It was exactly a year ago that Kerala was battered by floods and landslides in its worst-ever monsoon calamity. The fact that the state is going through another round of floods and landslides shows that no lessons were learnt from the 2018 tragedy that claimed nearly 500 lives and rendered several lakhs homeless.
With the disaster striking for the second successive monsoon season, it’s clear that Kerala is paying the price for ignoring warning signs and allowing mindless development and massive destruction of its hills, forests, wetlands and water bodies. After the 2018 deluge, the focus naturally shifted to reconstruction and mobilisation of enormous funds required for the purpose.
While ministers and senior officials focused their energies on the Rebuild Kerala initiative, little attention was paid to measures to prevent a repeat of the situation—or even to the fact that the reconstruction had to be done keeping the sustainability factor in mind. Desilting of rivers and water bodies was not taken up, canals were not cleared of rubbish, encroachments were allowed to stay, and mining and quarrying were allowed to continue as usual.
Kerala was at the forefront of opposition to the Gadgil Committee’s report that recommended various measures to protect the Western Ghats, including imposing restrictions on mining and quarrying activities, preventing the use of forest land for non-forest purposes and regulating constructions. While that report never got implemented, the state has been resisting even the one that came later—a “more practical” Kasturirangan Committee report.
The fact is that the current disaster is largely man-made. The state government’s attempts to blame it entirely on rains show its unwillingness to admit its mistakes. Following the latest disaster, there’s a fresh clamour for implementing the Gadgil report. Better late than never. The government must at least now show the courage to stand up to various lobbies and do whatever it takes to prevent further damage to the environment. Or else, it should be prepared to face even greater catastrophes.