If the recommendations of an 18-month-old report, which was till now hiding in the Government’s closets, are to be considered, sea-front houses could move closer to the shore.

The Report of the Committee to Review the Issues relating to the Coastal Regulation Zone, 2011, was submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in January 2015. However, till now the Ministry had refused to entertain requests for copies of the report, even under the Right to Information Act.

The report was made public after a case was filed by Kanchi Kohli, Legal Research Director, Namati Environmental Justice Programme, Centre for Policy Research, with the Central Information Commission after she was denied a request for the report through RTI on the grounds that it had not been approved.

Meanwhile, since January 2015, a slew of amendments have been made to the laws governing developmental activities in coastal areas, some of which appear to be on the basis of the recommendations of this report, made by a committee headed by Shailesh Nayak, scientist and former Secretary of Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Several dilutions, such as allowing construction of monuments/memorials (Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat) in CRZ VI zones; proposal to allow high-rise buildings (Chennai) in CRZ II zones within 500 metre of the high-tide line; and a proposal to allow reclamation of land from sea (Mumbai) for facilities such as ports, roads, quays, harbours and others, appear to be taken from this report, in some cases word for word.

The report even suggests that both CRZ II and III zones (500 metres from the high-tide line that are developed and relatively undisturbed, respectively) should not fall under the environment departments of the State or Central Ministry, and instead be guided by the rules of State town and planning departments.

It further proposes to reduce the “no development zone” to just 50 metres from existing 200 metres for “densely populated” areas.

Rap for Govt Taking a strong view of the Centre’s “illegal” refusal to share the report, the CIC order said: “If the report has discussed the objectives of CRZ, they should have disclosed the report before initiating process of amendment to the CRZ regulations. It is the duty of MoEF to justify relaxations made without considering the ‘report’ of Shailesh Nayak. The suppression of the report while issuing successive amendments gives rise to many suspicions, which need to be cleared. Copy of report could have been given saying it is pending for approval.”

The CIC added that the government “cannot invent a new defence or exemption such as ‘the report is under submission’, ‘file is pending consideration’ and ‘unless approved it cannot be given’, etc, which are not available under RTI Act, 2005, such an illegal refusal will amount to denial of information which would invite penal proceedings.”