High water

Altering coastal zone rules could set Mumbai up for Kashmir-like floods

The city has at least 500 illegal buildings built on coastal land. But Maharashtra has still not completed a map demarcating its sensitive coastal zone.

The devastating floods in Jammu and Kashmir this month, which left at least 277 dead and hundreds more stranded, were not just a natural calamity. Experts have attributed the destruction to unauthorised development in the region over several years, particularly along river banks.

A similar fate could face Mumbai, which has been consistently flouting environmental norms for development despite suffering from unprecedented floods in July 2005 that left around 400 people dead.

According to researchers at the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, the devastation caused in the recent Jammu floods was compounded by the increasing construction of buildings and roads that have been rapidly encroaching on wetlands, lakes, ponds and the banks of the Jhelum river. Such construction reduces the drainage capacity of the water bodies and leaves little room for water to overflow.

In Mumbai and its neighbouring cities of Thane and Navi Mumbai, whose waterfronts fall under the central government’s Coastal Regulation Zones, there are strict norms for the kind of development activity allowed close to the coast. But city and state authorities have been shown a blatant disregard for those rules over the years.

Amended rules

These regulations have been the subject of debate in recent months when the Maharashtra government in May scotched a decision by the Coastal Zone Management Authority to reclassify the the shore along the city's Mahim section as a bay. This controversial decision by the coastal authority would have cleared the way for a rash of building near the coast. 

But other buildings have come up close to the shore in recent years, thanks to  amendment to the CRZ rules in 2011 that allows the redevelopment of slum clusters by the shore. In addition, at last count, there were at least 500 illegal coastal buildings across Greater Mumbai.

The Coastal Regulation Zone was notified in 1991 with the aim of keeping coasts free from construction, to protect traditional livelihoods of coastal inhabitants and to preserve the fragile marine ecology.

As per CRZ rules, all states have to map their coastlines, conduct a ground survey of inter-tidal areas, demarcate the "high tide line" up to which sea water reaches on the shore during high tides, and formulate a coastal zone management plan. The norms also mandate the involvement of local fishing communities in CRZ committees.

Spaces that are closest to the coast and most ecologically sensitive – such as open seafronts, wetlands, mudflats, or mangroves – are classified as CRZ-I, and no new constructions are permitted within 500 metres of the high tide line in these areas. CRZ-II refers to areas that have already been developed close to the shore, like fishing villages, and the norms restrict development only up to 100 metres of the high tide line.

“In Mumbai, not only are CRZ norms being flouted, but authorities have also not yet released the required maps that demarcate high tide lines and no-development zones,” said Dayanand Stalin, an environmental activist at the city-based non-profit group Vanashakti.

Playing with definitions

In March, the  Coastal Zone Management Authority almost got away with  demarcating the Mahim shoreline on Mumbai’s western coast as a bay instead of an open shore, which would have opened up the area to all kinds of construction and development.

Since coastal regulations were amended in 2011, different rules apply to open seafronts and cove-like bays. Along seafronts, constructions have to maintain a 500-metres distance from the high tide line, but in the case of a bay, the 100-metre norm of CRZ-II would apply.

In the case of Mahim, the redefinition allowed for the approval of a slum redevelopment project that had been stalled due to the old CRZ rules since 1991. It also came as good news for Hubtown, a real- estate company that wants to build a high-end residential complex on a 5.3-acre plot at Prabhadevi off Mahim.

In July, however, the state government put a stay on the order, calling it a “reckless decision” that would adversely affect town planning.

A history of unmapped geography

It took Maharashtra seven years to submit a map of its coastal zone to the union government. Through the 2000s, several construction projects in coastal zones were approved by the state's coastal management authority. “In many cases, the Authority claimed that there were errors in the map and the plots where projects were approved were wrongly shown as falling in coastal zones,” said Stalin.

In 2009, the environment minister questioned these errors on the map and directed the state to make final map of coastal zones in Maharashtra. Even though Chennai’s Institute of Remote Sensing was appointed for the task, this new map has been in preparation for almost five years, with the state government asking the Centre for repeated extensions on the deadline.

Even though the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority is supposed to be in charge of this map, an official from the Authority claims that a draft of the map is currently with the Mumbai municipal corporation.

“The corporation is verifying certain errors that have come up in the map,” said AT Fulmali, a member secretary of the coastal management authority. “After that we will be doing a public consultation and taking the views of stakeholders, such as the departments of industry, urban development and town planning, before submitting the map.”

Activists, however, find this suspicious. “Why do they need to consult these departments on a matter of science and ecology?” asked Stalin.

Disaster waiting to happen?

The state government may have put one reckless environmental decision on hold, but experts feel the city is already buckling under the pressure of decades of reclamation and irresponsible constructions. This year, at the start of the monsoon in June, high tide waves lashed the coast and inundated the broad promenades around the Gateway of India and Marine Drive.

“We already saw what happened when the Mithi river overflowed in 2005, but if we keep playing with nature, we are likely to suffer the same consequences as Kashmir or Uttarakhand,” said Arvind Untawale, the executive secretary of the Mangroves Society of India, a non-profit organisation that studies and aims to protect mangroves.

Mangroves, which surround the marshy shores of greater Mumbai, act as a buffer against high tides and floods, so choking and destroying them leaves the city vulnerable to frequent inundation.

“It is extremely important to keep natural drains and channels open because in case of heavy rains, water needs to be able to flow out smoothly,” said Rakesh Kumar, chief scientist and head of the Mumbai-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute. “The city cannot afford to ignore CRZ norms.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.