CAG report on violation of coastal ecosystem norms
- Recently, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India tabled a report in Parliament on whether steps taken by the Union Environment Ministry to conserve India’s coastal ecosystems have been successful.
- This latest report contains the observations from an audit of Conservation of Coastal Ecosystems from 2015-20.
- India has a coastline of around 7,516 kilometres and the coastal regions are significant for economic growth.
- The regulation of coastal zones is crucial for protecting the country’s coastal environment.
Coastal Zone Regulation:
- The Union government has issued notifications under the Environment Protection Act (1986), to regulate activities along India’s coasts, particularly regarding construction.
- The Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (CRZ) 2019 classifies the coastal area into different zones to manage infrastructure activities and regulate them.
- CRZ-I constitutes ecologically-sensitive areas, such as mangroves, corals/coral reefs, sand dunes, national parks, marine parks, sanctuaries, reserve forests, wildlife habitats, etc.
- They are situated between high tide lines and low tide lines.
- High tide line - the line of intersection of the land with the water's surface at the maximum height reached by a rising tide.
- Low tide line - the line on the land where the lowest tide of water touches during spring tide.
- It constitutes the developed areas up to the shoreline, which fall within the existing municipal limits.
- The development of unauthorised structures is not allowed in this zone.
- Localities, such as rural areas that are relatively undisturbed and do not fall under the above categories, are included in this zone.
- Only specific activities related to agriculture or certain public facilities are permitted under this coastal regulation zone.
- The zone constitutes water areas from the low tide line up to territorial limits, including areas of the tidal-influenced water bodies.
- Activities such as fishing and other allied services are permitted in this zone.
- Implementing Agencies:
- National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) at the Centre,
- State/Union Territory Coastal Zone Management Authorities (SCZMA/UTCZMA) in every coastal State and Union Territory,
- District Level Committees (DLCs) in every district that has a coastal stretch.
Why did the CAG undertake this audit?
- The CAG has a constitutional mandate, under Article 151, to investigate and report on publicly funded programmes.
- It conducted “pre-audit studies” and found that there were large-scale CRZ violations in the coastal stretches.
- Incidences of illegal construction activities (reducing coastal space) and effluent discharges from local bodies, industries and aquaculture farms had been reported by the media and this prompted it to undertake a detailed investigation.
Key Findings of the Audit report:
- The audit pointed out various categories of violations.
- For one, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change hadn’t notified NCZMA as a permanent body and it was being reconstituted every few years.
- In the absence of defined membership, it was functioning as an ad-hoc body.
- There were instances of the Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs) not being present during project deliberations.
- EAC is a committee of scientific experts and senior bureaucrats who evaluate the feasibility of an infrastructure project and its environmental consequences.
- There were instances of the members of the EAC being fewer than half of the total strength during the deliberations.
- SCZMA had not been reconstituted in Karnataka and there was delayed reconstitution in the States of Goa, Odisha and West Bengal.
- The DLCs of Tamil Nadu lacked participation from local traditional communities. In Andhra Pradesh, DLCs were not even established.
- Also, there were instances of projects being approved despite inadequacies in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.