Opposition blames Pinarayi government for denying coastal folk the benefit of CRZ relaxations

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Opposition Leader V D Satheesan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Viajayan in the Aseembly.

The Opposition on Tuesday staged a walk out in the Assembly in protest against the government for its failure to submit an Integrated Coastal Management Plan even three years after the latest Coastal Regulation Zone Notification was issued. Only after the Centre approves such a plan could the coastal folk secure the CRZ relaxations provided in the 2019 notification.

Opposition leader V D Satheesan, while making his walk out speech, called the government "inefficient, indifferent and negligent". Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who holds the Environment portfolio, said the government had not caused any major delay as accused.

He said though the notification was issued on January 18, 2019, the state received the guidelines only in June. He said the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) was asked to prepare the coastal management plan in August itself. It was in April, 2021, that CESS submitted the 'pre-draft' of the plan.

"But we found certain anomalies in the pre-draft, " the chief minister said. A major one was that CESS had failed to recognise the urban nature of most of the grama panchayats, including coastal ones.

A three-member expert committee was then appointed this July to draw up the management plan after taking into account the anomalies. At the moment, there are 245 grama panchayats in the CRZ-III Category where CRZ restrictions are high. The chief minister said plans were afoot to shift 161 of these grama panchayats, most of them in coastal districts, to the CRZ-II category reserved for municipal areas where the relaxations are high.

The chief minister also said that a draft plan could be drawn up only after public hearings in the districts. "This process would take at least six months, " Pinarayi said.

Congress MLA K Babu, who moved the adjournment motion, said the delay in finalising the coastal management plan was causing serious difficulties to the poor coastal folk as all construction activities were governed by the highly restrictive 2011 CRZ notification. "Till we get the new coastal management plan approved, the 2011 notification will be in force, " Babu said.

Satheesan said the coastal management plan should have been submitted within six months of the notification. "Now it is more than three years and it seems highly unlikely that it would be ready in four years, " Satheesan said.

He said it was important to draw up the plan quickly as the 2019 CRZ notification offers substantial relaxations.

Under the new notification, grama panchayats with a population density of 2161 or more per square kilometre will be transferred from CRZ-III to CRZ-III A.

Satheesan said half the panchayats in Kerala have such density. In CRZ-III A areas, the 2019 notification allows construction from 50 metres of the high tide line. Now, it is 200 metres.

Special relaxations have been granted for small islands like Vypeen and Munroethuruth. "The government has done nothing till now to prepare a plan for each of these individual islands so that the benefits could be secured by the residents, " Satheesan said. He said government had also not begun work to draw up an integrated plan for critically vulnerable coastal areas like Vembanad Lake.

Leave alone the preparation of a coastal management plan, Satheesan alleged that government had not bothered to offer reliefs that existed even under the 2011 notification. "An amendment was made to the 2011 notification in 2018 allowing the government to regularise constructions that were legal but had not secured the sanction of the Coastal Management Authority, " Satheesan said. "Thousands who should have got relief were not even told of the amendment, " Satheesan said.    

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