Implementation of Coastal Regulation Zone in the State of West Bengal* : SAI India

Implementation of Coastal Regulation Zone in the State of West Bengal* : SAI India


According to United Nations Environment Program, “coastal and marine ecosystems are among the most productive, yet threatened, ecosystems in the world”. The diverse ecosystems that the coastal areas encompass are changing and evolving every day to maintain and conserve the typical biodiversity supported by these ecosystems. However, the rate of changes has now become more rapid due to anthropogenic pressures driven by competing uses that these fragile areas can be put to. According to Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Coastal Areas), “Though the thin strip of coastal land at the continental margins and within islands accounts for less than 5% of Earth’s land area, 17% of the global population lives within the coastal systems and 39% of global population lives within the full land area that is within 100 kilometers of a coast.”

In India too, coastal areas are facing anthropogenic pressures resulting in degradation of coastal ecosystems and consequent loss of biodiversity. Despite CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) notifications and its associated governance systems in place, India’s coastal areas continue to degrade alarmingly.  Accountant General (Provincial Audit Head) West Bengal (a province of India) carried out scrutiny of records relating to the implementation, compliance and monitoring of Coastal Regulation Zones in West Bengal. Audit also conducted physical verification of the 13 projects out of 20 projects approved in CRZ. Audit concluded that the necessary institutional infrastructure, manpower, fund or public interface to implement CRZ notification, 2011 was not in place in West Bengal. SCZMA (State Coastal Zone Management Authority) had not taken on board line departments like Industries, Tourism etc. for ensuring wider representation or effective and coordinated implementation. The SCZMA had neither identified nor prepared management plans for of ecologically vulnerable and erosion prone areas. The specific schemes of protection of shorelines were done without cognizance to the National Strategy for Shoreline protection. WBSCZMA (West Bengal SCZMA) did not address the management of industrial, solid and municipal wastes in the coastal areas and discharge of effluents in the rivers and sea. With regard to tourism, WBSCZMA did not attend the illegal growth of tourism in the CRZ areas which emerged as a threat to the coastal ecosystem and pollution. The projects appraisal was irregular and post clearance monitoring was absent. All these issues posed imminent threats to the coastal zones of West Bengal.

  1. Coastal zones

The “coastal zone” is defined in a World Bank publication as “the interface where the land meets the ocean, encompassing shoreline environments as well as adjacent coastal waters. Its components can include river deltas, coastal plains, wetlands, beaches and dunes, reefs, mangrove forests, lagoons and other coastal features.” (Post et al., 1996)

Figure 1: Extent of Coastal Zones

.It supports a large amount of floral and faunal biodiversity and is endowed with a very wide range of habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, sea grasses, sand dunes, mudflats, salt marshes, estuaries, lagoons etc., characterized by distinct biotic and abiotic processes. Boundaries of the coastal zones are defined in different ways depending on the focus of interest and availability of data and natural processes.

  1. Ecological features of Indian coastline

India’s coastal areas support a lot of unique ecosystems which support rich biodiversity. These ecosystems support diverse life forms like varieties of fishes, crustaceans, molluscs and higher vertebrae. So far, surveys and inventorization of flora and fauna have been conducted only in selected areas especially around the mainland coasts where some of the research institutions are based.

Mangroves cover about 6,749 km2 with rich species diversity of 82 species. Satellite data shows that West Bengal has highest mangrove cover, followed by Gujarat. Coral Reefs occur in 4 major regions[1]Coastal Sand Dunes (CSDs) are very poorly documented, study revealed a total 338 species of CSD flora, with west coast showing greater diversity than the east coast. Mudflats/Biologically Active Mudflats cover an area of more than 38,000 km2, out of which non-vegetated mud flats cover an area of about 22300 km2, 90% of which are in the state of Gujarat. Salt Marshes are also poorly documented. Space Application Center assessed 1696.38 sq. km area under salt marshes in India. South Asian waters including India has major nesting ground beaches for five endangered species of marine turtles. The coast of Orissa, especially the wetland areas provide favorable living and breeding conditions for Horseshoe Crabs. The major sea grass beds occur along the southeast coast (Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay) and in the lagoons of islands from Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar. Flora comprises 15 species. Coast of India has a lot of bird nesting sites. Chilika Lake attracts over 300,000 birds from December to May. 37 species of shorebirds and 7 other important species were identified in Bhitarkanika and Chilika wetlands. About 50,000 water birds were recorded from Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve.

