Changing course – India’s Coastline and the new coastal regulatory regime

Research Team: Koyel Mandal, Rajesh Rangarajan, Sujatha Byravan, Jessica Seddon
LEAD Centre: Centre for Development Finance (CDF)
Focus Area: Environment and Climate Change
Project Geography: Across India


The Coastal Regulation Zone legislation is likely to undergo change which may potentially impact the coast and its communities. Will it be improved to make a comprehensive legislation that will protect the coast?

There is no denying that the sea and coast by themselves provide for outstanding natural beauty. India’s coastline is about 7500 kms and comprises of ecologically sensitive and extremely diverse areas that call for their preservation. Coastal areas are home to wildlife habitats, mangrove, coral reef, estuarine and creek ecosystems and have designated national parks, sanctuaries and reserve forests. Coastal and deep sea waters are important breeding and spawning grounds for fish and other aquatic organisms. Given the abundant presence of natural resources, the coast offers enormous scope for developmental projects to harness this location, through ports and other infrastructure. Fishing and other coastal communities too have a major stake in the access and use of the fishery resources.

The primary notification governing protection and regulation of the coast – Coastal (Regulation) Zone Notification 1991 – is a critical piece of legislation that has ensured that economic and development activities are kept in check. Environmentalists have intelligently and in many cases successfully used this legislation to prevent adverse impacts and fishing communities have often used this legislation to demand their rights to the coast and preserve their livelihood. However, practitioners have raised issues about its effective implementation; and government too has repeatedly amended the law (25 times) to permit coastal development. Making a case for the CRZ revamp, a committee was constituted which recommended a new legislation for the coast – the Coastal Management Zone Notification – and a draft was issued in 2008. After heavy criticism (both on process and content) and active lobbying for retaining and strengthening the CRZ from all quarters this regressive notification has been shelved in July 2009. What are going to be the next steps? What is the fate of the CRZ? Will it be improved to make a comprehensive legislation that will protect the coast? Will development on the coast be harmonized with environment and fishermen interests? These are some of the questions that confront both government and civil society and CDF is exploring the potential of offering strategic support to advocacy groups through rigorous policy research which will push governments to strengthening coastal regulations thus promoting the resilience of India’s fragile coast.