Be­tween the devil and the sea

In­dia’s coastal zones are fac­ing the brunt of de­vel­op­ment, hurt­ing not only the en­vi­ron­ment but liveli­hoods too. A fresh pol­icy per­spec­tive is needed to pro­tect them

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Anu­pam Hazarika Hazarika is a se­nior re­search as­so­ci­ate with Pahle In­dia Foun­da­tion, New Delhi.

With a coast­line over 8,000 km long, in­dia’s coastal zone is en­dowed with a va­ri­ety of marine ecosys­tems which in­clude man­groves, coral reefs, sea grasses, salt marshes, mud flats, es­tu­ar­ies, la­goons, and unique marine and coastal flora and fauna. The sun­dar­bans, shared be­tween in­dia and Bangladesh, are the largest con­tigu­ous man­groves in the world. in­dia also has ma­jor stocks of corals, fish, marine mam­mals, rep­tiles and tur­tles, sea grass mead­ows and abun­dant sea weeds. Coastal fish­ing em­ploys a mil­lion peo­ple full time, and the posthar­vest fish­eries em­ploy another 1.5 mil­lion.

De­spite their eco­log­i­cal rich­ness and con­tri­bu­tion to na­tional econ­omy, in­dia’s coastal and marine ar­eas have not re­ceived ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion and are un­der stress. about 34 per­cent of in­dia’s man­groves were de­stroyed be­tween 1950 and 2000. al­most all coral ar­eas are threat­ened, marine fish stocks are de­clin­ing and sev­eral species of or­na­men­tal fish and sea cu­cum­bers are fast dis­ap­pear­ing. such rapid de­ple­tion and degra­da­tion, un­less ar­rested and pos­si­bly re­versed, will im­pact the liveli­hood, health and well-be­ing of coastal pop­u­la­tions and ad­versely af­fect prospects for In­dia’s sus­tained eco­nomic growth. in­dia’s coastal and marine en­vi­ron­ments are threat­ened by a lack of in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment plan­ning, es­pe­cially given the large con­cen­tra­tion of towns, petro­chem­i­cal com­plexes and in­dus­tries along in­dia’s coasts.

only 9 per­cent of waste wa­ter from in­dia’s coastal towns is treated be­fore en­ter­ing coastal wa­ters; thus adding to their al­ready heavy chem­i­cal bur­den from the huge vol­umes of agri­cul­tural run-off that rou­tinely flow into them. in ad­di­tion, large num­bers of coastal peo­ple re­main de­pen­dent on nat­u­ral re­sources for their liveli­hoods, es­pe­cially in the ab­sence of al­ter­na­tive liveli­hood op­por­tu­ni­ties. How­ever, the re­turns from tra­di­tional fish­ing are di­min­ish­ing due to en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and over­ex­ploita­tion. risks from cli­mate change will only ex­ac­er­bate th­ese chal­lenges.

Coastal fish­eries are im­mensely im­por­tant, both eco­nom­i­cally and in terms of en­vi­ron­men­tal health. in in­dia, they pro­vide es­sen­tial liveli­hoods and shape the lo­cal cul­tures of a large share of the pop­u­la­tion. For the im­pov­er­ished, they sup­ply a sig­nif­i­cant quan­tity of ba­sic free food. in­dia is the sec­ond largest fish­ing na­tion in the world. coastal veg­e­ta­tion habi­tats, such as man­grove forests, serve as buf­fers to pro­tect the shore line from wind gen­er­ated storms and sup­port coastal ecol­ogy. it is an im­por­tant part of a lo­cal ecosys­tem as it strongly mod­u­lates land-ocean in­ter­ac­tions and the mix­ture of fresh and sa­line wa­ter in es­tu­ar­ies pro­vides many nu­tri­ents for marine life. salt marshes and beaches also sup­port a di­ver­sity

of plants, an­i­mals and in­sects cru­cial to the food chain. Beaches pre­vent salt wa­ter in­tru­sion into the ground wa­ter which is used for drink­ing wa­ter and agri­cul­ture and there­fore fun­da­men­tal to our wa­ter and food se­cu­rity. The coast­line of in­dia is both a pre­cious nat­u­ral re­source and an im­por­tant eco­nomic as­set. once the coast­line is de­stroyed, it may be im­pos­si­ble to fully re­store ei­ther the coastal ecol­ogy or lost liveli­hoods. im­me­di­ate ac­tion is needed to pro­tect and re­store this ir­re­place­able na­tional trea­sure and in redi­rect­ing coastal de­vel­op­ment for a sus­tain­able fu­ture.

