' says the draft notification. The vulnerability line will be mapped on the basis of six parameters: elevation, geo-morphology, sea level trends, horizontal shoreline displacement, tidal ranges, and wave height.

Most of the data is not currently available, and determining it will require prolonged data collection, even satellite surveys. "The methods suggested are very complex. This will reduce the transparency of the process and also make it more difficult to comprehend," says Dr Kurup. "On the other hand, the concept of the tidal line was simple; even a layperson could understand it."

Not only is it unclear where exactly the setback line will be located, there is also no indication about whether the line will be constant or dynamic. Then there is the question of whether the concept of a setback line alone provides any protection at all, because several activities are allowed on the seaward side of the setback line and all kinds of activities, subject to little, if any, regulation are permitted on the landward side. Further, in the case of CMZ II, local bodies have the option of choosing between a setback line and coastal protection structures (such as sea walls). Theoretically at least, this means that a panchayat can decide to construct a sea wall, ostensibly to prevent erosion, and then allow an SEZ or other construction to come up on the other, landward, side of the wall.

Under the new regime, the coastal zone will extend to territorial waters -- that is, 12 nautical miles (22.5 km) into the sea. This is one of the most sensitive areas in the sea as far as the fisherfolk are concerned, since everything from the trawling ban (imposed annually from mid-June, to prevent disruption of fish breeding during the monsoons) to the entry of foreign fishing trawlers is linked to the concept of territorial waters. Under the existing CRZ, this is a state subject which allows for local conditions to be taken into account. Even then, there are a number of recurring and unresolved problems, such as conflicts between traditional fishermen and mechanised boat workers during trawling ban periods, smuggling, and the transportation of illicit liquor. How and with what resources will local bodies administer the region and tackle these problems are moot questions.

Charles George points to another shortcoming: the absence of any impact line for inland waterbodies in the CZM. Despite clear-cut regulations in the CRZ, illegal construction and encroachment are rampant on the shores of lakes, backwaters and rivers. "The fate of these water sources and of those who live off them are in jeopardy," Charles asserts. The CRZ covers coastal stretches along seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters that are influenced by tidal action (on the landward side) up to 500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL), as well as the land between the Low Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL.

Meanwhile, asked about his reactions to widespread criticism of the CZM draft notification, Dr Swaminathan says: "There is no such draft notification. A similar question was put to the minister in Parliament last month and he told Parliament that no such draft notification had been issued. Some officer in the ministry got hold of some documents and it is being bandied about as the draft notification. So I do not know which draft notification you are talking about." His stand further muddies the waters.

The Swaminathan Committee report and the draft notification that is supposed to have flowed from it were avowedly meant to help manage coastal areas on a more scientific basis than has been the case up to now. But, instead of bringing clarity, as expected from a `scientific' document, areas of darkness and confusion dominate.

If anyone, especially representatives of the fishing community and trade union leaders, see a larger, more sinister design behind this, they cannot be faulted. The dispersing of indigenous people who rely on natural resources and traditional livelihoods has always been a prominent feature, if not an agenda, of "modern development" and, more recently, of globalisation.

Coastal Management Zones

For the purpose of management and regulation, the coastal zone is divided into four categories:

1) Coastal Management Zone I (CMZ I) shall consist of areas designated as Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA), such as mangroves, coral reefs, sand beaches and sand dunes, inland tidal waterbodies such as estuaries, lakes, lagoons, creeks, marine wildlife protected areas, coastal freshwater lakes, salt marshes, turtle nesting grounds, horseshoe crab habitats, sea grass beds, seaweed beds, and the nesting grounds of migratory birds.

2) Coastal Management Zone II (CMZ II) shall consist of areas other than CMZ I and coastal waters, identified as Areas of Particular Concern (APC), such as economically important areas, high population density areas, and culturally/strategically important areas. The administrative boundaries of these Areas of Particular Concern will be the boundaries of CMZ II. A list: Coastal municipalities/corporations, coastal panchayats with a population density of over 400 people per square kilometre, ports and harbours, notified tourism areas, mining sites, notified industrial estates, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), heritage areas, notified archaeological sites under the Protected Monuments Act, defence areas/installations, power plants.

3) Coastal Management Zone III (CMZ III) shall consist of all other open areas, including coastal waters, that is, all areas excluding those classified as CMZ I, II and IV.

4) Coastal Management Zone IV (CMZ IV) shall consist of inland territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, and other offshore islands.


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What can there possibly be in common between high-flying industrialists promoting Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and fishing communities eking out a living along the country's coastline? Nothing. But clubbing them together becomes inevitable when SEZs find a mention in the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) 2007 draft notification, whereas the fisherfolk do not merit even two words in the document.


The Swaminathan Committee report and the draft notification that is supposed to have flowed from it were avowedly meant to help manage coastal areas on a more scientific basis than has been the case up to now. But, instead of bringing clarity, as expected from a `scientific' document, areas of darkness and confusion dominate.


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