Kerala Oppn leader blames state govt for ‘man-made disaster’

23 Aug 2018


A day after environmenalist Madhav Gadgil blamed politicians and vested interests for the devastating floods in Kerala, leader of the opposition in Kerala assembly Ramesh Chennithala has called it a “man-made disaster.”

Alleging mismanagement in the opening of the Cheruthoni dam shutter, he also demanded a judicial probe and prosecution of those responsible.
Speaking at a press meet on Wednesday, Chennithala alleged mismanagement by the government in opening the shutters of the 44 dams which were filling up in the state amidst warnings of heavy rains. 
"Leave the scientists, even the people started asking the authorities why it delayed opening the dam shutters till the water level rose to 2,325 feet," he said referring to the opening of the Cheruthoni dam shutters in Idukki. 
Like in the case of the Okhi cyclone disaster, the state government was not prepared for this calamity as well and simply ignored warnings, says the Congress leader. 
A government report had warned a month earlier that Kerala was the worst performer among south Indian states in effective management of water resources.
With 42 points, it was ranked number 12. The top three states were Gujarat in the west, Madhya Pradesh in the centre and Andhra Pradesh in the south, with a score of 79, 69 and 68 respectively.
Accusing the government of not taking prompt action despite weather forecasts by the MeT department, he said "They did not have proper protocol, warning system, flood management system in place. Had they heeded the warning, we could have reduced the impact of the floods."
He also said in 2013, the then Oommen Chandy-led-Congress government averted floods in Kerala due to prompt action. (The rains, however not so severe then and there was no danger of flooding on such a level).
"In 2013, during the south-west monsoon, though Idukki dam was full, it was not opened, instead other small dams were opened. Besides, there was no rain forecast then. Aryadan Muhammed, who was the minister for electricity and transport then, anticipated the situation, heeded the warning and did the needful. That is disaster management."
The opposition leader, however, chose to keep politics aside during the floods, focusing on relief and rescue operations at the time. He even accompanied chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the aerial survey earlier this month.
More than 350 people have been killed in the floods and landslides during the monsoons since June this year, while over a million people were displaced. 
Several questions have been raised by experts over whether water should have been discharged earlier from dams such as the Cheruthoni dam in Idukki. Water levels at several dams in Kerala were touching peak levels by mid-July. 
However, Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), which operates several dams including Cheruthoni dam, chose to open the shutters only in August. In Cheruthoni Dam’s case, the shutters were opened on 10 August, after 26 years.  
Kerala received an excess of more than 30 per cent rainfall this year, with districts like Idukki recording a large excess of 70 per cent.
Officials and experts have said the floods in Kerala would not have been so severe if authorities had gradually released water from at least 30 dams. The state has 44 rivers flowing through it.
"This could have been avoided if the dam operators had started releasing water in advance rather than waiting for dams to be filled up, when they have no alternative but to release water," Himanshu Thakkar, a water expert at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said.
Experts say the centre is also to blame because Kerala gets no early flood warning from the Central Water Commission (CWC), the only government agency authorised to do so.
"The unprecedented floods and dam water releases also raise the questions about flood forecasting and advance action by the CWC," Mr Thakkar said.
"We are shocked to find that the agency has absolutely no flood forecasting sites. It has only flood monitoring sites in Kerala," he added. "It's high time that the CWC includes some key dams like Idukki and Idamalayar and some key locations in its flood forecasting."
While the state has lagged behind on these preventive measures, the rainfall this monsoon has been exceptionally high.

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