India has a coastline of about 7,500km, which is less than 0.25% of the world’s coastline, but home to 63 million people, or approximately 11% of global population living in low elevation coastal areas. The coastal areas of India include the nine states of the coastal peninsula, which is bounded by the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea; and the union territories of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep Islands, Daman and Diu. The 73 coastal districts (out of a total of 593) have a share of 17% of the national population, and nearly 250 million people live within 50km of the coastline. About 47 percent of Indian people live in these coastal states and union territories. The coast also includes 77 cities and towns, including some of the largest and most dense urban agglomerations -Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Kochi and Visakhapatnam.
Sustainable management of coastal and marine resources is essential to India’s economic growth. India’s coastal zone is endowed with a wide range of mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, salt marshes, sand dunes, estuaries, lagoons, and a unique marine and coastal flora and fauna. The abundant coastal and offshore marine ecosystems include some 6,740 sq.km of mangroves, including part of the Sundarbans and the Bhitarkanika, which are among the largest mangroves in the world.
There are major stocks of corals, fish, marine mammals, reptiles and turtles, sea grass meadows, and abundant sea weeds. Most of the oil and gas reserves in India lie in the coastal and shallow offshore areas. Thirty-five per cent of the coastal stretch is laden with substantial placer mineral and heavy metal deposits. Offshore wind, tidal, wave and future ocean thermal energy potential is huge. Cultural and archaeological sites, some are having national and international significance too dot the coasts. A significant share of India’s economic infrastructure, including maritime facilities, petroleum industries, and import-based industries is located on the coasts, as there are 197 major or minor ports and 308 large-scale industrial units. Coastal fishing employs a million people full time, and the postharvest fisheries sector employs another 1.2 million people in 3,638 fishing villages and 2,251 fish landing centers.
Despite their ecological richness and the contribution to national economy, the coastal and marine areas have not received adequate protection, and are under stress. Rapid urban industrialization, maritime transport, marine fishing, tourism, coastal and sea bed mining, offshore oil and natural gas production, aquaculture, and the recent establishment of special economic zones have led to a significant increase in demand for infrastructure, resulting in the over-exploitation of natural resources. About 34% of mangroves of India were destroyed in last five decades (although substantial restoration and conservation have taken place in last 10 years); almost all coral areas are threatened; marine fish stocks are declining; and several species of ornamental fish, sea cucumbers, etc., are fast disappearing. Such rapid depletion and degradation, unless arrested, will impact the livelihood, health and well-being of the coastal population; affecting in turn prospects for India’s sustained economic growth.
Threat of coastal hazards on economic and livelihood security is increasing. The Indian coast is subject to severe weather events, such as cyclones and super-cyclones (at an average of nine cyclones per year) inflicting great loss of lives and property, especially among the rural coastal communities that always had low resilience to extreme weather variability, mostly due to impoverishment. In recent years, accelerated erosion of coastal land has affected coastal agriculture and built habitats. The returns from traditional fishing are also diminishing due to environmental degradation and over-exploitation. Climate change aggravates the risks to coastal communities and infrastructure. Studies already reveal a significant rise in sea level, increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and changes in mean climate variables.
Amongst the 63 million people living in low elevation areas, the poorer populace are the most vulnerable. Climate change will also impact the large infrastructure investments in the port, industrial and urban areas. The recent tsunami (2004) also indicates that the Indian coast and marine areas are also prone to seismic related disasters.
Diverse stakes increasingly compete for coastal and marine resources. Rapid economic growth in recent years has propelled newer and larger investments in coastal zones, with more ports set up to act as gateways to the hinterland economy. Together with real estate growth in larger urban areas and unplanned tourism activities, these have contributed to a sharp increase in the demand for basic infrastructure to support the fast-growing rural, semi-urban and urban populations in the coastal zones. Numerous unplanned but competitive economic activities have resulted in conflicts among stakeholders; misuse, abuse and overuse of resources; and degradation of ecosystems with some pockets of coastal landscapes entirely destroyed by commercial aquaculture. The key challenge in coastal zone and marine management is how to accommodate such needs in a sustainable manner.
A plethora of fragmented and sectoral policies and a weak institutional framework had been unable to ensure balanced development. The management regime for coastal and marine areas of the country had suffered from the lack of an integrated and coordinated decision-making process. This is evidenced by a multiplicity of institutional, legal, economic and planning frameworks that exist, all narrow and sector driven. Consequently, sectoral activities and interventions in coastal and marine areas work in isolation from each other, at times with conflicting objectives and outputs. At the same time stakeholder interests are diverse and competitive, partly due to a lack of participatory planning and management processes. Investments in large and small economic infrastructure - all critical components of national goals for growth and poverty reduction take place without systematic analysis of long term implications. The overall policy and plan responses are further crippled by lack of knowledge of coastal resources, processes, impact analyses and management options.
COASTAL REGULATION ZONE (CRZ) NOTIFICATION
Up to now, the approach to managing India’s coastal zone has been a purely regulatory one, as per the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification of 1991, promulgated under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. This approach does not provide adequate room to promote coastal zone conservation and the needs of improved livelihood of coastal communities or to seek convergence with other development activities. The 1991 notification prevents, restricts and regulates development activities within a landward distance of up to 500m from the high tide line along the coasts. In the last decade, as development pressures grew, there were large-scale reported violations of the regulations, along with demands from the various stakeholders for suitable modifications in the Notification.
PROF. M. S. SWAMINATHAN COMMITTEE
The reform agenda for sustaining coastal and marine areas in India is to support participatory, integrated but decentralized planning and management. In July 2004, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) constituted an Expert Committee, chaired by Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, to carry out a comprehensive review of the CRZ Notification, taking into account the findings and recommendations of previous committees, judicial pronouncements, and representations of various stakeholders, and to suggest suitable amendments. The Committee also had the mandate to recommend regulatory framework consistent with well-established scientific principles of coastal zone management that would reflect the local characteristics of the coastal zone stretches to be protected. The Committee submitted its report in February 2005. A major recommendation was to adopt an integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) approach that would, with people’s participation, promote the livelihood security of the coastal communities, and protect the ecosystems while promoting sustainable development. The GoI accepted the Report in 2006, and mandated the MoEF to implement its recommendations, including initiating the process of improving the CRZ Notification, with an appropriate coastal zone management notification. The process of finalizing the notification is currently underway.
Besides recommending a shift from pure regulation to management, the reforms suggested by the Committee included the adoption of integrated coastal zone planning as a mechanism for intersectoral collaboration and decision-making, the decentralization of management responsibilities to states and local governments, the creation of an institutional architecture to foster integrated planning and management; and the establishment of an appropriate knowledge base for addressing medium and long term issues. These need to be implemented in parallel to the process of reforming the regulatory framework, so that the new notification is complemented by adequate institutional capacity and knowledge base. The Committee, therefore, proposed a national coastal zone management program to address and finance these institutional, capacity and knowledge needs.