  1. Why we took up this audit?

Threats to biodiversity and habitat quality of coastal areas of India

  • Habitat Loss/Change: Habitat destruction is particularly pervasive in tropical areas where mangroves, coral reefs and wetland areas are being destroyed at alarming rates.
  • Coastal Pollution: Municipal waste, effluents from industries, agricultural runoff, residues from the shipping industry, waste from exploration of gas/oil in offshore fields etc., are the main drivers of coastal pollution in India.p11091018
    • Climate Change: Total sea level rise will be of up to 98 cm by 2100[1]. This magnitude of sea level rise by the century’s end implies significantly increased risks for South Asia’s coastal settlements especially West Bengal, as well as for coastal economies, cultures and ecosystems, particularly if combined with changes in cyclone frequency or intensity.
    • Overexploitation: Continued exploitation of species is leading to changes in species composition, loss of biodiversity, and shifts in dominance and survivability. India’s extensive coastline is rich in diverse living resources.
    • Invasive Alien Species: About 18% of the Indian flora constitutes adventive aliens, of which 55% is American, 10% Asian, 20% Asian and Malaysian, and 15% European and 10% Central Asian species. However, no records are available for the invasiveness of species in coastal waters of India.
    1. Audit scope and criteria

    Audit scope included institutional mechanism for implementation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification 2011, compliance to and enforcement of CRZ notification of 2011 and implementation of projects in consonance with the objectives of conservation and protection of coastal resources, environment and pollution management and livelihood security of coastal communities.

    Audit criteria were derived from CRZ Notifications and amendments thereof; Environment Protection Act, 1986; Environment Impact Assessment, 2006; Relevant notifications, manuals and guidelines issued by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA) and West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB).

    1. Protection of Coastal zones in India—Institutional responses

    5.1      CRZ Notification, 1991

    Minstry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) issued the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 1991 (CRZ 1991) for the protection of the coastal areas under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. CRZ 1991 primarily aimed to ban all

    activities except those that were absolutely dependent on being located in the coastal environment. The entire Coastal Regulation Zone area was classified into different zones, i.e., CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV based on ecological considerations and

    Figure 3: CRZ Zones I, II, III IV


    the extent of the development of human settlements, urban or rural.

    The scope and extent of activities allowed under the geographical spread of each of these zones was different. The development or construction activities in different categories of CRZ area were to be regulated at the State/Union Territory level according to norms laid down prohibiting/regulating different activities. The 1991 Notification also specified that all the CRZ areas in the State have to be identified and mapped by means of Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) by the state governments and have them approved by the MoEFCC.

    Over the subsequent years, it was seen that the CRZ 1991 faced many challenges in implementation which included mainly the following:

    • Lack of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to identify, prevent and penalise violations.
    • Absence of technical expertise with the State Government to map and prepare the CZMP.
    • Non-Specification of Guidelines by the MoEFCC on the clearance process and evaluation of the impact of proposed activities in the various CRZ zones.
    • Non-inclusion of Pollution from land-based activities in the Notification.
    • Non-Specification of mechanisms to address the concerns and interests of the traditional coastal communities living in ecologically sensitive area.

