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Online public consultation to finalise coastal maps for Sindhudurg, Palghar in Maharashtra face opposition

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
UPDATED ON SEP 29, 2020 01:37 AM IST

The state’s approach to finalise coastal zone management plan (CZMP) maps for Sindhudurg and Palghar through online public consultations has received stiff opposition from local communities in both the districts.

Public hearings are organised by district collectors upon receiving directions from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) to hear the suggestions and objections of affected communities.

While the online public consultation for Palghar is slated to be held Wednesday, the same for Sindhudurg was held on Monday. During the consultation, Sindhudurg residents said a large number of participants were unable to raise their objections due to power cuts across several areas.

“The three-hour public consultation on Monday was done just for the sake of completion with less than 300 people involved. Around 60% people could not present their submissions because there was power outage while some did not have access to internet,” said Nandan Vengurlekar, district coordinator, Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), CZMP awareness committee, Sindhudurg.

According to Vengurlekar, the proposed CZMP affects five talukas — Devgad, Malvan, Vengurla, Sawanti and Kudal — covering 224 villages, 1.22 lakh families and 4.10 lakh people in Sindhudurg. “Our primary submission entails directing state or central officials to visit each of these 224 villages explaining the impact of the map by translating documents into Marathi so that citizens are aware of how the coastal district is likely to change,” said Vengurlekar.

Confirming the issue, the district administration has decided to conduct offline hearings at Vengurla and Malvan on Tuesday. “There were difficulties due to lack of connectivity or power failure at many places. An offline consultation will be conducted on Tuesday from 10am to 6pm. For Vengurla, Kudal and Sawantwadi (creek and rivers), the meeting will be held at Vengurla block development office (BDO) between 10am to 1pm. For Malvan, Devgad at Kankavali, the offline meeting will happen between 2pm and 6pm at Malvan BDO. This is being done to ensure nobody is left out from presenting their views,” said Shubhangi Sathe, resident deputy collector, Sindhudurg.

Draft CZMP maps were prepared by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) under the Union environment ministry in 2019 for all coastal districts in Maharashtra based on the 2019 Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. The maps were published on January 22 this year. Using distinct colour codes, these maps demarcate CRZ areas (I to IV), high tide and hazard line, fishing zones, intertidal areas, mangrove forests and buffer areas, turtle nesting sites, cyclone shelters, koliwadas and gaothans. These also identify coastal areas that can be opened up for infrastructure development. Holding public consultation, especially with local communities, calling for suggestions and objections is compulsory before finalising the maps.

The public consultation process for all districts was completed by March 6 except Palghar and Sindhudurg. It was later slotted for March 21 for the two districts, but owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was deferred. “Based on the Union environment ministry’s memorandum, an online public consultation was promulgated along with receiving submissions through offline means. Both would be considered. We are just following the simple process as directed by the Centre,” a senior state government official said.

Meanwhile, activists and environmental researchers also raised an alarm calling the entire process ‘undemocratic’ and violation of CRZ norms. “Public hearings are organised on these plans to ensure people’s participation in the planning process and not just for the completion of a process for the sake of it. The hearing through digital platforms that affect coastal communities is against the principle of natural justice. Even if the public hearings are held physically, this means that the elderly will be forced to reach the public hearing venue amid the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dhwani Shah, Mumbai-based independent environmental researcher.

A complaint was filed with the Sindhudurg district administration by environment group Conservation Action Trust (CAT) on Monday. “Public hearings need to be planned in a systematic manner and everyone present should be allowed to speak during the hearing. Officials present should respond to queries, which did not happen on Monday,” said Prasad Khale, senior conservation officer, CAT.

MAJOR CONCERNS RAISED FOR SINDHUDURG, PALGHAR PUBLIC CONSULTATION

· Base map of the CZMP should be as per the satellite imagery of 1991

· At most of the places, mudflats (CRZ IA) have been demarcated as intertidal areas (CRZ IB)

· Gaothans, koliwadas and their extension, boat parking areas, fish drying areas, are not marked in draft CZMP maps

· Illegally constructed embankments, bunds, roads have been demarcated as high tide line

· Buffers for mangroves have not been properly demarcated

· None of the team members from NCSCM have done ground surveys by going to villages.

(Source: Conservation Action Trust)

WHY THESE ONLINE PUBLIC HEARINGS ARE FACING PEOPLE’S OPPOSITION?

- There is a no provision in the CRZ Notification 2019 for conducting online public hearings. Public hearings for all the other districts were held with the physical presence of all the affected communities

- Online public hearings will exclude senior citizens and veterans who have traditional knowledge of the coastline and can contribute towards the maps and planning

- During Covid-19, poor communities are struggling to make ends meet due to the loss of jobs. At this time, if the public hearings are held then it will forcefully leave the communities out of the process

- The faulty maps as per the CRZ Notification 2011 was prepared and approved only in 2018 with a delay of 7 years

(Source: Dhwani Shah, Mumbai-based independent Environmental Researcher)

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