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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Coastal zone regulations / India

Posted By: R. Sudarshana
Date: Friday, 28 May 1999, at 11:36 a.m.

Wisdom is a cat of nine lives. It comes up in many ways and presents itself for scrutiny time and again, often in the raw form and sometimes refined. Although the world accepts a practice as wise for a while, it is more likely to be criticized at a later date in the face of new information, renewed understanding and consequences. In response to the criticism, wisdom emerges again in a new format, new direction and/or with a new twist within the coastal zone practice in question. So, it is in the cycle of wisdom that it lives gloriously for a while, dies a death of condemnation after sometime and comes back to life again with a new skin much later. Let me go wild about it for a while - is it wisdom reborn ? wisdom renewed ? wisdom recycled ? wisdom refurbished ? wisdom restructured ? wisdom recouped ? wisdom regained ? Forget it all, folks. The point is that the process of wise practice is very elaborate - it starts with preparing somebody first to start a practice (education), operate a practice for everybody's benefit (application) and learn to regulate the activities within an agreed channel (regulation). At each step and from one step to another, lessons are learnt, experience is criticized and new methods are incorporated. The cycle goes on and on and the cat is reborn with a new coat.


So, we ought to recognize wisdom at three levels. One - at the level of use of coast for human benefit - like in methods of resource exploitation and infrastructure development (application). Two - at the level of preparing a community to use the coast by way of providing education, training, awareness etc (education). Three - at the level of governing the coastal use by way of promulgating laws, regulations, rules etc (regulation). Each level is very important and we must recognize appropriate and sustainable wisdom in each.


So far in the EDG, we have had contributions addressing the first two levels. We are yet to present and discuss the governing process. But I hope we should discuss this point earnestly since regulations suppose an imposition of wisdom in coastal processes. They could be right and wrong both under varying circumstances. They may sometime be too inflexible and rigid and such a character may be wise at times and unwise otherwise. They may be too specific, thus providing for too many loop holes in between specificities. They may be too general lacking the tenor of punishing stick. They may not be updated as frequently as they should be and progress may become slow. On the other hand, some may lack the prudence in the face of those rapidly changing environments that require very flexible regulations. Recognizing such an opportunity, I am making here a modest attempt to evaluate the wisdom shown in coastal zone regulations in India.


At the outset, we should accept the fact that regulations come up in any country after sufficient deliberations. So let us ask some questions to ourselves.

1. Do we accept coastal zone regulations as wise practice at face value ?

2. Are coastal zone regulations the ultimate wise practice if adhered to ?

3. Can wisdom be imposed effectively in the form of regulations ?

4. Can regulations ensure wise practices in the coastal zone ?

5. Is it possible to have flexible regulations to allow circumstantial necessities ?

I do not have all the answers. At best, I can put a few more questions. Perhaps we can find some answers collectively and perhaps one day, we can bring each country's regulations to the table and discuss in detail. Perhaps, it will be possible for us to generate a set of ideal regulations as wise practice, taking into account the need to modify the sub clauses depending on the situations. After we do all that, perhaps we will understand that wise practices operate at macro and micro levels in distinctly separate domains, requiring us to resolve administrative. social, scientific, technical,economic and cultural components of each practice wisely and delicately.


During the early part of the present decade, India notified "coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters which are influenced by tidal action (in the landward side) up to 500 meters from the HTL and the land between the LTL and HTL as the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)". Further, activities such as industries, disposal of hazardous substances, fish processing, effluent discharge, landfilling, land reclamation, mining, harvesting ground water, construction and landscape alteration are banned within CRZ with a few exclusive exceptions. Important national activities within CRZ requiring waterfront, such as ports and harbours, defence requirements and thermal plants are regulated and cleared after critically evaluating the proposal.


For regulating coastal zone activities, coastal stretches within 500 meters of high tide line on the landward side are classified into four categories.

CRZ-I covers areas that are ecologically sensitive and important as well as the zone between low and high tides. No new construction shall be permitted here except for extremely critical necessity.

