Kerala floods: Report reveals ‘lapses in dam management, builders acquiring eroded land’

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A report on Kerala floods by an investigating committee from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Special Centre for Disaster Research, who collaborated with the National Institute for Disaster Management, revealed several failures on behalf of the government which contributed to the massive consequences of the flood on lives.

The report comes almost two months after unprecedented rains flooded the state, leaving upto 488 dead.

The report was prepared by a team of four research scholars from the JNU department, who visited four of the worst affected districts, i.e, Alappuzha, Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta. The department’s chairperson, Dr. Amita Singh had started her research in this topic in 2015, disclosing how “…the death knell had already been sounded, with widespread erosion and fragile land being acquired by builders”.

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The report noted how although the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) had been constituted in 2007, as mandated by the Disaster Management Act, 2005, it came up with only one disaster management plan in 2013, which was only approved by the chief minister and had already become redundant. The report stated, “The plan was to be updated every year but with zonation maps, landslides assessments and other estimated impact studies on risks made in 2010, the plan is outdated.”

The report states that as a result of this, vulnerability mapping was outdated and preparedness and participatory dissemination were missing. The other major point that is underlined is the lapses in dam management and late release of water from dams despite repeated warnings from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) about above-normal rainfall over the “extreme south peninsula” between August 9 and 15.

The report stated, “The dam safety authority during its press brief on August 7 defied any plan to open the dams and exactly one week later, when the rainfall was at its highest and people were already facing a highly water saturated ground, the authorities opened all 38 big dams in Kerala together”.

By this time, Idukki dam, the state’s largest dam, had already reached its maximum capacity of 2403 square metres.

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The report mentions that while the state government held three meetings with panchayat pramukhs in Idukki between July 18 and August 10, the pramukhs stated that the officials were unresponsive to their repeated demands for floodgates to be opened earlier, and also opened gradually. They reported that KSDMA never held workshops with them, and that early warnings were not issued.

The report also stated that Fragile Land Act, 2003, was “dumped as outdated law which has lost its relevance” throwing open the Western Ghats for construction, while “river catchments, backwaters and estuaries providing mangroves…are subsequently eliminated”.

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