Kerala Floods – A Man Made Disaster?

Kerala has been ravaged by severe floods affecting all 14 districts in the state. The Centre has declared it as a Level 3 calamity which, according to the Home Ministry’s National Emergency Response Centre, has recorded 488 persons killed and 54.11 lakhs severely affected. As many as 14.52 lakh people in the state are living in flood relief camps as a result. An estimated 570 sq. km of standing crops have been destroyed in the deluge. Apart from the death and destruction already caused due to the floods, the imminent threat of outbreak of diseases looms large over the people in the state. Initial reports of multiple cases of leptospirosis are ominous indications towards that direction.

Kerala witnessed heavy rains in this monsoon which led the government to take the decision to open the gates of 35 of its 54 dams completely. The Kerala government alleged that one of the principal reasons for the flood was the sudden release of water from the Mullaperiyar Dam by the Tamil Nadu government, who rejected the argument. However, Dr. Madhav Gadgil, the chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Experts Panel (WGEEP) and a stalwart in ecology, has said that it is a ‘man-made disaster’.

The WGEEP, also known as Gadgil commission, was appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of India and submitted its report in 2011. Among other things, it classified the Western Ghats, a significant part of which in Kerala faced floods, into Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZs), predicted flood-like situations and provided recommendations to avoid a crisis of that nature. Its many recommendation included advice against building dams in certain regions, promotion of organic agricultural practices, implementation of Forest Rights Act in its true spirit, no conversion of public land into private land, limitation and gradual phase-out of mining in certain regions and educating the energy consumer of the environmental and social impact of energy production as also the need for reducing luxury demand. Governments rejected the proposals as they were deemed to be too eco-friendly and ‘anti-development’. Industrial groups, especially those which were to be affected by the recommendations, are said to have lobbied hard with the governments to subvert these suggestions. According to Gadgil, the loss of hundreds of lives and rendering of lakhs of people homeless could have been avoided, at least partially, had the recommendations been acted upon seriously. He said that the only threat in implementing the proposals, based on factual findings and pure science, is ‘extensive profits, often through criminal means’.

While on one hand the people of Kerala were grappling with the death, destruction and mayhem, sections of people directly or indirectly associated to the BJP-RSS came up with indications, which were bizarre and unscientific, as reasons for the flood. Karnataka BJP MLA and former Union Minister Basanagouda Patil Yatnal said, ‘In Kerala, people openly slaughter cows. What happened? Within a year a situation like this (flood) arose. Whoever hurts the Hindu religious beliefs will face such consequences.’ S Gurumurthy, the newly appointed director of RBI and the co-convenor of Swadeshi Jagran Manch (affiliated to RSS), suggested that the floods could be a result of Lord Ayyappa’s anger for attempting to allow menstruating women from entering Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. These are just a reflection of the deep rooted contempt of reason and logic prevalent in the RSS ideology, wherein mythology gets passed on as history and imagination as science. If the Prime Minister can believe that climate change is not a reality (2014), Lord Ganesha was the 1st example of plastic surgery in India (2014), Karna was an example of reproductive genetics (2014), etc. what else could we expect from his cadres?

The fishermen of Kerala played an exemplary role in the rescue operations. What made their effort unique were the facts that neither were there any orders to them from any authority to carry out the operations or any monetary incentive to do so. On the contrary they spent their own resources and risked their lives to save the helpless. Till August 29, it was estimated that they had rescued 65,000 people stranded in the floods.

This flood has been the most devastating flood in Kerala since the one in 1924. In this day and age it is all the more important to utilize science to its fullest potential, develop scientific temperament among the masses and
set the priorities of the political leadership right. In this context Dr. Gadgil aptly says, “I do not agree that economy and ecology are at loggerheads. What is at loggerheads is this greed for extensive profits and often through criminal means.”

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