In Focus

Environmentalists Warn Of Disasters

The theory was that, by marking the zone as CRZ II (Urban) in May 2018, the Fadnavis government was now trying to open up the Elephanta Island for development. Now, while CRZ-I covers ecologically sensitive areas within 100 metres of the high-tide line where no development is allowed and CRZ-III covers areas within 500 metres of the high-tide line and are considered ‘No-Development Zones’, CRZ-II covers areas within 500 metres of the high-tide line but have already been developed, for example, Marine Drive in South Mumbai.

Elephanta Island stands today with CRZ violations committed all over unabashedly

So, when Elephanta Island was marked as CRZ II (Urban) the environmentalist lobby, bolstered by political opposition opposed the CRZ-II maps by filing “detailed objections” to “resist any construction activity” on the island.

“It is the state’s ploy to permit five-star hotels, holiday resorts besides home-stays to come up on the island,” maintains Mumbai-based NGO Vanshakti Founder and Environmentalist D. Stalin. “This government has been attempting to further commercial interests while compromising local needs and without taking into consideration fragile environmental issues. We will not let that happen,” he says.

“We have filed objections to these maps and will not allow construction activities on this island,” says Stalin adding, “in the coming monsoons, we will conduct independent surveys to ascertain how most of Elephanta’s villages lie precariously close to the sea and are hit by the waves on a daily basis.”

He added that, “the island is surrounded by mangroves and a recent High Court order bans any activities in the zone. How can the State Government act in such a slipshod manner with such a fragile island? This is asking for trouble.”

“There, incidentally, aren’t even any pucca roads on the island which has been classified as CRZ II (Urban). And, how can the state call a zone urban if it has procured electricity only recently,” said Stalin.

If that wasn’t bad enough, arrived the new CRZ notifications in December 2018. Now, according to the new notifications 2018, on CRZ-II notified islands, construction of buildings for residential purpose will be done “only on the landward side of the existing road”.

Oddly, all constructions on islands or in zones with coastal roads, take place on the landward side of existing roads . This is because, by definition, constructions are now permitted on the entire island as they fall on the landward side of the existing ‘coastal’ road encircling the entire island.

So, if one were to follow the new CRZ notification strictly and permit construction only on the landward side, all of Elephanta’s sea-lined homes can be refurbished, repaired or re-constructed without any legal hitch. That the homes themselves lie within a highly-precarious zone ‘on’ the high-tide line or close to it, is of little consequence.

The new CRZ notifications have corrupted the collective mien of the Elephanta native who feels that this is his best opportunity to earn a fortune and bring himself on par with the rest of India. Any attempt to moderate or monitor the elaborate processes promised by the ill-placed CRZ notification lead to violent polarisation spurred by political interests.

“Constructing along the coastline of Elephanta Island even near the High Tide lines is asking for trouble,” warns Mr Stalin. A single storm could wreak havoc on the island which witnesses some very powerful hurricanes during the monsoons when all boating activities come to a halt. We know that natural disasters are compounded by unnatural interventions with nature. In the one-upmanship games being played on the island, particularly keeping the natives’ interests at stake, the risks are too high for comfort.

So, the island stands today with CRZ violations committed all over unabashedly. The three villages have initiated constructions in and around the coastal zone with absolute disregard to the fragility of the island. “We’re actually cutting the branch, we’re sitting on,” says an uneducated yet worldly-wise 68-year-old Elephanta Island resident and stall-owner whose son is ‘constructing two more floors’ on top of her already-existing one-storied house to accommodate tourists. “Despite my repeated warnings, he refuses to relent. He says, this is the only time we can get to become rich. “We don’t need to live like this all our lives”,” she says. “Ab kya karein. Usko itna samjhaya toh bhi maanta nahin. Loan leke bana raha hai sab. Kuch ulta seedha ho gaya toh kya karenge loan ka? (Now what to do? Despite warning him against it, he doesn’t seem to realise. He has even taken a loan for the construction. Now, if something goes wrong, how will we repay it,” she says.

And, the unlettered lady couldn’t be more correct. If the most recent 2018 CRZ notifications just happen to get struck down by court, considering the string of litigations being planned and all the lofty plans for tourism on Elephanta Island stalled even for a few years, those who have availed loans to construct over and beyond their homes will be burdened by surging interests of a loan they will be unable to repay and be reduced to penury.

This report has been prepared for DraftCraft International’s Flagship Initiative, The Elephanta Island Project to research, analyse and determine the rights and liabilities of Islanders, local and foreign tourists vis-a-vis the responsibility of the State towards all stakeholders and natural resources while upholding the law of the land and ensuring the protection of environment that tops the list of priorities. The initiative examines laws and policies regarding islands, sea transport, privacy, women’s rights, health, protection of the environment and rights and liabilities of tourists guaranteed to all by the State in context of the Right To Equality, Freedoms, The Right to Life and Global Conventions to which India is a signatory.