    5.2      Public Interest Litigations

    Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India filed a Public interest Litigation (PIL) under article 32 of the Constitution. This was in context of unauthorized constructions and industries causing damage to flora and fauna, public health and environment. In this PIL, Supreme Court (the apex court of India) observed that there was no follow up action by coastal states after the issue of the 1991 notification. Shri S. Jagannath v. Union of India filed a PIL for stopping the intensive prawn farming culture industry in coastal areas and for prohibiting use of wetlands for prawn culture and its farming. The Supreme Court observed that coastal states were bound to prepare management plans within a year from the date of the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, but this was not done. The Supreme Court also observed the Central/state Governments were required under Clause 4 of the 1991 notification to monitor and enforce the provisions, but no steps appear to have been taken. These PILs resulted in Supreme Court giving specific direction to the government to constitute an authority with necessary powers to protect the ecologically fragile coastal areas, seashore, waterfront and other coastal areas and specially to deal with the situation created by the shrimp culture industry in coastal States.


    5.3      CRZ Notification, 2011

    According to the CRZ 2011, the objective of its promulgation was “to ensure livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities, living in the coastal areas, to conserve and protect coastal stretches, its unique environment and its marine area and to promote development through sustainable manner based on scientific principles taking into account the dangers of natural hazards in the coastal areas, sea level rise due to global warming”. The 2011 notification identified certain areas as CRZ and imposed limitations on setting up/ expansion of industries/operations etc., in the CRZ. It also defines the institutional mechanism for implementing the CRZ regulations by

    Figure4: activities permitted in CRZ areas


    means of the CZMA and provides for the mapping of the coastal areas by means of Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP).Further, the CZMAs shall primarily be responsible for enforcing and monitoring this notification and to assist in this task, the State Government shall constitute district level Committees under the Chairmanship of the District Magistrate concerned containing at least three representatives of local traditional coastal communities including from fisherfolk.

    1. Audit Findings on Implementation of CRZ regulations

    The length of the coastline in West Bengal is 220 km with a coastal zone of about 9,630 square km. The coastal zone supports an approximate population of 7 million. The SAI India carried out a review on the implementation of CRZ regulations in the coastal state of West Bengal in 2016-17.The review found the following major deficiencies which totally defeated the purpose of preserving the coastal areas.

    6.1      Ineffective Institutional Arrangements and functioning

    • The review found deficiencies in the composition of State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA) which was set up in West Bengal to regulate and monitor activities in the CRZ areas. There was no representation of State Pollution Control Board, Departments Commerce & Industry and Tourism and, local bodies and NGOs in the SCZMA. This adversely affected the scrutiny and appraisals of projects pertaining to the CRZ areas. Further, due to absence of experts, SCZMA had primarily concentrated in granting approval to projects rather than raising issues relating to conservation.
    • It was also seen that the SCZMA neither had any designated office nor any office staff to carry out day-to-day works and did not have any bank account to fund its activities. It also lacked a website which would have promoted transparency in its functioning.

    6.2      Violation of CRZ notifications

    • Classification of coastal areas into four zones, namely CRZI, CRZ II, CRZ III and CRZ IV, limited or prohibited the activities permitted in these zones. To ensure that construction did not take place in prohibited areas, SCZMA had to get coastal maps prepared. The approval of projects has to be accorded in reference to these maps to ensure the non-violation of CRZ location rules. It was observed that, even though due by June 2016.the CZR map was not prepared by the SCZMA. This resulted in accordance of project approvals for building of hotels, commercial establishments etc., by municipal authorities in violation of the CRZ norms.
    • Local level maps in CZMP for use of local bodies was also not seen prepared. This led to further proliferation of commercial establishments at the expense of the livelihood of local fisher folk community. Identification and planning of ecologically sensitive, economically important and highly vulnerable areas was not carried out. This has resulted in rampant erosion due to tourist activities as well as threat to vulnerable species like red horseshoe crabs and sea cucumbers.
    • Assessment of shoreline changes did not take place. As a result SCZMA, though aware of the erosion in the beaches, was unable to recommend necessary mitigation measures along the vulnerable shoreline. Major protection work had been undertaken using granite boulders, cement concrete, brickwork, reinforced cement concrete, sheet pile, geo-pipes and wooden structures etc. These works were undertaken by modifying coastal ecosystems like sand dunes, mangroves and sandy shores.
    • It was seen that between January 2011 and December 2015, SCZMA recommended 20 projects for CRZ clearance. As per CRZ 2011, projects were required to obtain ‘No objection certificate’ from Pollution Control Board, however, only one out of the 20 project proponents had applied to PCB for Consent to establish or operate till June 2016.
    • Further, SCZMA had recommended all projects without examining the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report, Disaster management or other prescribed reports. Such departure from the standards of appraising the projects had resulted in violations in the CRZ areas and defeated the purpose of the Notification. Projects like vendor rehabilitation, construction of beach amenities with landscaping, pipelines for supply of natural gas, shrimp farms in supra tidal zones, establishment of hotels/resorts including sewerage treatment plant etc., were approved in the CRZs. All these projects impacted the natural ecology and changed the face of the coastal areas. They also impacted the biodiversity found in the coastal areas.

