Free Press Journal

Kerala ignored ominous red signals

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The ongoing devastating floods in Kerala which have wrought havoc in the State in terms of loss of lives and extensive damage to property have understandably brought focus on the myopia with which the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil committee in 2011 on the warning signals were brazenly disregarded by the Congress government of the time and subsequently the CPI (M) regime. Madhav Gadgil is ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and his panel was qualified enough not to be dismissed lightly. The Gadgil committee had suggested that 140,000 kilometres of the Western Ghats be classified in three zones as per the requirement of environmental protection in the areas. But the Kerala government of the time rejected the recommendation. While it is unfair to pin all blame for the disaster on the callousness of the governments, there can be little doubt that when a committee of experts dwells on a technical matter like this, the political establishment must pay due heed.

If the people of Kerala are paying the price today, it is in large part due to the apathy, neglect and disregard of warning signals by the successive governments. That there has not been a flood of this magnitude in 90 years in Kerala is believable but prompt and sound preventive measures would have reduced the effect of it. According to a report by the National Disaster Management Authority, 130 people have died in Kerala this monsoon from May 29 to July 19. Adding to this, the deaths from the August rainfall, the death toll for Kerala is 217. In the past one week itself more than 53,000 people have been moved to 439 relief camps across the state. A total of 143,220 people have been living in 1,790 relief camps all through this year’s monsoon. According to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the state has incurred a loss of Rs 8,316 crore until now.Ten out of 14 districts were badly affected. Twenty-seven dams in the state were opened due to water rise. There were mudslides and landslides in 211 different places across the state. Most of the regions impacted by this monsoon had been classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) by the committee.

In some areas the committee had recommended strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes and construction of high rises which too were summarily dismissed. Madhav Gadgil has said that irresponsible environmental policy is to blame for the recent floods and landslides while calling it a “manmade calamity”. He said 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 quarrying is a major reason for the mudslides and landslides.