The Kerala State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC), to be taken up for implementation by the government this financial year, has recommended strict enforcement of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification 2011 and drastic steps to conserve the wetland habitat in the State, even as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy asserts that the State would seek amendments to the Central notifications on coastal and wetland conservation to address the concerns of the people in the coastal and midland regions.

Multiple hazards

Pointing out that most of the urban agglomeration in the State, including the five municipal corporations, was located in the coastal belt prone to multiple hazards like erosion, tsunami and cyclone, the SAPCC document stresses the need for strict implementation of the CRZ norms to minimise the impact of climate change. It recommends an action plan to reclaim, rehabilitate and protect the wetlands habitat that was facing serious ecological problems such as pollution, sedimentation, water diversion, encroachment and habitat alteration.

CM's promise

On Sunday, Mr. Chandy had said that the government would not allow the implementation of the CRZ notification 2011 and the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act in their present form. He was referring to the State’s success in getting the Ministry of Environment and Forests to issue a draft notification on the Kasturirangan report that had sparked concern among the residents in the highlands bordering the Western Ghats. Mr. Chandy said the government would work towards making the notifications on wetland and coastal conservation more people-friendly.

Environmentalists, however, feel that the Chief Minister’s statement was driven solely by political compulsions aimed at taking large sections of the electorate into confidence. They fear that the government stand could trigger unrest in the midlands and coastal areas that had not witnessed any turmoil as in the Western Ghats.

R. Sridhar, programme director of Thanal, an environment research group, said Mr. Chandy’s proposal would be suicidal for the State. “The Chief Minister should realise that any attempt to dilute the provisions of the two notifications would have long-term consequences for the coastal and wetland ecosystems,” he said.

Vested interests

Mr. Sridhar feels that the government was being guided by vested interests in the real estate and tourism sectors.

V.S. Vijayan, former chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board and member of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, said the government move to modify the Central notifications could be aimed at regularising the illegal projects that had sprung up in the wetlands and coastal areas. “Only construction and quarrying industries will benefit from the move, not farmers and fishermen,” he said.

According to the SAPCC document, the nine coastal districts in Kerala are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. It estimates that sea level rise of 3.5 to 34.6 inches till year 2100 would result in salinity intrusion into groundwater resources, endangering wetlands and inundating valuable land and coastal communities.

The SAPCC report also notes that climate change might accelerate the intensity of cyclones in the Arabian Sea. The probable maximum storm surge height in Kerala is estimated to be between 2.3 m to 3.5 m, going up to 4.2 m during high tide.