Kerala has just faced its biggest flood of the century. The state government’s intervention, with the assistance of the people and Central forces, was aimed at overcoming this crisis. The Phase I activity in this regard, to save lives, has achieved its target.
This is also a stage when the government is moving into the second phase - rehabilitation. Only through sustained interventions can we lift ourselves out of this devastation. In this too, we must be able to sustain the same sense of unity and camaraderie that was displayed in the rescue efforts. The state government is convening an all-party meeting with the aim of mobilising the people and completing the subsequent phases.
Incessant rainfall led to the abruptness of the deluge. Other sources included problems in the coordinated management of internal reservoirs in the state, the recurrent cloudbursts and the low-pressure formation.
Unlike any other region, Kerala is susceptible to rain havoc. If the population density at the national level is 382 per sq km, it is more than double at 860. Ten per cent of the land area is below sea level. Forty-one of the rivers flow westward to drain in the Arabian Sea. The state also has 80 dams and distinct river basins. From the very start, the state administration understood the gravity of the disaster and was alert. The crisis began in the districts of Alappuzha, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Idukki. In this stage itself, the government machinery, the NDRF, Navy and the Fire and Rescue Service swung into action with one mind.
The disaster affected almost all districts. Rivers overflowed their banks, changed their course. Dams filled to frightening proportions. Even airports were flooded. Fast-flowing rivers made rescue efforts all the more difficult. Adverse weather conditions prevented even helicopters from landing safely.
The government launched mitigation measures in Wayanad, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur districts. Instructions were given to evacuate people from areas prone to landslides. The Cabinet meeting on August 8 discussed the flood situation and mitigation measures and took appropriate decisions. Round-the-clock monitoring cells were formed at the state and district level on August 9. Frequent contact was maintained with the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. Central officers were communicated with through video conferencing. The Governor was apprised of the situation.
Senior officers, led by the Chief Secretary, supervised the rescue and relief measures. Representatives of the state and national disaster response forces, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, state police and Fire and Rescue coordinated their efforts under the state monitoring cell headed by the Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue). Experts on weather and earth sciences and the IT sector with online communication systems also were active. They, and the team of officers functioned admirably without a break. The operations were reviewed at high-level meetings.
The involvement of political and social organisations was praiseworthy. Ministers and District Collectors coordinated the efforts in the districts. People’s representatives and three-tier panchayat representatives became active at the grassroots-level. Officers attached to various departments and agencies such as the Kudumbasree and the Suchitwa Mission entered the scene. The police shouldered the responsibility for the rescue efforts. IAS, IPS officers were appointed as special officers.
Many nations and NRKs came forward to help. Along with the Centre, various states and people from all walks of society contributed to the distress relief fund. The visit of the Telangana Home Minister and the ample assistance provided by the states gave fresh hope about the bright future of India’s federal system. It was also an occasion when the human face of the bureaucratic-political system was revealed. It gave great joy to see emulative models of voluntary work emerging from all facets of the government machinery, including the civil services. This was an occasion which proved the government machinery of Kerala can overcome a crisis of such magnitude. It also reminds us the government machinery needs to be strengthened, not weakened.
The sight of human beings providing refuge to those who had fled the devastation, abandoning their house and wealth, could be seen all around. Determination led the society forward. Kerala also saw the rare sight of fishermen launching themselves into the rescue operations with their boats and equipment. We also had this beautiful experience: Places of worship transformed into havens of refuge without a second thought to religious differences. Inequality and other divides among the people also vanished.
Notwithstanding all this, we cannot ignore certain undesirable tendencies that reared their ugly heads. A scare was created dams would burst and the state would be plunged into a food crisis. Some people also attempted to scuttle the relief activities through propaganda on social media. At a time when the state moved as one, no one lent an ear to such regressive acts.
What gave the state the strength to overcome the crisis was the centuries-old tradition of human love, sacrifice and service. The crisis points to the importance of protecting the environment. It reminds us of the need to adopt the right perspective on development. The natural calamity has taught us political lessons on jointly overcoming social ills and practical lessons on crisis mitigation.
The new mission before the government is reconstruction at a level that it wholly erases the disaster. More than seven lakh people are residing in relief camps. The government is led by the hope the same efficiency on display now will lead the rehabilitation measures. Not a single person who returns home from the camps should face hardship. The new generation should study disaster management at an academic level.
The entire world has taken note of this disaster. We should move ahead proudly as a people who overcame a crisis in an exemplary manner. We can do it provided we continue to get the assistance offered us thus far. I promise you the government will be in the forefront, coordinating all such efforts.
(The author is the Chief Minister of Kerala)