River Regulation Zones (RRZs)
In the first week of February 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF & CC) has come out with a draft notification for River Regulation Zones where it proposes to prohibit or regulate developmental activities on riverfronts and floodplains. The draft notification has been sent to all the state governments to obtain their views.
- The Proposed River Regulation Zones (RRZs) are to bet set up in the lines of Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ) and would fall under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- The key objective of River Regulation Zones is to prevent encroachments along the rivers and floodplains. The notification proposes to declare river stretches and floodplain zones as river conservation zones and wants to regulate or prohibit developmental activities in these zones.
- There would be a National River Conservation Authority to be headed by the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change at the central level, and a State River Conservation Authority headed either by the chief secretary or additional chief secretary at the state level.
Under the proposal, the river stretches and their tributaries are classified in to three categories namely floodplain rivers, seasonal rivers and mountain rivers/hill streams.
Also, the river regulation zones have been divided in to three depending upon the permission granted to carry out developmental activities:
- Prohibited activities zone: up to 500 meters from the highest flood level in past 50 years
- Restricted activities zone: Outer limit of prohibited zone to 1 kilometer
- Regulated activities zone: Outer limit of restricted zone to 3 kilometers
Prohibited Activities Zone
This zone extends from the river bank to the outer edge of the floodplain and beyond. The limit will be extended up to 500 metres from the highest flood level in the past 50 years. These zones are the area which are subjected to frequent flooding and are most vulnerable to adverse impacts of human activities.
In case of the presence of embankments in the floodplain area, then this zone will extend from the river bank to the present outermost embankment and further a 100m buffer is provided outside that embankment.
Alternatively, if the flood plain is marked by the presence of ecologically sensitive and fragile watersheds, heritage sites, areas with outstanding beauty, areas which are genetically diverse and important for rare and endangered species, national parks, biosphere reserves, wildlife sanctuaries etc., then the whole area will be included under this zone irrespective of the above criteria.
Restricted Activities Zone
Restricted activities zone include the floodplain areas which are less frequently affected by the floods and lie farther from the river. It will have limits extended from the outer limits of the prohibited zone and up to 1km.
Regulated Activities Zone
This zone extends up to 3 km from the outer limits of the restricted activities zone. Certain activities will be permitted in this zone.
Activities which are permitted
Traditional grazing by domestic animals, traditional capture fishing and organic farming, discharge of treated domestic waste waters, withdrawal of ground water using hand pump, recreational activities which will not require boat jetties etc.
Activities which are not permitted:
Bunding, dumping of solid waste, construction of new embankment, land reclamation, storage of inflammable and toxic materials, and withdrawing water for commercial purposes other than hydro power and irrigation projects are prohibited.
The idea of River Regulation Zone was basically given by Civil Society Groups during the UPA regime. The Government had drafted such resolution earlier also in the wake of construction activities in the vicinity of river Yamuna (CWG Village, Akshardham etc.).
Akshardham Temple had never applied for environment clearance while CWG Village was given clearance by UPA itself. Similarly, the Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai faced danger of demolition because it had not received environment clearance.
Land regulation along our rivers has been lax. Not only rivers are getting constricted but also their floodplains are drastically narrowing. The situation in Delhi is such that there can be a massive flood here in coming years. The instances of flooding of the Kashmir valley and the recent floods in Chennai were the result of uninhibited and unregulated constructions that had blocked the flood basins of the rivers in these cities.
These floods served as a wakeup call to have river regulation zones in the country. Thus, putting in place such Zones and their due implementation is a welcome idea.