When the coast is compromised

When the coast is compromised

Karnataka has three maritime districts: Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. The Karnataka coast comprises  habitats such as sandy beaches, rocky shores, mangroves, coral reefs, mud flats and several productive estuaries. With over 70% of the population being rural, major livelihoods pursued in these districts are fishing, salt making, clam collection and agriculture. These are closely tied to the natural resources found in abundance in these ecosystems. In the last decade, the coast of Karnataka has seen an increase in speculative land sales to exploit its ‘untapped’ potential for tourism and infrastructure development.

The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011 regulates these different uses by notifying the first 500 metres of the Indian coastline as CRZ. Based on the geo-morphological features and degree of development of different parts of the CRZ, it divides it into CRZ I (ecologically sensitive areas), CRZ II (urban areas), CRZ III (rural areas) and CRZ IV (water areas). It restricts development in the first 200 metres of the rural areas and terms it as No Development Zone (NDZ). It makes the State Coastal Zone Management Authorities (CZMAs) responsible for implementation of the Notification, and constitutes district level committees to assist the CZMAs.

Desire to develop
However, since June 2014, this legislation has seen a slew of changes, each of which only compromised the original objectives of coastal regulation: conservation of coastal ecosystems, protection of traditional coastal livelihoods and sustainable development. Instead, these changes allow access to several industries and commercial activities to areas that were originally not available to them. These developments raise the concern of whether these amendments were made keeping in mind the interest of certain business tycoons and to appease the states and fulfill their desires to ‘develop’?

The first amendment issued in November 2014 transferred powers to appraise certain projects from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authorities. At first glance, it may seem like a step towards decentralisation, but the efforts seem to be limited only till the state level. The amendment did not pay any attention to the District Level Consultative Committees (DLCC), whose role in coastal governance becomes particularly significant in states like Karnataka. Karnataka has only three coastal districts and its capital Bengaluru is 400 km away from the nearest coast. Fisherfolk and coastal communities make a small (less than one per cent) proportion of the total population of the state and are not as well organised as in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This compromises their bargaining powers and makes them politically insignificant.

In such a situation, the DLCC — by having representation of coastal communities in its constitution — remains the only platform available to them to voice their concerns. However, this platform is not being utilised to its full potential. Representatives of the fishing community who are on the DLCC of Uttara Kannada shared in an interview conducted by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environmental Justice Programme in April 2014 that they only discuss small projects such as house constructions, their repair and reconstruction in DLCC meetings. They added that they do not think they are a part of the decision making process for the coast as they have limited participation in the process of project appraisals.

Another amendment (issued in the same month) that would have big implications for the coast of Karnataka allowed certain relaxations to tourism projects in the urban areas of CRZ. Along the Karnataka coast, many fishing villages such as Bhatkal, Mundalli, Mavinkurve, Kasarkod, Bengre and Brahmavar fall under CRZ II (Urban area). These relaxations, besides other things, did away with the requirement of maintaining a path between two tourist structures to access the beach. Unlike Goa and Kerala, the beaches in Karnataka are not yet cordoned off by big tourism projects. Tourism structures are interspersed with fishing villages. But this relaxation would either deny fishermen the access to the sea or would make them travel longer to reach their fishing and boat parking sites.

Worrying implications
These challenges may force fishermen to sell their land in fishing villages and leave the profession. There have already been instances of distress sales of land at low rates in Panambur, Udupi, Murudeshwar, Gokarna and Bhatkal regions. This way, large stretches of the coast, especially pocket beaches, run the risk of being turned into private hotel beaches available for ‘premium tourists’. Another change brought through this amendment was to lift the ban on the withdrawal of ground water. This creates danger of depletion of ground water and intrusion of saltwater into the wells. This danger becomes particularly grave because of the fact that coastal areas of Karnataka are facing water scarcity for the past two years.

There have been news reports that the MoEFCC is about to replace the CRZ Notification, 2011 with a new notification that would effectively open up the coast for more tourism, commercial and entertainment projects. However, these very projects stand out if violations of coastal regulation are analysed. On the website of Karnataka CZMA, a list of CRZ violations for its three coastal districts of Karnataka - Uttara Kannada, Udupi and Dakshina Kannada is available. Of total 46 violations listed by the Karnataka CZMA, 21 are concerned with the construction of buildings (residential, commercial and religious). The category that comes second to it is tourism and entertainment with 13 violations. Since the list has not been updated since 2014, there may be many more of such kinds of projects.

The CPR-Namati Environmental Justice Programme has recorded several cases of CRZ violations linked with tourism and commercial activities. Through the programme, villagers of Baad, Gokarna, Murudeshwar in Uttara Kannada have filed several complaints with the coastal institutions against such activities. Despite writing complaints with strong evidence of violations committed by these projects, the villagers have had to make multiple visits to these offices to seek action. While action on most of these violations is still awaited, villagers live under the constant threat of their houses being notified as CRZ violations. In 2014 and 2015, sheds of several fishermen were demolished at Karwar claiming these were CRZ violations.

The CRZ Notification has provisions that support traditional coastal livelihoods and uphold communities’ right to use common coastal spaces and participate in their governance. As seen, these provisions are often violated or ignored. Instead of ensuring that the CRZ Notification is implemented effectively and in its entirety, the recent changes seem to be diluting the Notification. Communities that were already bearing the cost of neglect of the CRZ norms are now at bigger risks. CRZ Notification is being stripped off the protections it provides for coastal people. If the trend continues, soon the often-ignored fishing and coastal communities of Karnataka will find them completely abandoned.

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