No independent experts in national coastal zone management authority
The environment ministry reconstituted the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA), the apex coordinating agency for coastal regulation, for a period of two years.
The ministry has come under fire for filling the environmental regulation body with bureaucrats with no representation from experts, civil society or fishermen groups. This comes at a time when there is a need for a strong central supervisory body, environmentalists said.
India has a coastline of 7516.6 km which is spread across 13 states and Union Territories (UTs). The first set of coastal regulation rules were issued in 1991, and the regime has hobbled along. A new set of rules was put in place 2011, but the new rules are yet to be fully implemented.
Planning for protection of coasts is based on state coastal management plans. Barring Lakshadweep, none of the coastal states or UTs have come up with updated coastal management plans. The National Green Tribunal is currently hearing a petition about the non implementation of the 2011 rules, and has repeatedly asked the centre to ensure compliance with the rules.
The last authority’s term ended in March this year, and it was defunct for half a year. The functioning of the body is also lax. The authority met only twice last year, twice in 2015 and not even once in 2014.
The reconstituted 22-member body will be headed by the secretary, ministry of environment, forests and climate change. “It is a complete government committee, no independent expert with proper background is included, they are all either on government salary or pension,” V. Vivekanandan, now an advisor with the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies who has previously served as a member of the authority, said.
The NCZMA deals with all environmental issues relating to coastal regulation zone referred to it by the centre. Though the states have their own authorities the NCZMA is the apex coordinating body.
A striking feature of the reconstituted authority is its expansion to include members from the 9 major coastal states: Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal.
This, many environmentalists believe has been done to appease states. “There is serious conflict of interest, all coastal states, they are the ones who push proposals that violate the rules. The authority should be more neutral than that,” Vivekanandan said.
The ministry also amended the existing rules through a separate notification relaxed the guidelines for extraction of atomic minerals like Uranium from coastal areas.
The environment ministry is believed to be considering replacing the current rules with the Marine Coastal Regulation Zone notification. Environmental activists argue that these will dilute regulation of the coasts and fishermen groups claim it will adversely affect their livelihood.
“The way the NCZMA is composed and even the way the state coastal zone authorities are composed it shows the government is not interested in implementing the conservation clauses of the rules,” Manju Menon, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said.
Officials at the ministry said the members of the reconstituted authority were still being notified and could not comment on the composition.