Sixteen months after a Right to Information (RTI) application was filed, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has finally disclosed a copy of the "Report of the Committee to Review the Issues relating to the Coastal Regulation Zone, 2011" (from now on referred to as "the report") to the applicant. This report had been denied since the time the application was filed in February 2015 on the grounds that the government had not approved it.
This disclosure came after an order of the Information Commissioner, Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu on May 13, 2016 which stated that the ministry "cannot invent a new defence or exemption such as 'the report is under submission', 'file is pending consideration' and 'unless approved it cannot be given', etc, which are not available under RTI Act, 2005, such an illegal refusal will amount to denial of information, which would invite penal proceedings under Section 20 of RTI Act, 2005."
This order was given responding to the RTI application by Kanchi Kohli from the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research (CPR)-Namati Environment Justice Program, seeking copy of report and file notings, dated Feb 22, 2015.
The report has important recommendations Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification 2011. This notification has framework for conservation of coastal and local livelihoods through clauses land use change, proactive conservation initiatives and mapping of the coastal zone.
The 110 page report recommends the framework for a new draft CRZ notification and:
Proposes a "Conservation, Protection and Management Framework for CRZ 1 areas" that are considered to be ecologically fragile area and with dense mangroves, coral reefs, nesting grounds etc. An important tool recommended is the declaration of Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESAs) across coastal areas.
Proposes the devolution of powers to state and union territory governments along with local authorities for CRZ II (built up cities and towns), CRZ III (rural areas) and CRZ IV (12 nautical miles into the sea) areas. These are for activities not covered under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006.
Recommends that buildings can be constructed behind existing structures and roads in CRZ II areas as per existing Town and Country Planning norms.
Divides CRZ III areas a Densely Populated Rural Areas and Rural Areas with lesser regulation for the former through the reduction of the "no development zone" to 50 metres.
Promotes housing infrastructure and slum redevelopment activities in CRZ II and tourism in CRZ III areas based on town and country planning norms and other state regulations.
Recommends temporary tourism facilities in the No Development Zone (NDZ). Further if the NDZ falls on the landward side of a national or state highway, it recommends permitting construction of permanent tourism facilities.
Recommends the reclamation of the sea bed in CRZ IV area for "ports and harbour, fisheries-related activities and other infrastructure required in the larger public interest such as bridges, sealinks on stilts, roads, important national installations related to coastal security, tourism"
The report is the outcome of a six-member committee set up in June 2014, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences. The purpose of the committee was to examine issues of coastal states related and also "the errors or inconsistencies and procedural simplification in the said Notification."