Explainer: Why is the Coastal Regulation Zone so important for Mumbai’s well-being?

The CRZ was formed to protect coastal ecology and environment but subsequent amendments raise concerns about risks to our fragile coasts.

With more than 7000 kilometers of coastline, India ranks 20 in the world among the countries with the longest coastline. Preserving this coastline from excessive construction is crucial for maintaining the ecological balance and safeguarding the fragile coastal environment. 

Uncontrolled development along the coastline can lead to habitat destruction, erosion, and disruption of natural processes that are vital for the well-being of marine ecosystems. In order to protect coastal ecology and conserve the coastal environment, the Government of India issued the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) in 1991. This plays a pivotal role in mitigating the adverse impacts of construction on coastlines while protecting sensitive ecosystems. 

This CRZ is back in the news as the Maharashtra state plans to redevelop 290 Mumbai slums under CRZ-II, which might free up 188.66 hectares of land. The state needs central approval and has been asked to check environmental effects by the Ministry of Environment.

What is Coastal Regulation Zone?

In 1991, the Government of India, through a notification under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, administered by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), took significant steps to safeguard and conserve the environment and ecosystem along the country’s coastline. 

“The Central Government hereby declares the coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters which are influenced by tidal action (in the landward side) upto 500 metres from the High Tide Line (HTL) and the land between the Low Tide Line (LTL) and the HTL as Coastal Regulation Zone; and imposes with effect from the date of this notification, restrictions on the setting up and expansion of industries, operations or processes in the said Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ),” read the notification released on February 1, 1991. 

As outlined in the notification, the area designated as the CRZ encompasses coastal land up to 500 meters from the HTL and extends 100 meters along the banks of creeks, estuaries, backwaters, and rivers, taking into account tidal fluctuations.

“For purposes of this Notification, the HTL will be defined as the line upto which the highest high tide reaches at spring tides,” read the notification. 

A spring tide is an exceptionally high tide generated twice a month, one on the full moon period and another during the new moon period.


Read more: Climate change: Rising sea levels ring alarm bells for Mumbai


Why is CRZ crucial? 

India’s coastal and marine ecosystems, housing diverse mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, and varied marine life, are crucial resources. For example, the Sundarbans, shared between India and Bangladesh, stand as the largest continuous mangrove forests globally. These areas support significant coral stocks, a variety of fish, marine mammals, reptiles, and vital sea grass meadows, employing around a million people in coastal fishing and 1.2 million in post-harvest fisheries.

Despite their economic importance and ecological wealth, India’s coastal and marine zones face threats to their survival. Over the years, around 34% of mangroves were lost between 1950 and 2000, while coral areas continue to be vulnerable. Marine fish stocks are dwindling, ornamental fish species are disappearing, and sea cucumbers are at risk. Such rapid depletion threatens the livelihoods, health, and well-being of coastal communities, in the absence of alternative livelihood opportunities. 

This not only poses a threat to the environment but also potentially impacts flood mitigation.

Classification of Coastal Regulation Zone 

Coastal Regulation Zone along the country has been placed in four categories as per the CRZ Notification. They are listed and described in the table below:

CategoryDescriptionPermissions
CRZ IAreas that are ecologically sensitive and essential for maintaining the ecosystem on the coast. Construction of roads and trans-harbour sea links that don’t affect the tidal flow

Projects related to the Department of Atomic Energy.

Natural Gas Exploration & Extraction
Salt manufacturing

Desalination plants and storage facilities (non-hazardous cargo) within notified ports.
CRZ IIAreas that are developed up to the shoreline of the coast. 
Permissions for building construction on the landward part of the hazardous line.

Some construction is permitted only as per guidelines specified by the notification.
CRZ IIIUrban and Rural Areas that don’t fall under CRZ- 1 and CRZ- 2 come under CRZ- 3.

They are areas allocated to the municipality but are not substantially built up.
Construction of roads and trans-harbour sea links that don’t affect the tidal flow

Projects related to the Department of Atomic Energy, petroleum products, salt manufacture & other public facility projects.

Construction of houses for local communities in some areas.
CRZ IVCoastal stretches in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and small islands, except those designated as CRZ I, CRZ II and CRZ III.
There is no restriction on the traditional fishing undertaken by local communities.

