Fishers at bay

When it was introduced in 1991, Coastal Regulation Zone was a blanket notification to protect India's coast and fisherfolk. In 17 years, it was amended--diluted to favour industry--21 times. Now, a new line of management rules might give industry a free run at the cost of fishing communities and environmental concerns. An analysis

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Fishers at bay

-- (Credit: Pradip Saha)When it was introduced in 1991, Coastal Regulation Zone was a blanket notification to protect India's coast and fisherfolk. In 17 years, it was amended--diluted to favour industry--21 times. Now, a new line of management rules might give industry a free run at the cost of fishing communities and environmental concerns. An analysis

A fter 30 years as fishermen, Madaka and Mohan Majhi in Orissa are wondering where they might find new jobs. "It is difficult because fishing is all we know," said Mohan. Prawn farms have mushroomed along the shore and affected fish population. "Our catch has declined, from 10 kg earlier to barely four kg a day now," said Madaka who, like Mohan, uses a small wooden boat to fish in the sea off Maharudrapur village in Balasore district.

The Balasore-Bhadrak belt in northeastern Orissa has seen intensive prawn farming over the past seven years, which is illegal.India's Coastal Regulation Zone 1991 (crz) allows such activities half a kilometre from the sea's high-tide line; the prawn farms are within 75-100 metres. The Majhis said they find it difficult to bring their boats back to the shore. "We anchor our boats in the shallow on-shore waters and walk up to the shore with our catch. This takes time and affects the quality of the catch. Earlier, one kg hilsa fetched Rs 300. Now, we get around Rs 200," Madaka said.

Down south, Tamil Nadu has a fisherfolk population of about 800,000 along its 1,076 km coastline. There are plenty of industry, tourism and construction projects along the coast. "Several are in the pipeline. This will wash us out," said K Bharathi of the South Indian Fishermen's Welfare Association. crz has become effete, he added. When crz was notified in 1991, the idea was to regulate activities in coastal areas and demarcate safe distances for projects to come up along coasts. It was amended 21 times and each time the rules were relaxed, activists and fishers allege, it was done to accommodate developers' interests.

Down to Earth After protracted protests, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, in 2004, formed a committee to look into the loopholes in the regulation. It asked the committee to come up with possible solutions. Four years later, on May 1, 2008, the ministry released a draft of the notification, which it called the Coastal Management Zone notification or the cmz.

cmz has stirred a hornet's nest. About 100 fisher representatives from nine coastal states gathered in Delhi in early November. They said the notification was an open invitation for industry to flourish and it would drive fishers away from their land.

A ministry official termed the protests unnecessary. "We have received over 8,000 comments and given ourselves 10 months to vet the remarks. The new notification will not be issued before June 2009," an official of the ministry said, but on the condition of anonymity. Environmentalists who have studied both crz and the cmz draft said that the Indian coasts would now be open to plunder.

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