Big names missing allege greens, KCZMA member raises concern that common man will be hit
On 23 September 2019, while hearing the arguments over the illegal construction of Maradu flats in Kochi, Supreme Court had ordered that Kerala has to put on record as to what course of action the state proposes against all such existing violators and how many such constructions exist at present in the state which violate the notification issued by the Coastal Regulation Zone Authority.
Following this, Coastal District Committees were set up in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kasargod and Kannur.
Even though the final compiled report has not been submitted, the data collated by The Lede from the reports prepared by 10 Coastal District Committees (CDC) reveals that there are 26,259 coastal regulation zone violations in the state.
And out of the violations cited in the interim reports, Kollam tops the list with 4868 violations in the state. The second and third positions are occupied by Alappuzha and Ernakulam with 4536 and 4239 numbers respectively. The least number of violations are in Malappuram, which is 731.
The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Rules govern human and industrial activity on the coastline to protect the ecosystems near the sea.
They restrict activities — like constructions, setting up of industries, storage or disposal of hazardous material, mining, reclamation and bunding — within a certain distance from the coastline.
After the passing of the Environment Protection Act in 1986, CRZ Rules were first framed in 1991. After these were found to be restrictive, the union government notified new Rules in 2011. And in 2018 again, fresh Rules were issued, which aimed to remove certain restrictions on building, streamlined the clearance process, and aimed to encourage tourism in coastal areas.
In all Rules, the regulation zone has been defined as the area up to 500 metres from the high-tide line.
And the restrictions depend on criteria such as the population, the ecological sensitivity, the distance from the shore, and whether the area had been designated as a natural park or wildlife zone.
The latest Rules also have a no-development zone of 20 metres for all islands close to the mainland coast, and all backwater islands in the mainland.
While the CRZ Rules are made by the union environment ministry, implementation is to be ensured by state governments through their Coastal Zone Management Authorities.
In Kerala, it is the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) which has been entrusted with looking into CRZ violations.
Last Saturday and Sunday, four high rise flats were brought down in controlled implosion for violating CRZ norms in Kochi following a Supreme Court order.
And last week, the Supreme Court has also ordered the demolition of 7-star Kapico Kerala Resorts on the banks of Vembanad lake, at Alappuzha in Kerala.
As directed by the government, the first interim report based on the initial data submitted by the secretaries was submitted by the CDC of Thiruvananthapuram to the Chief Secretary in October 2019. In the first Interim Report, altogether 573 violations were reported.
In the second Interim Report, which was submitted in November, altogether 3228 violations were reported.
And finally, as per the revised details obtained from the local bodies, the total number of CRZ violations reported as on 20 December 2019 in Thiruvananthapuram is 3535.
While assessing the CRZ violation list prepared by the government, a green activist told The Lede that big names are missing from the interim reports.
“We all know that who are the big violators. There are cases against them also in different courts. But their names are missing,” Sanjeev SJ, president of Environmental Protection and Research Council, alleged.
“Even though we can see violations, the report has turned a blind eye on them. Big names are missing,” Sanjeev said adding that the same big names are missing in Ernakulam CDC reports too.
“Interestingly, the names earlier cited by KCZMA as violators are also missing in the reports,” Sanjeev added.
The KCZMA’s 90th meeting in 2017, had listed many malls and resort owners as violators found by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. However, those names have been left out in the interim reports.
Interestingly, on 13 September 2019, The Hindu reported that files related to CRZ violations by builders and industrialists had gone missing in Kerala.
Based on an RTI response, The Hindu reported that “the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA) had conceded in June this year that files related to as many as 16 major violations were not available with it,” the report said.
The report added that with no files related to the CRZ violations in its possession, the authority has not acted on these violations for years together.
A member at KCZMA told The Lede that the final report is under preparation and it needs a bit more time to study it properly before submitting it to the government and the Supreme Court.
The final report was supposed to be submitted on 12 January 2020; however, the date has been missed.
“We have to look into an environmental, developmental and human angle in the CRZ violation final list. There are violations, but there is also the common man who will suffer if we stick on strictly to the law, which is a concern for us,” the member who requested condition of anonymity told The Lede.
“In the coastal area, there are many who are owning just three cents and a hut. They may be staying in that area for decades. Now, if we go tell them that they have violated the CRZ rules and have to move out, where will they go. It’s a big question we have to address. When the rules were formulated in the time of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, the aims were different and at that time itself, such concerns of the common man were not included. Till now, it is missing too. So, we are in a fix now. We have to study and get some clarity,” the member said.
In the CRZ violation list, The Lede found that there are small shops and small houses included.
“We should protect the environment, make way for development at the same time we should not ignore the livelihood of the common man and their needs too when the rules are made. If a rule is not going to have a humane face, then it is a concern for us,” the member added.