CRZ-II covers areas that have already been well developed with all infrastructure like roads, sewerage lines, water supply pipes etc. laid out, such as within urban and municipal limits. No new constructions on the seaward side of the road can come up here and reconstruction of existing structures will be restricted.

CRZ-III covers areas that are relatively undisturbed and not falling under the above two zones. Here, up to 200 meters is no development zone, 200 to 500 meters can be used for hotels and beach resorts temporarily under permission while traditional rights of fisherman to build small structures are honoured.

CRZ-IV covers areas in islands except those designated in CRZ I, II and III. Here, no buildings can come up within 200 meters and after that more than 2 floors are not allowed. Besides, use of corals and sands, dredging and underwater blasting are also banned.


1. CRZ policy provides a blanket restriction on all activities in a zone that we generally understand to be fragile.

2. It allows the sea to operate freely in the 500 meter domain beyond the high tide line.

3. At first it applies an equal brake to all developmental activities and allows the society to take up a vigilant approach.

4. It segregates nationally important activities from not so important ones. To some extent, it prioritizes socially oriented activities over the profit oriented activities.

5. It is not fully inflexible and is not development unfriendly.

6. It accepts the past developments and attempts to minimize further damage in zones that have already had urban growth.


1. CRZ operates only landwards. It does not address activities below the low tide line.

2. Since the HTL is the bottom line, establishment of nation-wide HTL has become a necessity. HTL is not easy to demarcate, especially for areas that are fast changing like the Gulf of Cambay. Even after 8 years of the initial notification of CRZ, HTL has not been fully and accurately established for the entire country with a coastline of 7600 km. Meanwhile, certain projects seem to be taking advantage of the practical ambiguity of the HTL.

3. The '500 m' per se has no scientific validity. If 500, why not 501 and so on. Now, this one is very tricky, isn't it? An industry comes up on the 501st meter and you can do nothing about it. The one meter extra is not likely to protect our environmental interests. On the other hand, you establish a polluting industry on the 501st meter today and if you have an erosive coast, the industry might be on the 499th meter after a while. Surely, no country is going to update its HTL every quarter of a year with an accuracy of fraction of a meter. Hence, the landward extent of CRZ should be delineated in relation to the coastal elements, which is of course not an easy task, rather. But it would be more practical.

4. CRZ policy may surely bring in caution in development, but it also slows down the development and makes way for innumerable litigations as we have been seeing. Justice will have to be done either to environment or to society or perhaps to both. But, justice delayed is as good as justice denied. It is especially true in a changing environment.

5. CRZ is blind towards global change. All these rigid numerical extents would look meaningless tomorrow, if they are not already - today. Moreover, the classification would not hold good in the event of global change.

6. Putting up structures such as sea wall, groin and such erosion protective measures also need to go through the CRZ procedure and damage mitigation on an urgent basis becomes very difficult. Hence, it appears that the classification requires another zone (say zone V) where hazards are frequent and mitigation is imminent.

7. Some transitional environments like lagoons are not very well covered. The entire definition of CRZ is based on tidal action but there are areas in the lagoons that are not influenced by tides. But they are a part of the coastal zone in view of the typology of gross processes. Likewise, there could be other important zones outside the tidal action like the sand dunes that are important to protect. CRZ should become more comprehensive to include an area that is in the broad level functional domain of coastal action.

8. If CRZ becomes more inclusive, it should become selectively flexible too in some ways, lest it would hamper genuine development.

9. CRZ clearance authority is vested with the federal Government and it is a long way for clearances. Any wise practice (including regulation) should portray timeliness in order to be effective and purposeful. Of the four zones, not very critical zones may be identified and the local Government may be authorised to provide clearance, so that development is speeded up.


1. Regulations are an integral part of the wise practice on the coastal zone.

2. Scientific community and forums (like CSI) should advise on regulations regularly.

3. Imposed wisdom does not ensure a wise practice because it operates only at macro level.

4. Numerical measurement yardsticks may serve only an administrative function of certain enforcement.

5. Regulations are meant for vigilance and are comparable to night vision. Hence this wisdom should have been compared to owl instead of cat in the beginning of this story.


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