Disregarded Environmental Policy Played Its Part In Kerala Deluge
Kerala’s battle with incessant rainfall and disastrous floods, was a calamity not only generated by an overactive Southwest Monsoon season but also by sheer ignorance towards environmental concerns.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Unlike the 283 of 640 districts in the country that are facing deficient rains, the state of Kerala presently confronts a damaging flood crisis that has resulted in the loss of more than 300 lives along with the widespread destruction of several homes that have been submerged.
The unabated rainfall and flooding has also resulted in the increasing levels of water in the dams like the Idukki dam, which opened all five of its shutters on August 9, after a span of 26 years! The water level had reached to 2400 feet, just a few feet lesser than its maximum capacity of 2403 feet. After opening the shutters, nearly 700,000 litres of water per second was discharged from the Idukki dam into the Periyar river, causing rapid swelling of the river that flows through the districts of Idukki and Ernakulam.
The state and its people feared an outcome similar to the floods of 1924, when a total of 3,368 mm water poured from the sky across three continuous weeks, leaving most parts of Kerala submerged, along with a massive death toll of thousand lives!
What do the authorities have to say?
Information from the Met Department:
• Cumulative rainfall for Kerala from southwest monsoon between June 1 and August 15 was 2,087.67 mm.
• Low pressure system persisted off the Kerala coast over the Lakshadweep Islands, causing an eddying of the water vapour currents at different levels of the atmosphere leading to precipitation, predicted more rainfall.
“As per the primary assessment, the state has incurred a loss of Rs. 8316 crore (Rs. 83 billion). Ten out of 14 districts were badly affected. There were mudslides and landslides in 211 different places across the state. More than 20,000 houses were totally ruined, and about 10,000 kilometres of public roads were also destroyed. The state will have to bear the loss of this disaster for a long time”, said Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The flood hit areas was also visited by the Union Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, who announced an immediate relief of an additional one billion rupees.
Views by environmentalists:
Back in 2011, the State government had rejected recommendations made by the Gadgil Committee. This irresponsible attitude of the State towards environmental concerns voiced by experts from the field resulted in poorly designed policies that are now being blamed for the occurrence of floods and landslides in Kerala.
The report was crafted by a team headed by Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. According to environmentalists, the committee’s recommendations were strong enough to protect the sensitive Western Ghats region. The committee had suggested to classify 1,40,000 km. of the Western Ghats into three zones as per the requirement of environmental protection in the areas, reports Mongabay.
Speaking to various regional media, Madhav Gadgil has said that irresponsible environmental policy is to blame for the recent floods and landslides in Kerala. He also called it a “man-made calamity”, stating that the committee report had recommended to protect the resources with the cooperation of local self-governments and people, but those recommendations were rejected. He also pointed out that illegal quarrying and excavation were two major reasons for the mudslides and landslides. Scientists believe that human intervention like construction and stone quarrying in landslide prone areas, can increase the frequency of landslides. In such areas prolonged rainfall can lead to major landslides, as because of excessive deforestation these areas lack trees whose roots perform the essential function of hold the soil intact.
“Landslides caused major damage this time. Most of the people have died in landslides. These landslides were severe in hilly districts like Idukki, Wayanad etc. – the regions that came under Gadgil Committee report,” said V. Thomas, former scientist at the National Centre for Earth Science Studies (NCESS), to Mongabay-India, and added that nobody wants to discuss the reasons behind natural disasters.
Rise in unscientific construction activities, mining, illegal quarrying and forest land acquisition by private parties, all involved large-scale deforestation, which severely affected ecologically sensitive zones (ESZs). Even the warnings issued by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) were ignored, reports Mongabay-India.
The effects of these activities on ecological systems and the resulting havoc is clearly reflective of the urgency environmental issues require, not only from authorities but also our growing populations with its ever increasing demands.
Madhav Gadgil has warned authorities in Goa, of the same fate as the flood-battered Kerala if the state does not take precautions on the environmental front. Goa, too unfortunately is witnessing activities which are driven by greed for unlimited profits, said Gadgil, who headed a committee that authored a widely debated study on the Western Ghats a few years ago, as reported by Firstpost.
Goa, its land consumed by rampant iron-ore, bauxite and sand-mining has seen these activities go unchecked and uncurbed. Gadgil who has conducted extensive studies on Goa’s environment, based on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports submitted by mining companies has openly accused the mining industry of submitting false information in their EIA reports.
“Every EIA suppressed fact about hydrological impact of mining," said Gadgil.
Expressing a sentiment that most of the environmentalists will agree with Gadgil said: "The central government is actually bending over backwards to make sure the National Green Tribunal does not function properly”.
Author: Anusha Datta