Left kept assuring people about being better prepared next time.

 

New Delhi: Last week, Kerala witnessed the wrath of the rain gods once again. This is the fourth consecutive year that the state was ravaged by flash floods and landslides. Cloud bursts have become common. More than 500 lives have been lost in these four years. Questions are being raised as to whether these recurring unseasonal rains and landslides are due to the global phenomenon of climate change alone. Isn’t the state also responsible for this recurring natural devastation?

Misuse of the land and the forest has continued unabated. Quarries have mushroomed all over the state. By government admission itself 223 such new quarries have been sanctioned. This is in addition to an estimated 586 unauthorised ones functioning in the state, many under the patronage of politicians.

It seems Kerala has not learnt anything from the 2018 deluge that left a trail of untold misery from which the people of the state are yet to recover. The promises rolled out by the then ruling government, which incidentally has been voted back to power supposedly on the strength of its people-welfare policies, lay in shambles. ‘Rebuild Kerala’, the much touted and widely publicised ambitious scheme announced by the government then, remains a pipedream.

More than half of the money collected for the rebuild purpose lay unused or, if opposition allegations are to be believed, diverted for other purposes by the ruling CPM. Environmentalists crying foul and warning imminent disaster are being simply ignored even as the state sleepwalks from one disaster into another.

It is apparent that the ruling Left Democratic Front has critically failed on four counts. It has failed to set up a foolproof system to warn people about the floods. It has failed to clear the slush and debris that had accumulated on the riverbeds after the 2018 deluge. It has failed to utilise even Rs1000 crore out of the Rs31,000 crore collected in the name of “Rebuild Kerala”. It has failed to rehabilitate those who lost property and houses since 2017 when Cyclone Ockhi hit coastal Kerala. Then what has the government done? Nothing is the answer. Only the government and experts kept on assuring the people of the state that next time. “we would be much prepared to take on the natural calamities”.

Yet climate-related tragedies keep on repeating. Every political party in Kerala had accused eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil an “alarmist”. But he is proving right each time a natural disaster strikes Kerala. “Things are getting worse in Western Ghats,” Gadgil told PTI a day after skies opened up in Kerala last Saturday. The report prepared in 2011 by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by him had warned Kerala of the dangers waiting to happen. This time too most of the landslides and flash floods had occurred in the hilly regions of Western Ghats in central Kerala districts of Kottayam and Idukki.

“It is unfortunate that things have to come to this kind of dire situation,” Gadgil is quoted as saying. “The way forward is to actually implement the WGEEP report through proper democratic process. The way forward is that the communities living in Western Ghats should assert their constitutional democratic rights,” the ecologist said. He has urged the people at the grassroots level to put pressure on elected representatives to take adequate measures to end such disasters.

But sadly reality is something else. In 2014, P.T. Thomas, senior Congress leader and MP from Idukki Lok Sabha constituency was denied a ticket. Thomas had won the 2009 LS election from Idukki by no less than 74,000 votes. Thomas, a confidant of the then chief minister Oommen Chandy, was dropped simply because he advocated implementation of the Gadgil committee report. “My stand upset the Idukki dioceses of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church. The Idukki Bishop had openly opposed my candidature. The church has a good say in Idukki and it has been a supporter of our political front, United Democratic Front,” Thomas had told DownToEarth magazine at that time.

The church in Kerala has had all along been in the forefront of the campaign against Kasturirangan and Gadgil committee reports. Agitations against the reports in Idukki are led by the High Range Protection Council which is headed by a priest, Sebastian Kochupurakkal.

The road ahead for the people of Kerala is strewn with the debris of repeated natural calamities and unkempt promises doled out by unscrupulous, remorseless political masters. As  someone like Cherian Philip, a known personality in the corridors of power in Kerala, noted in his FB, “Those in power singing elegies and shedding tears at rehabilitation camps after not doing enough to mitigate the calamities is a betrayal of people’s trust.”

Back from a visit to the Netherlands, which had apparently promised to invest in Kerala, to study water management techniques in the aftermath of the 2018 deluge, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had this to say:”The visit was useful to understand the Dutch model of overcoming natural calamities like the devastating floods, which our state experienced last year.” This was the last Kerala had heard about the Netherlands and its water management!

Once more the opposition has demanded a probe into the state government’s failure in handling disasters. Perhaps the government oblige by promising to come out with a white paper on black disaster. And the matter will end there. Till such time the next disaster strikes Kerala, God’s Own Country.