By Marianne Manuel
The coasts today are mired in conflict; conflict involving some combination of local communities, industry and the state. The most commonly used tool to resolve such conflict is the law. But can a law created solely by one party to the conflict effectively address the concerns of the marginalised? Globally, the failure of many marine and coastal conservation measures and policies has been attributed to the exclusion of local communities in the planning and execution phases. Recognising this, international policy discussions around coastal management and fisheries governance are increasingly promoting the active participation of fishing communities in fisheries and coastal management.
Closer to home, fisherfolk trade unions and civil society groups in India have been demanding the inclusion of fishing community members within implementation and decision-making bodies of relevant laws. A small victory seemed to have been achieved in the Coastal Regulation Zone notification 2011. Under this law, the lowest tier of implementing bodies, the district level committees (DLCs), is mandated to have at least three representatives from local coastal communities. But to what extent has this new provision fulfilled the goals of devolution of powers, transparency of decision-making and equal representation of all concerns?
Karnataka is one of the few coastal states with DLCs formed as per the letter of the CRZ 2011 provision. This means that each of the three coastal districts has a DLC with three fisherfolk representatives on it. However, the CRZ 2011 is silent on how these representatives are to be selected and the roles and responsibilities of the DLCs. As a result of the law’s silence, DLCs in Karnataka do not have any decision-making responsibilities: they merely make recommendations to the State Coastal Zone Management Authority (SCZMA) on projects that have applied for CRZ clearance. The SCZMA, when making their decision, is free to accept or reject the DLCs’ recommendations with no mandate to share their decision or reasoning with the DLCs. Quite justifiably, the fisherfolk representatives on these DLCs are dissatisfied with this state of affairs. According to them the DLC provision is inadequate in its current form and there is an urgent need for the actual devolution of decision-making powers, instead of the lip-service currently being paid to the concept.
Interestingly in Karnataka the task of selecting the DLC representatives was delegated to the Fisheries department, unlike other states where the implementation of the CRZ 2011 lies with either the Pollution Control Board or the Forest Department. Possibly as a result of this delegation of responsibilities, prominent individuals from the fishing community have been chosen to join the DLC. This inclusion of the right leaders or community representatives into the DLCs is critical, if community concerns are to be clearly represented at this level. At the same time, given that the district Fisheries department does not consult any of the local community institutions, like trade unions or traditional panchayats, during this selection of community representatives, there is no guarantee that during future reconstitutions of the DLCs in Karnataka the right representatives will be selected. This also holds true for other states where the Fisheries department may or may not be involved in DLC constitution.
The DLCs as they are constituted under the CRZ 2011 has allowed communities the space to bring their concerns to the table for consideration, through the selected community representatives. These concerns range from CRZ violations to the feasibility of asking community members to fill out the six-page long, detailed (and largely inapplicable) CRZ clearance form for minor work like the construction of their houses. The DLC representatives however as mentioned before are powerless when it comes to making any changes to the system and these concerns are simply passed on to the SCZMA for consideration. The SCZMA does not have any community members on board, effectively taking the final weighing of concerns and decision-making out of local hands.
In the end, the message that the new DLC provision sends, is that it is possible to create inclusive spaces if we stand together and fight for equal representation. But also, that the fight doesn’t end there. The real victory will lie in ensuring the implementation of these spaces, not just in letter but in the spirit with which they were demanded.