NEW DELHI: The environment ministry, it seems, is so weighed down by its workload that it can’t get its facts right. Responding to two separate Right to Information applications, it has contradicted itself on formulation of new rules to regulate 7,500 km of Indian coastline.

In one reply, it denied any attempt to rejig the rules and in another, it admitted that it was finalising a new set of rules to control development activity along coasts.

The confusion prevails, despite the fact that the government has availed a $90 million loan from the World Bank to operationalise and ground-test the rules that are yet to be finally approved.
TOI had earlier reported on the existence of such rules and its details. The rules, sources said, were now lying with the highest officials in the government for their consideration.

In 2004, the government had set up a committee under M S Swaminathan to review coastal regulations. The committee submitted its report in 2005.
Since then, the government has been formulating the new rules in a hushed fashion. In its response to one RTI application, the ministry said the Indian Law Institute was commissioned to formulate regulations based on Swaminathan’s report.

Several coastal states had written to the government demanding that coastal regulations notified in 1991 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, be eased to allow ‘development’ of coasts with Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar reportedly pitching hard recently for opening the salt pans of Mumbai to development as well.

The 1991 notification has been under severe pressure from the construction lobby and states wanting to open the sea front to development.

In submissions made to the government, Maharashtra had demanded that it be allowed to increase the floor space index restriction in the regulated coastal belt. Gujarat wants to open coasts to mining and industry while Kerala and Goa have demanded that the vulnerable coast be opened to tourism.

The new draft rules allow the states to undertake commercial activities and infrastructure building like beach tourism, SEZs, water sports, ports, developing salt pans, mining, ship breaking and manufacturing, roads, railways, pipelines, power transmission lines and harbours within areas demarcated by government-hired experts as vulnerable to natural hazards.

The demarcation of this vulnerable line is being carried out in some states using the World Bank loan while the draft rules are yet to be finalised.
19 Oct 2007, 0002 hrs IST,Nitin Sethi,TNN