Fishermen oppose amendments to Coastal Regulation Zone notification, cite damage to ecosystem, community displacement
The fishermen had demanded immediate withdrawal of the draft amendments made to the CRZ Notification 2019, to prevent further damage to the ecosystem and displacement of coastal communities.
THOOTUKUDI: The fisherfolk have strongly objected to the draft notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on November 1 to make amendments into the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2019.
The ministry had proposed eight amendments to CRZ notification, 2019 seeking to delegate powers of giving CRZ clearance to the State Coastal Management Zone Management Authority, exempting statutory CRZ clearance for the exploratory drilling operations, and removal of sand bars from the shoreline, acting on representations given by the state governments and Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) channelled through Director General of HydroCarbons (DGH). The National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) had also recommended in favour of these amendments during its 42nd meeting held on March 23, 2021.
National Fishworkers' Forum's youth representative Jones Thomas Spartagus told TNIE the amendments are intended to dilute the restrictions on oil, gas and hydrocarbon extraction projects in the Ecological Sensitive Area (ESA) and territorial waters that encapsulates mangroves, swamps, lagoons and traditional fishing grounds. Most of the oil reserves and explorations are carried out in territorial waters that extend up to 12 nautical mile from the shoreline, he said.
On the amendment delegating powers to the union government for granting CRZ clearance proposed at the CRZ-1 and CRZ-IV areas, Jone contended that the union is taking the rights of the State government as CRZ-1 and CRZ-IV areas fall under the control of state governments. "It is a transgression on state sovereignty", he pointed out.
The fishermen leaders said exempting oil and gas exploration projects from obtaining prior CRZ clearance, show its least concern towards the livelihood of the fishermen. As the previous experience of exploratory drilling operations have proved to be disastrous in the coastal areas, the projects must undergo the CRZ clearance process, they said.
Another controversy is the amendment to remove the sandbars from the coast which are formed naturally along the intertidal areas. The fishermen say the sand bars function as eco-barriers that prevent the fishing hamlets from extreme events, besides maintaining the ecological balance. Such an amendment would open floodgates for the illegal sand miners, they said. "Removal of the sand bars lead to rapid coastal erosion and threaten nesting of seashore birds and endangered turtles which are protected under schedules of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972", said a fisherman from Vembar.
Vangakadal Meen Thozhilalar Sangam General Secretary Dr Kumaravelu said the offshore oil extraction projects extend up to 18 nautical miles, which will devastate the fishing resources. Pointing out the fact that oil exploration companies had proposed more projects off shore, Kumaravelu said the former AIADMK government had cleverly declared the Cauvery delta district as Protected Special Agriculture Zone (PSAZ) only to gain political mileage among the farmers, disregarding the fishermen. "The present DMK government, which seconded the PSAZ back then, should include the area of terrestrial waters into the PSAZ fold, as fishing is part of agriculture to prevent these dangerous projects," he requested.
In view of the welfare of the fishermen and state sovereignty, the fishermen had demanded immediate withdrawal of the draft amendments made to the CRZ Notification 2019, to prevent further damage to the ecosystem and displacement of coastal communities.
As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Vedanta Limited (Cairn Oil & Gas) had proposed to drill 40 and 274 exploratory wells respectively. Explorations involve use of environmentally dangerous techniques like seismic surveys and fracking. It may be recalled that in an order dated January 16, 2020, the union environment ministry exempted on-shore and off-shore oil and gas exploration drilling projects from requirement of prior environmental clearance subtly in a response to the request by the oil majors.