The state of Kerala is once again in the midst of flood fury, triggered by heavy rains, claiming the lives of over 25 people this weekend.
Several people are reportedly missing, with the National Disaster Response Force and the Armed Forces being called in for rescue operations.
As the state reels from the disaster, environmentalists have been prompted to raise concerns. In fact, Jairam Ramesh, the former Union Environment Minister, as per a PTI report blamed the non-implementation of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report authored by eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil in 2011 as the major reason for the frequent occurrences of floods in Kerala.
"Whenever there is a natural disaster in Kerala, the Madhav Gadgil's Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report of 2011 is recalled. A decade later it remains unimplemented -- despite the devastating floods in 2018 and 2020," Ramesh wrote on Twitter on Monday after the flash floods had wreaked havoc in Kerala's Kottayam and Idukki districts.
Let's take a look at what this report says and how it's linked to Kerala.
The state of Kerala has been witness to frequent floods for several years now with the monsoon flood of 2018 immediately coming to mind.
For those who can't remember, in August 2018, heavy rains triggered floods in the state, killing 483 people and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. The Government of India had declared the floods a "calamity of severe nature" and many reports said that it was the worst since the one encounter in 1924.
The flooding had caused unprecedented damage, estimated to be to the tune of Rs 4 lakh crore.
If that wasn't enough, the state saw more devastation in 2019 and 2020 due to floods and heavy landslides.
In 2021, the state's already seen more than 25 people dead and landslides in several parts, especially in the Kottayam and Idukki districts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and said the authorities were working hard to help those affected.
It is saddening that some people have lost their lives due to heavy rains and landslides in Kerala. Condolences to the bereaved families.
- Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 17, 2021
According to scientists at the Cochin University of Science and Technology, as per a Gulf News report, the rains in Kerala could be attributed to mini cloudbursts, which causes intense spell of rains, leading to casualties and loss of property.
Gadgil environmental report
As Kerala reeled from the situation, environmentalists and some netizens raised the issue of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report authored by eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil in 2011.
So, what exactly is this report and what does it state?
The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, also known as Gadgil Commission headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil, was an environmental research commission appointed in 2010 by Congress' Jairam Ramesh, when he was environment minister in the Manamohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government.
The report, which was submitted on 31 August 2011, recommended that 64 percent of the Western Ghats area be declared as an ecologically sensitive area.
The report had said that over 13,000 square kilometre, located across 123 villages in 12 of Kerala's districts as Ecologically Sensitive Areas. Interestingly, most of the villages were in Idukki district, which lies on the Western Ghats. The panel had also suggested strict curbs on mining, timber felling in the area.
However, there was opposition from almost all political parties, with some calling Gadgil as an 'eco terrorist with a hidden agenda'.
The rejection of the Gadgil report led to the Union Environment Ministry appointing another panel in 2012. Headed by space scientist K Kasturirangan, the new panel was asked to examine the Gadgil report.
In its submission, the Kasturirangan committee drastically reduced the area to be protected from 64 percent to 37 percent. It also divided the Western Ghats into cultural lands (where there are currently human settlements) and natural lands. It recommended declaring cultural lands into an ecologically sensitive area (ESA). At the time, Gadgil said the Kasturirangan panel "destroyed the spirit of his panel's report".
Ironically, no action was taken on either of the reports after widespread protests from farmers, the church and political parties.
Gadgil on Kerala
After the state witnessed utter devastation in 2018, speaking to the various regional media, Madhav Gadgil had said that irresponsible environmental policy was to be blamed for the floods and landslides in Kerala. He also called it a "man-made calamity".
He had categorically stated that the committee's report had recommended protecting the resources with the cooperation of local self-governments and people, but those recommendations were rejected. He also pointed out that quarrying is a major reason for mudslides and landslides.
Going by the present, it seems that Gadgil wasn't off the mark and that Kerala will continue to see such a situation arise till environmental policies are put in place.
In fact, Gadgil speaking to New Indian Express, was quoted as saying, "Had Kerala implemented the report, we could have avoided many unfortunate incidents."
The floods also bring back in focus the perennial debate of development vs environment.
Gadgil says that "we should maintain a balance between development and ecology" a fact that many other environmentalists have raised, saying the need of the hour in the country is sustainable development.
With inputs from agencies