Kerala floods, a man-made disaster

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The unfolding tragedy in the flood-ravaged Kerala, where over 245 people have lost their lives and vast swathes of the God’s Own Country remain inundated, is a man-made disaster; an outcome of an irresponsible environmental policy. People are bearing the brunt of the collective failure of successive governments to learn lessons from the past. Endowed with natural splendour, Kerala is located in a fragile ecological zone of the Western Ghats and receives highest monsoon rainfall. Instead of nurturing the biodiversity of the region, the successive governments have been recklessly tinkering with its fragile ecology and allowing constructions in the name of development and tourism projects. The repeated warnings by environmentalists about impending dangers fell on deaf ears over decades. As a result, the present floods, the worst in nearly a century, are playing havoc with the state, crippling the communication facilities and rendering millions of people homeless. The ordeal began shortly after August 8 when a spell on unusually heavy rain hit the state. As the water from swollen rivers inundated several parts, the armed forces are carrying out what has turned into one of the biggest rescue operations in the country, involving a hundred thousand personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force, Coast Guard and disaster response forces who have pressed into service 67 helicopters, 24 aeroplanes and 548 motorboats for rescue and relief operations. Questions will be raised over the callousness of successive governments towards the obvious signs of environmental damage going on in the state.

Illegal excavations, stone quarrying, mushrooming of high-rise structures as part of tourism promotion and illegal forest land acquisition by private players are the major reasons for the Nature’s fury. The state is paying a heavy price for ignoring the key recommendations of the central government-appointed Madhav Gadgil Committee which wanted immediate stoppage of all the illegal stone quarrying and sand mining. All the areas that are now among the worst-affected in the floods were classified under ecologically-sensitive zone by the expert committee which submitted its report in 2011. It had specifically pointed that if the stone quarrying was not stopped, it might eventually lead to natural calamities, like the one happening in the state today. However, the establishments turned a deaf ear to the recommendations. Now that the state is facing disastrous consequences of the insensitive policies of the past, the government should at least now stop all the illegal stone quarrying activities. The present disaster could have been avoided if the government had implemented the Gadgil committee report, aimed at protecting ecologically-fragile mountain ranges. A 2017 study by IIT, Bombay, held deforestation mainly responsible for the phenomenon. Tinkering with ecologically fragile regions in the name of development must stop.