Centre allows projects to obtain post-facto Coastal Regulation Zone clearance

Express News Service
CHENNAI: In a controversial move, the Union Environment Ministry has issued a fresh ‘office memorandum’ that allows violating entities to obtain post-facto Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance.

The ministry claimed it has received several requests from state governments for proposals under the CRZ Notification 2011 to consider CRZ clearance in respect of permissible activities which have commenced work without prior clearance due to inadequate knowledge of the regulatory regime and other factors.

“Bringing such projects and activities in compliance with the environmental laws at the earliest point of time is therefore essential, rather than leaving them unregulated and unchecked, which will be more damaging to the environment,” said Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, Joint Secretary of the CRZ Division at the Union Environment Ministry in the office memorandum, which was sent to environment secretaries of all coastal states and Union territories.

Currently, there is no provision for granting post-facto CRZ clearance and several high-profile projects that commenced work without obtaining the mandatory clearance were deemed illegal and work was halted in Tamil Nadu after the projects were challenged in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) or Madras High Court.

For instance, work on Chennai Corporation’s storm water drain project along East Coast Road had to stop recently as the Tamil Nadu Coastal Zone Management Authority issued a stop work order since the Chennai Corporation didn’t obtain prior CRZ clearance. The NGT committee in its interim report also found that prima facie, the corporation needed CRZ clearance and didn’t obtain it.

The storm water drain project is funded by the German Development Bank (KfW) and the German Development Ministry, under which the bank operates, had to order a fresh independent assessment over alleged CRZ violations.

Now, by virtue of the new office memorandum from the Union Environment Ministry, Chennai Corporation can push for post-facto CRZ clearance. “We are waiting for NGT directions. If the tribunal directs us to get CRZ clearance, then we will apply for post-facto clearance under the new provision,” a senior Chennai Corporation official said.

Detailing the procedure for obtaining post-facto clearance, the ministry said only the projects that are otherwise permissible under the provisions of CRZ Notification, but have commenced construction without prior clearance, would be considered for prospective clearance.

“As the project commenced construction and / or operations without a prior CRZ clearance, the respective Coastal Zone Management Authority shall assess the environmental damages caused by such an action and shall give specific recommendation in respect of activities, corresponding to the environmental or ecological damage assessed, to be taken up by the project proponent within a period of three years from the date of clearance, under Compensatory Conservation Plan (CCP) and a Community Resource Augmentation Plan (CRAP),” reads the office memorandum, a copy of which is available with The New Indian Express.

On fulfillment of the conditions, the project proponent can apply for consideration of clearance to the ministry on the ‘PARIVESH’ online portal and the project thereafter will be appraised for appropriate recommendation by the Expert Appraisal Committee (CRZ) constituted by the ministry.