For several years, governments of coastal states have been trying to persuade the Centre to relax the crz rules. Here is how some major 'developmental works' are set to proceed once that happens

 Where will the waters go? Wit Disappearing mangroves in the Kachchh: The districts of Kachchh and Jamnagar have been declared the most dominant mangrove areas in Gujarat. Some of the biggest and thickest mangrove jungles are on the Kachchh coastline covering a 890 sq km stretch and protected under the crz as eco-sensitive areas. However, irrespective of the area's natural wealth, Kachchh is swiftly being transformed into a flashpoint of commercial activity. The Adanis' private port in the Mundra taluka , (an administrative block) in Gujarat, poses a threat to a 53.3 sq km area of mangrove forests under the forest department. In the first week of September, a probe was ordered into the alleged largescale felling of mangroves in this region. According to a report in a national daily, the assurance to investigate the felling of "several thousands of mangroves to ensure enthusiastic implementation of the policy of port-led industrialisation" was given by principal secretary (environment and forests), P Basu, to the Forum for Planned Industrialisation ( fpi ) -- an apex body of senior Kachchh-based environmentalists in Mundra. Basu, who led a six-member crz committee, visited Mundra and Jamnagar in the last week of August to "oversee" developmental activity and recommend steps to prevent ecodestruction.

A number of projects are coming up close to the Adanis port, including an industrial park comprising mainly chemical units, a planned expansion of the port facilities (a joint venture between the Adanis and the Gujarat Maritime Board), a 250-mw lignite-based power plant by the Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation, and 26 saltworks. While industry department sources said the total investment in all would be around Rs 11,000 crore, the fpi believes that "dereservation of the mangrove cover is being sought" to carry out these development activities. In its representation to the crz committee, the forum said that because of the "illegal felling" of trees along Mundra, the rural economy would suffer. A spokesperson of the organisation said: "Salinity ingress along the coast would increase, there would be a sharp fall in fish breeding, and horticulture, a main source of livelihood for the villagers nearby, would suffer a setback." Estimating a destruction of nearly 8,500 hectares of land due to the projects along the coastline (2,622 hectares would go to the saltworks alone), the spokesperson added: "One of the 10 villages in Mundra alone supports a horticulture economy of Rs 30 crore."

Although the crz committee contended that "no sensible entrepreneur wanting to develop a port project would cut down mangroves (since) they arrest siltation that hinders ship movement," the forum of environmentalists are convinced that the flurry of industrialisation will take a heavy toll on the mangroves. The consequences of constructing salt manufacturing industries in the region is cited as a prime example. The setting up of a salt manufacturing unit usually involves levelling of the ground by removing plants, hillocks and rocks from the designated area. Since these salt industries will be situated on the coast or close to it, the plants destroyed will mainly be the halophytic species (those that grow in saline water) and mangroves. The Gulf of Kachchh once boasted mangroves that almost formed a belt along the shoreline extending out to the sea for a kilometre, and more at times. Cutting down mangroves and flattening out the clay soil to form the salt water reservoirs and accommodate the condensors, crystallisers (commonly called kyars ) and other components of salt units, will expose the shoreline to wave action and disturb the nesting habitats of waterbirds. Moreover, 'bittern' -- the by-product of salt production -- is eight to nine times more saline than seawater. Thus, if 'bittern' is dumped on the coastline, it will turn the coast saline and the sub-soil waters brackish. This is harmful for agriculture, animal husbandry and dairy activities.

Dakshin kannada: A major infrastructure project is facing stiff opposition in Dakshin Kannada district, Karnataka, where a barge-mounted power plant has been proposed by Larsen & Toubro Ltd ( l&t ) on the Gurpura river at Tannirbhavi village. Prior to the l&t power unit, Tannirbhavi was acquired for the New Mangalore Port Trust in 1962, but construction was stalled as it was found to be in violation of the crz rules. Now, the power plant, though 'barge-mounted', will actually be installed on the riverbank. The Coastal Zone Management Plan of Karnataka, approved by the Centre in 1996, shows the site for the power plant as being located on a crz I area, said a spokesperson for Dakshina Kannada Parisarasaktha Okkoota, a district-level organisation of environmental groups. According to the National Coastal Protection Project in Karnataka, prepared by the minor irrigation department, the unmitigated acceleration of developmental work have already begun to have an impact along the Karnataka coastline with the Arabian Sea. The report also stated that there has been interference with the natural regime of the rivers due to "the expanding economic activities along the coast, including location of industries, construction of highways along the coast and construction of hydroelectric projects across the west-flowing rivers."

