Following several changes that it made to the Coastal Regulation Zone(CRZ) notification last year, the government is about to further bring in prominent changes to the current CRZ notification this year as well. As per media reports, the ban on reclamation of land in coastal areas for entertainment and commercial purposes has been revoked as a part of these changes and tourism activities in ecologically sensitive areas along the shores have been allowed as well. This information was revealed after an RTI was filed
on the matter by a member of an NGO, Centre for Policy Research. Eco-sensitive areas, which fall under the CRZ-1 category, including coral reefs, sand dunes, mangroves etc. and the draft states that “temporary tourism facilities such as rain shelters, sitting or resting places, walkways on stilts, public toilets, and drinking water facilities as part of eco-tourism strategy without troubling the habitat shall be recommended.” The new order which is to be called ‘Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone’ (MCRZ) will also allow setting up of fish processing units, do away with the need for obtaining clearances for construction purposes and related infrastructure for local fisherman, and also remove hindrances to facilities meant for security purposes like vigilance activities conducted by the marine police or patrolling by the coastal police.
Another key change in the drafts proposes that the growth in the urban areas (CRZ II) should be regulated as per the local laws. It states that “the state governments shall make marine coastal zone management plans based on land use or regional plans incorporating adequate environmental safeguards.” There is, however, no mention of any change in the definition of areas that would be come under the regulation zone and the MCRZ is to be extended to at least 500m towards the landward side from the high-tide line decided by the government.
Industry experts have hailed this move as the potential trigger to boom in real estate, ports and tourism development in the ecologically sensitive coastal zones. We spoke to Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, Tirun on the possible impact of the proposed changes on the industry, and the future of business.
The recently proposed changes in the CRZ regulations has suggested lifting of the ban on reclamation on land in coastal areas for commercial or entertainment purposes. Are the current regulations a bottle neck to the industry’s growth? What impact will these changes have on the cruise tourism industry?
First of all, let me clarify that there is no cruise tourism happening at the moment. This move will give an impetus to the industry to start. Cruise tourism at the moment is non-existent in the country. We do not have turn around ports, we do not have cruises that ply for the Indian nationals at all, at the moment. Currently India is only used as a port of call, and is not a turn-around destination. For any cruise tourism to develop along the coast, we have got to have ancillaries also in terms of infrastructure, shops, facilities etc. Anywhere in the world, when you touch a port you find that all of this is available to the passengers and tourists as soon as they disembark. But in India, at the moment, because we are still developing this segment, there is nothing.
If the ban had continued, there would have been no development at all on the coastline. The coastline is not just for cruise passengers to come and go. It can also be developed for the locals living there. It can have MICE, restaurants, bars, facilities, shops etc. which everybody in the world does because it is a very pleasant place to come and relax. Why does everything have to be inland? So, once that infrastructure develops, the economy will get a boost as well. I think this is a very welcome decision and it will allow people to get to the water’s edge, so to speak and enjoy the ambience the way it should be. But having said that, the onus is on the people as individuals to keep these places clean. Today, you find so much muck on some of the popular Indian beaches; there is litter coming in from the water bodies as well. All this has to stop. We have to know how to respect our own environment. This, probably, is the reason for the ban in the first place.
Speaking about the environment, another proposed change in the regulation is allowing tourism activities even in ecologically sensitive areas along the shores. What impact do you think will this have on ecology? Given that climate change is a central point of conversation throughout the world right now, do you think this is the right time for this proposed change in terms of its viability and sustainability?
See, you cannot standardise a ban and say ok now this is going to be for everything that is 500 metres from the ocean. You can protect areas where protection is required as it is the government’s right and is meant for citizens, so that they may enjoy nature’s gifts to us. We have to make sure we do not go there and degrade the place and then have a blanket ban. The world over, the practice is to protect what needs to be protected and open up the rest. What is the point of having a heritage which people cannot see or enjoy? Should the Taj Mahal be wrapped up and closed to the public because of the harm its marble is facing from industrial pollution, or do we concentrate on how to preserve it and keep it open? There needs to be a balance of responsibility. It is not only the government or only tourists that need to take this up but both parties have an equal role to play in the preservation and upkeep of our eco-sensitive tourism spots. There are so many examples of this throughout the world. There are ways and means of preserving your heritage and yet allowing people to experience it as well. If we are to open up these areas then people need to be educated simultaneously, and I am sure as a human race, we will have a sense of balance.
So, if action is taken on these proposed changes, as expected, how would you say is 2017 shaping up for the industry?
I think the country has a very buoyant future because we still have segments that are untapped. I know the government is working hard at it and if India can be put on the cruise tourism map, it will be a huge boost to our tourism industry as well as the economy. Hopefully, going forward, if not in 2017, at least by 2020 we should have everything in place that is required for cruise tourism to realise its complete potential.