MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Tsunami underlines importance of CRZ

Published by MAC on 2005-01-02

Tsunami underlines importance of CRZ

By Debi Goenka, Mid-day

January 2, 2005

India: Whilst we are still grieving for the tens of thousands who died as a result of the tidal waves that hit the coastal areas of southeast Asia, our Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), is busy working on destroying the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification.

This exercise commenced a few months ago under the guise of rationalisation of the CRZ notification.

"What is the scientific basis for 500 metres?" I was asked, by no less than the Secretary to Government of India, Mr Prodipto Ghosh, a few months ago. The thinking seems to be to use the argument of science to dismantle the CRZ.

At a workshop held in Chennai on June 18 and 19, 2004, all state Governments that attended the hastily-convened meeting backed the MoEF to the hilt.

Each and every state Government official as well as representatives of the other Central Ministries that attended pointed out numerous problems that they had with CRZ.

No one, except the handful of NGO representatives who had been invited as a fig leaf for "consultation", seemed concerned about the environmental consequences.

The impact of climate change, global warming, sea level rise, as well as the increase in frequency of extreme climatic events were dismissed within a few minutes.

Pleas to safeguard the coastal areas for the benefit of the fisherfolk and the local inhabitants were also dismissed. What was more important was the implementation of the agenda of the previous Government - India has to continue to shine - was the message!

The MoEF has set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of Dr M S Swaminathan to examine and review the CRZ notification. Significantly, in line with the MoEF agenda, no environmental groups are represented on this committee.

In fact, the MoEF has gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the Committee did not meet the environmental groups. A meeting in Delhi in November was attended by representatives of only two environmental groups since only three days notice was given.

At the meeting itself, presentations had to be rushed through since the conference room was apparently required by the Minister and there was no other space to accommodate all the participants!

The tsunami, and the thousands of lives that have been lost, has underlined the importance of protecting our coastal areas and ensuring that vulnerable portions are protected rather than given to builders and hoteliers under the guise of "development".

One can only pray that this tragedy has given the Union Cabinet enough reason to rethink and reverse the decisions of the previous Government.

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