rich mumbai: In Mumbai, the government wanted to house the poor along the beachside. Instead, commercial buildings were constructed along the beaches for tourists. In 1997, the Bombay Municipal Corporation was caught reclaiming low-lying areas of Malad for a 175-acre private commercial complex by the Raheja's. In the Sindhudurg district, fisherfolk from the Velaghar and Shiroda villages have evoked the crz notification. They are contesting the land acquisition and eviction notices served by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation ( mtdc ) on behalf of the Taj group of hotels, which plans to build a five-star hotel and beach resort with aqua sporting facilities in the area.

Elsewhere, the Maharashtra government is going ahead with the construction of power plants and ports in regions identified as ecologically fragile. In Vadhwan of Dahanu taluka in Maharashtra, Vadhwan Bandar Sangharsh Samiti -- an alliance of local fisherfolk and farmers -- is putting up stiff resistance to a Rs 4,500 crore all-weather port project being built by an Australian company. The environmental group claims that the port will destroy the lucrative fishing and agricultural activity in the area. Local fisherman Y P Tandel said: "The port will create congestion, increase the risk of collision and make fishing impossible."

Another project in Maharashtra that has come under severe criticism from local environmental groups is the Enron power plant set up by the Dabhol Power Company ( dpc ). Mumbai-based environmentalist M Chauhan claims that "the dpc construction, which began in March 1995, violated the crz notification by reclaiming an area of more than two acres from the Dabhol creek -- an undertaking which was neither sanctioned by the ministry for environment and forests nor mentioned in the Environmental Impact Assessment report submitted by the dpc ." The company, he alleges, dumped huge stones into the creek and sank pillars in the creek bed for the construction of a jetty -- all this at the mouth of Dabhol creek which is the spawning and breeding zone for a number of aquatic species. Aquatic life is also threatened by wastes that contain constituents like heavy metals and synthetic organic chemicals. For example, fly ash, the main by-product of a thermal power station, contains arsenic 11 parts per million (ppm); cadmium 9.0 ppm; chromium 120 ppm; copper 100 ppm; magnesium 0.1 ppm; lead 35 ppm and nickel 150 ppm, besides other toxic pollutants. Each of these metals are present in levels far above the tolerance limits set by the World Health Organisation ( who ). Besides harming marine life, they can also cause diseases in humans like itai itai, Minamata and other skin and nervous problems.

Swinging goa: Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, besides other coastal states, have pushed for the need to provide housing as an excuse for seeking relaxation of the crz norms. In practice, however, the construction giants and resort chains are the ones who stand to gain from the proposed relaxation of the notification. Take, for instance, Goa. In October 1988, the government of Goa had published its Regional Development Plan, anticipating among other activities, the growth of tourism till 2001. This plan outlines a strategy: "Location of new beach resorts should be considered not only from the point of view of land availability but also from the viewpoint of beach resource ecology." The document, however, makes no reference to the 'no development zone' of 200/500 metres from the high-tide line at the sea shores. Extensive and indiscriminate use of land for tourism has led to loss of mangroves (specially on the outskirts of Panaji, at Sao Pedro near old Goa and around Talpona backwaters), a drastic reduction in the number of fish species and, therefore, the catch, besides largescaleerosion/accretion/siltation of the coastal land.

Future of the coasts: "People of the coastal areas are not against development," said N D Chhaya, talking on behalf of the Gujarat-based environmental group Planned Industrialisation of Kachchh. "However, developmental activities on the coastlines should not disturb the ecosystem of the region and the livelihood of coastal inhabitants," he said. Unlike the West, developing countries like India are yet to address the problem of coastal pollution seriously.

Environmentalist Hari Babu observes that the problems relating to the coast will multiply as long as the crz rules remain flexible, resulting in mismanagement and manipulation. "The law need not be made inviolate, but some element of status quo is required," he said, explaining: "This can be achieved if the law relating to the coast, instead of being mere notifications under the Environment (Protection) Act -- as it currently is -- is instead modified, supplemented and made into a separate act of Parliament, having force and application of its own." This can be accomplished only through a lengthy process of legislation and canvassing, but it is imperative, in the interests of the coastal environment and its people, that the possibility of a change in this direction be fully explored.

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