With ram­pant de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties be­ing im­ple­mented by state and na­tional gov­ern­ments in coastal ar­eas, there is a strong ne­ces­sity for mak­ing dras­tic changes in pol­icy mak­ing. First and fore­most, there is a need to evolve a na­tional pol­icy for the con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion of the en­tire coast of in­dia. This can be achieved by con­duct­ing com­pre­hen­sive sci­en­tific and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies of coastal ge­o­mor­phol­ogy, eco-sys­tem habi­ta­tion, and ef­fects of de­vel­op­ment on coastal zones. con­sul­ta­tion with coastal com­mu­ni­ties con­cern­ing their eco­nomic needs and pro­tec­tion of their en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sets is another step­ping stone to de­velop a na­tional pol­icy. The var­i­ous pub­lic pol­icy pri­or­i­ties, such as pro­tec­tion of the coastal ecol­ogy, liveli­hoods of coastal com­mu­ni­ties, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and se­cu­rity should be mapped for bet­ter pol­icy mak­ing process.

The costs of the dam­age caused by en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vices and the re­pairs re­quired there­after can be in­cor­po­rated di­rectly into the prices of the goods, ser­vices or ac­tiv­i­ties which cause them, thereby con­tribut­ing to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ‘Pol­luter Pays’ prin­ci­ple. High penal­ties can be im­posed for vi­o­la­tions by way of fines and im­pris­on­ment, whether it is by an in­di­vid­ual, a com­pany or the state, un­der a coastal Pro­tec­tion act, in line with the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion act. The coastal com­mu­ni­ties should be in­volved to cre­ate own­er­ship and agency for ecosys­tem con­ser­va­tion, sim­i­lar to the “For­est rights act”. The na­tional pol­icy frame­work should be de­vel­oped through the cen­tre-state co­or­di­na­tion in con­sul­ta­tion with rel­e­vant sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal field ex­perts, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and ngos. There should be a nodal body for ef­fec­tive en­force­ment of poli­cies and cells at the lo­cal level with state of­fi­cials and vi­o­la­tions should be pe­nalised and pub­li­cised through me­dia.

al­though pol­i­cy­mak­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion is im­por­tant, it must be sup­ported through ad­e­quate fund al­lo­ca­tion. Both gov­ern­ment and other fund­ing agen­cies could look into rein­vig­o­rat­ing fund al­lo­ca­tion for ecosys­tem preser­va­tion.

Fund­ing should be pro­vided for sci­en­tific stud­ies to strengthen the knowl­edge base of coastal eco-sys­tems and to un­der­stand the im­pacts on the coast due to man-made in­ter­ven­tions. aware­ness pro­grammes should be con­ducted for the coastal com­mu­ni­ties and stu­dents on the eco­log­i­cal, so­cial, cul­tural and eco­nomic im­por­tance of the coast and the ad­verse im­pacts of man­made in­ter­ven­tions such as con­struc­tion, min­ing, dump­ing of wastes and ef­flu­ents. Re­search in­sti­tutes and coastal com­mu­ni­ties should be en­cour­aged and in­cen­tivised for mon­i­tor­ing the coast­line and restora­tion ac­tiv­i­ties based on com­pre­hen­sive sci­en­tific stud­ies. For the pro­tec­tion of coastal ar­eas, it is im­per­a­tive to de­clare coastal ar­eas which are dam­aged as ‘en­dan­gered’ and stop any fur­ther de­vel­op­ment un­til that area is re­stored.

in­dia has one of the big­gest coast­lines in the globe and most of our coastal ar­eas are al­ready bear­ing the brunt of de­vel­op­ment and un­sus­tain­able tourism prac­tices. Most man­grove ar­eas are al­ready sub­merged which has also led to habi­tat dis­place­ment of wildlife species. The mass bleach­ing of coral reefs in aus­tralia is an in­di­ca­tion of what is com­ing in the fu­ture. Thank­fully, the coral sys­tem in an­daman and ni­co­bar is­lands is still in­tact, though not for long. There­fore, de­vel­op­ing a pol­icy frame­work for the pro­tec­tion of marine life and most im­por­tantly coastal ecosys­tems is an im­me­di­ate im­per­a­tive.

First and fore­most, there is a need to evolve a na­tional pol­icy for the con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion of the en­tire coast of In­dia. This can be achieved by con­duct­ing com­pre­hen­sive sci­en­tific and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies of coastal ge­o­mor­phol­ogy, ecosys­tem habi­ta­tion, and ef­fects of de­vel­op­ment on coastal zones.

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