Watered down?

The Union government plans to dilute the coastal regulation zone norms

Published: Wednesday 31 March 1999

the Union ministry of environment and forests ( mef ) is seriously considering structural changes in the Coastal Regulation Zone ( crz ) norms, according to a senior mef official. Speaking to Down To Earth he said that a committee constituted by the ministry to ascertain whether changes are required in the norms has already submitted its recommendations.

The crz Notification of 1991 aims to protect the coasts and coastal waters, which are ecologically sensitive. It sets strict limits to developmental activities along sea-shores up to 500 metres (m) from the high-tide line, and up to 100 m on the banks of creeks, estuaries, lakes and rivers with tidal effect.

Bittu Sehgal, a Mumbai-based conservationist and erstwhile member of a mef committee on crz , says the government is planning to dilute crz norms under pressure from big industries. "If the government dilutes these norms, it will be easy to set up big industries such as chemical and thermal plants in the coastal areas," he says. The coastal ecosystems in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andaman and Nicobar islands have already suffered incalculable damage due to industrial activities in the areas, Sehgal adds.

Union environment minister Suresh Prabhu, however, ruled out the possibility of the government succumbing to any such pressures. "We are planning to have members of Parliament and ngo s to discuss the issue. Only then will we be able to take a decision in this regard," he says. crz has been an issue at the centre of a heated debate. Several attempts by the states and the Union government to dilute the norms have failed so far, due to protests by environmentalists and judicial intervention. In 1994, the Union government removed certain restrictions, but in 1996, the Supreme Court restored them, calling for the strict implementation of the notification.

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