The new Coastal Zone Regulation (CRZ) 2011 which has opened up construction along the sea has sparked off fears of Mumbai being ringed with high rises and mutating into a ‘desi' Manhattan. It has triggered furious debates on development and upset the fisherfolk who are planning to hit the streets across the country to agitate for better coastal protection.

Since 1991 when the first CRZ notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests was issued, it was amended 25 times to make it less stringent. Lawyer and adviser to the Bombay Environmental Action Group, Gautam Patel said, “By not building, the problems of the city are not solved. In a coastal city where else can you build but on the coast? You cannot take a city like Mumbai and say ‘no' to development. In other coastal cities in Australia, the Caribbean Islands, South East Asia there is no such law putting a ban on construction. The first notification was anti-poor and anti-development — we have to square the circle.”

New features

The new notification has several new features. It has special provisions for Goa, Kerala, Greater Mumbai and critically vulnerable coastal areas (CVCA). Now water areas up to 12 nautical miles in the sea and the entire water area of a tidal water body such as a creek, river, estuary etc. will be included in the CRZ areas, without imposing any restrictions on fishing activities. This, and the fact that Special Economic Zones (SEZ) cannot be built in CRZ areas, are the only good things in the new notification, said Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust (CAT). Slum redevelopment benefited builders and not the poor, he remarked.

Union Environment Minister of State Jairam Ramesh said there are benefits for 146 slums in the CRZ-2 areas with 47,000 families which can now go in for slum redevelopment. In addition, 620 dilapidated and unsafe structures in CRZ-2 areas with 38,000 families can also rebuild their homes. A total population of 5 to 6 lakh living in the Greater Mumbai will benefit; 38 settlements of the Koli fishing community will be declared as CRZ-3 instead of CRZ-2. Thus, only the Kolis, who are said to be the original inhabitants of Mumbai, can carry out redevelopment.

Fresh criticism

A floor space index (FSI) of 2.5 would be permissible for slums and chawl redevelopment. The notification said that to meet the “increasing demand of housing for fishing communities and other traditional coastal communities, the No Development Zone which is of 200 metres from the high tide line is being reduced to 100 metres.” The “other traditional coastal communities” is not defined, attracting fresh criticism from fishing communities who have rejected the notification.

V. Vivekanandan, Convenor of the National Coastal Protection Campaign (NCPC), a collective comprising fish-workers' groups, including the National Fishworkers' Forum (NFF), said in December that there were three meetings with Mr. Ramesh and four more with Ministry officials and many things were agreed upon. “It's inexplicable to us how the Ministry could go back on some of the things that were almost certain. Then we were 90 per cent satisfied but now we are so upset,” he said.

Demand not met

While ports have been brought under the CRZ regime, the cumulative impacts of several ports on the coast will not be studied. That was one of the demands of the NFF, along with cumulative impact studies of thermal and other power plants on the coast. “We had asked for a roll-back on the road on stilts and they had agreed to drop it but did not finally,” he said. Housing has been a sore point and there was a pressing demand for some relaxations; but the reduction of the no-development to 100 metres was badly distorted, no one had asked for this, he said. A serious quarrel is that fisherfolk have not been given representation on the National Coastal Zone Management Authority or its State affiliates. In Mumbai, the new notification does not take into account the projected sea level rise due to global warming, while allowing development so close to the coast. It could increase the density along the coast in a big way, he feared.

Agreeing with this, Mr. Patel said the only drawback in the notification was the lack of a cap on FSI for slum rehabilitation and cessed buildings. CRZ-2011 is governed by the development control rules of 1991 that operate in Mumbai, which makes all sorts of exemptions for car parks, hospitals, hotels, cessed buildings and slums. However, he argued that there was nothing wrong with opening up affordable housing. “Don't confuse the interpretation of a statute with its implementation. The fact that you have governance issues and corruption does not invalidate the statute,” he pointed out.

While the notification has been attacked for providing leeway to builders, there are attempts to make them accountable. It provides that the Right to Information Act is applicable to redeveloping slums and dilapidated structures in Greater Mumbai. Central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who was consulted in this process, said that permission will be given to builders to redevelop slums, provided they agree to be governed by the RTI Act and also agree to transparency and certain suo motu disclosures. While there is scepticism, the proposed stringent monitoring could be one way of ensuring that builders don't evict the poor and change the skyline.

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As maximum as it getsAugust 4, 2012