    6.3      Lack of enforcement

    • An institutional mechanism for enforcement like district level committees were either not created or were non-functional. No action was taken by these district committees to stop illegal construction, littering of beaches or unbridled tourism destroying the coastal ecology and biodiversity.
    • Further, according to CRZ Notification 2011, it is mandatory for the project proponent to submit half-yearly compliance to SCZMA twice a year and host the report on its website. None of the project proponents submitted the half-yearly compliance to SCZMA and none of the projects were inspected by SCZMA.
    • Site visits by Audit showed instances of violation like fly ash getting mixed in the river during loading of fly ash in barges in a project, hatcheries built in tidal creeks, constructed eco camp sites on marshy wetland surrounded by tidal creeks, construction of the children’s park landscaping with paver blocks and artificial grass transformed the sandy beaches into a concrete area etc.
    • Thus, the whole coastal area was being denuded of its natural ecology and, ecosystem and biodiversity. Further, discharge of untreated effluents, dumping of solid wastes, municipal effluents, existence of burning ghat on the beach, dumping of effluents from industrial areas etc. were observed in the coastal areas. All this led to not only pollution but deterioration of the ecology and biodiversity of the coastal areas.
    1. Conclusions and Way Forward

    Worldwide, coastal systems are experiencing growing population and exploitation pressures as nearly 40% of the people in the world live within 100 kilometers of the coast. Coastal areas, through the abundance of its ecosystem services tend to attract human settlements and associated anthropogenic activity. However, these ecosystems are also very fragile and are vulnerable to even small changes disturbing the delicate balance existing in these ecosystems. The main threat that these ecosystems face is the anthropogenic pressures driven by coastal economies and peoples who are putting the coastal resources into various competing uses. Sustainable management of these areas is the need of the day but it’s easier said than done.

    Policy responses in India have been slow and inadequate and implementation has been a big area of concern. Recent changes in policy, introduction of new initiatives like Integrated Coastal Zone Management, Ecosystem-based management, Ecosystem based adaptation, demarcation of Marine/coastal protected areas, Integrated Marine and Coastal Area Management, Regional Seas program etc., if scaled up, can slow down the negative trends.

    Further, CRZ notifications need to be strengthened and implemented with greater vigor. The government needs to define ultimate outcomes of the CRZ Notification, clarify roles and powers of CRZ authorities, undertake greater participatory planning in coastal zone management, tackle lack of capacity, ensure coordination and remove resource constraints. The Notifications should put in places guidelines to improve monitoring, ensure compliance and enforcement, and improve access to information and transparency. Institutions like SCZMAs need to be empowered so that they can take up the cause of ensuring compliance, punishing violators and according project approvals in a free, transparent and technically correct manner. Most importantly, a clear definition of outcomes and indicators is needed so that CZMAs can work deliberately towards better coastal environments.


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