There is some truth in the allegation that ‘Operation Anantha’ was launched without much planning. It started with an anonymous call I received in 2014, while my car was caught up in the water. The call was from a person who was standing amidst water. “Sir, here human faeces is floating in the water, along with dead rats and cockroaches. Many are vomiting due to the stinking odour. I think you can help us in this situation.”
Somehow, I thought I should act. So, I discussed the matter with the Chief Minister and other ministers. The CM gave the nod to go ahead and assured me that there won’t be any interference from the official side. Hence we started Operation Anantha. Then came another call, obviously an anonymous one, “I think you have a genuine interest in cleaning the city. If you want to get a clear picture, please visit the Pazhavangadi Ganapathi Temple and see the condition of the canal nearby.”
So, I visited the place and found that the drainage was made into a narrow stream. When I followed it, it was found that the drainage was absent in many places. When asked about this, the official concerned was not aware of the fact that there even existed a drainage. There was no document showing its existence. So, I searched the archives and found the files of Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer, maintained when he was the ‘Diwan’ of Travancore. The records on ‘Flood Mitigation Through Storm-water Drains’ for Thampanoor and Kizhakkekotta areas with diagram of the canals was comprehensive. Because the plan drafted in 1940 had envisaged measures to be taken even in the event of rains over 25 cm. Then, with the help of the diagram, we found massive encroachments in the form of houses, places of worship, party offices and even anganwadis in the 25-km stretch of canals. It needed huge amount of energy to clean the drainage as six departments had to go hand in hand. Finally, the Kerala Roads Fund Board (KRFB) was assigned as the nodal agency. We had to change the plan as we had to resolve the problems that propped up as we progressed. The Disaster Management Act was invoked for the continuation. There were questions from some quarters as to how could we do such a thing. There are clauses in the Act that clearly outlined the measures for mitigation of disasters. We had to act mercilessly on many persons and institutions, but of course for a good cause. Many illegal structures were removed. Some have moved the court, and we are waiting the High Court’s decision. As much as 60 per cent of the phase-I has been completed. I am sure that 90 per cent of the project, except two or three cases, would be over by December 31. Water-logging in the city could be contained completely once phase-II of the project of completed.
We have just witnessed a disaster in Chennai. In this context, it is very noticeable that there is lesser water-logging in Thiruvananthapuram than in the previous years. The State and Central governments are pouring about `5,000 crore for reconstruction activities in Chennai. The question here is should we spend `5,000 crore after the disaster, or, a fraction of that amount before the disaster, without the pain, loss of property, agony and human suffering attached to it?
(As told to Chandrakanth Viswanath)