Amidst severe floods in Kerala, Madhav Gadgil, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel in 2010, said that the disaster was partly man-made.
Major causes of floods in Kerala
1. Natural causes:
- Erratic Monsson
- The floods are triggered by the monsoon rains.
- According to the meteorological department, the cumulative rainfall in Kerala between this June 1 and August 15 was 2,087.67 mm, which is more than 30% of the normal 1,606.05 mm rainfall.
- Some districts, such as Idukki, have received 83.5% excess rainfall.
- The unusually short break between rains has exacerbated the problem.
- Opening of Dams
- Higher rainfall has forced the officials to release water from dozens of dams to prevent them from bursting.
- For instance, the Idukki dam, had to open all its five shutters because of the incessant rain.
- This has inundated places downstream.
- Swelled rivers have also triggered landslides.
2. Manmade causes:
- Construction activities in Eco-Sensitive Zones
- Landslides have occurred in ecologically sensitive areas due to construction activities.
- Cities are expanded with buildings being constructed on leveled farmlands where water otherwise would naturally drain.
- Dilution of Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008, leading to large-scale land reclamation, causing environmental degradation and groundwater depletion.
- A study from IIT Bombay held deforestation mainly responsible for the phenomenon.
- Unviable use of land and soil due to deforestation could be a reason the water was able to travel across land unhindered.
- Mining and Quarrying
- According to Madhav Gadgil, mining and quarrying are the major reasons for the mudslides and landslides.
Background: A timeline
- In February 2010, Save the Western Ghats group had pointed out the threats to the ecosystem from construction, mining, industries, real estate, and hydropower in Western Ghats.
- Following this the government set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel under Gadgil to make a set of recommendations for preserving the ecology and biodiversity of the fragile region.
- The committee submitted the report in 2011.
- Since none of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, the government in August 2012 constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report.
- This committee submitted its report in April 2013.
- Consequently, Environment Ministry notified an area of 56,285 sq km in the Western Ghats as ESA.
Key Recommendations of Gadgil Panel
- Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats to be about 1,29,037 square km.
- The entire area was designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
- Further the area was divided as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III.
- About 75% of the area to be ESZ I and II with high level of protection.
- Ban on cultivation of genetically modified in entire area.
- Plastic bags to be phased out in three years.
- No new special economic zones or hill stations to be allowed.
- Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.
Regulation of ESZ
- Ban on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
- Restriction on mining licences in ESZ I and II area
- No new dams in ESZ I
- No new thermal power plants or large scale wind power projects in ESZ I
- No new polluting industries in ESZ I and ESZ II areas
- No new railway lines or major roads in ESZ I and II areas
- Cumulative impact assessment for all new projects like dams, mines, tourism, housing
- Phase-out of all chemical pesticides within five to eight years in ESZ I and ESZ II
ESZ in Kerala
- In Kerala, an area 9,993.7 sq km was declared as part of ESA.
- This was much less than what Gadgil Panel had recommended.
- According to Gadgil panel report, Kerala has 15 taluks under ESZ-I, two in ESZ-II and eight within ESZ-III.
Gadgil on Kerala Floods
- According to Gadgil the following activities have exasperated the disaster caused by erratic monsoon.
- In ESZ-I which requires maximum protection following activities are undertaken
- Use for non-forest purpose or agricultural activity.
- Extension of village settlements
- Road and public infra expansion
- ESZ-II was allowed to renovate and extend existing structures such as hotels and resorts.
- ESZ-III was allowed use of land for non-agri purpose.