By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI, April 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Planned changes to India's coastal zone law to allow reclaiming land from the sea and the use of thousands of miles of coastal land for commercial purposes will damage the environment and affect the livelihoods of millions of fishermen, activists say.
The Marine Coastal Regulation Zone notification proposes to lift the ban on reclamation of seabed land for commercial purposes, allow tourism in ecologically sensitive coastal areas and the building of new coastal roads.
Fishermen are opposed to the plans, which will impact the coastal ecology and hurt livelihoods, said T. Peter, general secretary of the National Fisherworkers' Forum.
"Any relaxation of the (law) will lead to more commercial development, which will affect the lives and livelihoods of the fishing community," he said.
"We appeal to the government not to encroach on our rights, and to take the informed consent of the fishing community for any changes," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The forum will spearhead demonstrations across the country from next month, he said.
A spokesman for the environment ministry did not respond to a question on when the new law will come into effect.
India's coastline is more than 7,500 km (4,660 miles) long, and about 4 million people make a living from fishing and related activities. More than half of them live on less than $1.25 a day, according to official data.
The new legislation is based on the recommendations of a committee formed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government after it took office in 2014.
The committee recommended allowing reclamation of land for infrastructure such as ports and bridges "in the larger public interest".
It also suggested doing away with the requirement of environmental approvals for housing for fishermen and security-related infrastructure along the coast.
The review process for the notification was "opaque, obscure and one-sided and ignored key stakeholders", said Meenakshi Kapoor at the Namati Environmental Justice Program in New Delhi.
"The objectives of coastal conservation and livelihood protection have been swept aside to speed up project approvals."
Environment ministry officials have said that reclamation of land is being done successfully elsewhere in the world, and that there is "tremendous tourism potential" in some ecologically sensitive areas that are otherwise neglected and encroached.
The government recently eased environmental clearances for some industrial projects.
Activists say relaxing environment rules will have a serious impact on a country already suffering the effects of climate change.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)