Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala has been facing unusually high rainfall since early August, leading to statewide floods, the loss of 147 lives and unprecedented damage to property. According to the government, there hasn’t been a flood of this scale in last 90 years.
As per information from the officials, 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, in which Kerala has received an unusually high amount of rainfall.
According to a report from 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 as of August 16.
There has been mobilisation of resources to deal with the floods. In a press release, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said: "As per the primary assessment, the state has incurred a loss of Rs 8,316 crore (Rs 83 billion). Kerala is facing its worst flood in history after 1924. Ten out of 14 districts were badly affected. Twenty-seven dams in the state were opened due to water rise. Thirty-seven people died in just four days. There were mudslides and landslides in 211 different places across the state."
Environmentalists point at poor policy decisions for the tragedy.
Most of the regions impacted by this monsoon were once classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), also known as the Gadgil Committee.
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 Ghat region.
The 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. In some areas the committee recommended strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes, construction of high rises etc. The report was first submitted to the government in 2011.
But the Kerala government rejected the committee report and did not adopt any of its recommendations.
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 "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.
Other environmentalists also point fingers at the extensive quarrying, mushrooming of high rises as part of tourism and illegal forest land acquisition by private parties as major reasons for the recent calamity.