No untreated sewage or solid waste shall be let off or dumped in these areas.

Mumbai’s CRZ

In several cities, including Mumbai, urban planning experts highlight the relaxation of building bylaws and regulations.

The unrestricted surge in construction in Mumbai jeopardises the city’s resilience against flooding and more frequent cyclones. This surge lacks infrastructure planning for essentials like water supply, sewage disposal, and public spaces. Moreover, it normalises inadequate living conditions and overcrowding in residential areas.

Despite being in an urban area, Mumbai’s fishing villages known as Koliwadas were designated CRZ III status in 2011, shielding fishing communities from forced relocation to high-rise buildings that resembled vertical slums lacking basic amenities and infrastructure (SRA buildings). However, this protective status has now been lifted after another amendment, putting the Koliwadas in CRZ II status.

Buildings constructed along polluted Juhu beach in Mumbai
Representational image: The unrestricted surge in urban constructions in Mumbai jeopardises the city’s resilience against flooding and more frequent cyclones. Buildings along polluted Juhu beach in Mumbai. Pic: Sherine Raj

Expressing his concern over the amendments and potential construction within the CRZ of Mumbai, environmentalist and executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, Debi Goenka said, “The existing ecosystem will undoubtedly be impacted with new construction within the CRZ, but we must also consider climate change. Coastal regions are susceptible to flooding and submergence. It’s baffling to consider constructing buildings that will potentially be submerged within a decade or more.”

“Striking a balance between human development and environmental conservation is essential to safeguard the biodiversity and resilience of our coastlines for current and future generations,” he added.

Revision of CRZ restrictions over time

Revision and amendments are not new to the CRZ. The 1991 notification has been amended from time to time based on various representations.

Shailesh Nayak Committee Report on CRZ

A six-member committee was formed in June 2014 and had submitted the report to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) in January 2015. As per the report, it proposed the decentralisation of powers to state and union territory governments along with local authorities as required by several states.

The Shailesh Nayak Committee report planned for permitting housing infrastructure and slum redevelopment activities, tourism, ports and harbour and fisheries-related activities in coastal regulation zones as a way to relax the present restrictions on expansion in coastal areas.

Based on the recommendations of this committee, the suggestions were given by the coastal states and union territories, and the CRZ 2018 notifications were issued.

FSI Norms Eased

As per CRZ, 2011 Notification, for CRZ-II (Urban) areas, Floor Space Index (FSI) or the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) had been frozen as per 1991 Development Control Regulation (DCR) levels.

In the CRZ, 2019 Notification, it has been decided to de-freeze the same and permit FSI for construction projects.

Impact of changing CRZ regulations in Mumbai

According to Center for Policy Research, the CRZ Notification intertwines with Mumbai’s complex land politics, particularly concerning development in fishing villages and slums. The 2014 Shailesh Nayak committee expressed concerns about displacing fisher communities along the city’s coastline by proposing to classify all of Mumbai’s Koliwadas under category II, allowing these areas to undergo redevelopment through the SRA.

Fishing communities in Mumbai often exist within larger, mixed informal settlements, blurring precise boundaries based on identity. As per CRZ regulations, the fishing communities need to provide residential proof. However, due to inadequate documentation and surveys pinpointing the exact location and size of the Koliwadas, Mumbai’s fishermen have been facing a risk of displacement into SRA initiatives.

Adding to this, latest news suggest, upon approval, the state intends to redevelop 188.66 hectares of Koliwada and slum land (equivalent to approximately 1500 new buildings along the coastline) mostly into luxury sea-facing apartments.

Debi questions this plan for two reasons, “This could not only damage the ecosystem of Mumbai’s coastline and displace the Koliwadas but, considering climate change and rising sea levels, the high-priced luxury buildings erected at the tip of the coast might not even end up having much buyers.”

“This redevelopment project under CRZ II should never be allowed to take place,” he emphasises.

If you have experienced any changes, over the years, related to the coast of Mumbai – floods, tides, beaches – which maybe related to reclamation, construction or climate change, please share them with us at mumbai@citizenmatters.in.

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