It was meant to be Onam season, when Kerala celebrates its biggest festival and decks itself all up to welcome King Mahabali. But the unprecedented deluge has left people battling for their dear lives instead. With over 320 deaths and around 2.25 lakh people rendered homeless in the worst floods to hit the State in nearly a century, the situation is grim. Red alert has been issued in 11 of the 14 districts and heavy rains have been forecast for the next two days.
Not a single district has escaped the fury of the floods. The Kerala government was initially caught unawares as the expectation was that the heavy rains may stop at least for a few hours to allow the water to recede from the flooded areas. But that did not happen and the rains poured with greater intensity, ceaselessly pounding all corners of the southern State.
Nevertheless, the State government made quick amends and began damage control on a war footing. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appealed to the Central government to rush financial aid and defence personnel for rescuing people stranded in flooded and low-lying areas.
The initial response from the NDA government was a lukewarm aid of Rs 100 crore, when the immediate requirement was at least Rs 2,000 crore. However, when the Modi government realised the seriousness of the situation,
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman rushed teams of Army, Navy and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to the beleaguered State.
The Kerala Chief Minister said last week, “Kerala is facing its worst flood in the history after 1924. There were mudslides and landslides in over 220 different places across the State. Central forces, NDRF and all the State forces are fully engaged in rescue missions in several districts. More than 25,000 houses were totally ruined and about 10,000 kilometres of public roads destroyed. The State will have to bear the loss of this disaster for a long time to come.”
Barring the four cities of Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Thrissur and Kozhikode, where apartments are in large numbers, other small towns and rural areas have small, medium and large independent houses. Most such houses are inundated. Power supply had to be cut in the affected areas to avoid short-circuits. All means of communication such as mobile phones, laptops and internet were snapped in quick time. Without streetlights, evacuating people from inundated places amid continuous downpour got tricky.
Landslides were another nightmare. Over 50 people, including women and children, have been killed in landslides so far, mostly from Malabar districts such as Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram. The rest were from Idukki, Palakkad and Thrissur. In several hilly areas of Wayanad, Idukki, Kannur and Thrissur districts, earth-slip followed heavy showers. The landslide at Ambayathode in Kannur district was massive as Bavali river was overflowing. Around 14 houses got submerged in Malur area and Kottiyoor region was cut off. Transportation and electricity supply were withdrawn in Thalassery and Kannur, while the ghat roads to Wayanad district got damaged due to a mudslide.
The worst-hit south Kerala districts are Idukki, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Ernakulam. The Navy has deployed 21 rescue and diving teams with inflatable Gemini boats to save people from water-logged places. The famous Shiva temple at Aluva in Ernakulam district is completely submerged under the overflowing Periyar river. The NDRF teams are working round the clock in Ranni, Kozhunchery and Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district. On a single day, 21 people were killed due to a huge landslide on August 16 at Kuranchery in Thrissur district, which is in central Kerala.
As many as 2.25 lakh people have been shifted to 1,600 relief camps by the defence and NDRF personnel. The Indian Air Force and Army have started distributing food packets.
The Kochi airport is marooned by Periyar and the flights stand suspended till August 26. The tarmac and runway are totally submerged along with the solar panels which supply electricity to the airport.
More than 25 trains have been either cancelled or rescheduled and some were diverted to the nearby stations such as Coimbatore and Tirunelveli. The Kochi Metro also suspended services from Thursday. “The Bridge No 176 on Downline between Angamaly and Aluva witnessed rise in water levels and it would not be safe to run the train on the bridge till water recedes,” said a Southern Railway spokesman.
The Supreme Court has dubbed the flood situation in Kerala “grave” and agreed to hear a plea seeking Central government’s mediation between Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments on the issue of Mullaperiyar Dam crossing the 142-ft threshold. Acknowledging the sufferings of the people in Kerala, a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice Indu Malhotra, agreed for a hearing immediately and directed the Disaster Management sub-committee of Mullaperiyar Dam to consider reducing the water level up to 139 ft.
The petitioner, Rasal Joy, hailing from Mullaperiyar, was worried because the gates of 33 dams were opened in the wake of heavy rains. The Periyar was swollen and there was no option other than opening the shutters of the major dams, including Mullaperiyar, Cheruthoni, Idukki and Idamalayar, which put the lives of people dwelling downstream in peril.
The Kerala government has requested people to voluntarily donate and help the State overcome this humongous calamity. It has put up a website www.keralarescue.in to enable all to help in the relief and rescue mission. In a statement on the website, the Kerala Chief Minister said, “for the first time in history, 27 dams had to be opened. Never before had the State witnessed a calamity of this scale…I urge all to consider this as a request of Kerala and contribute generously to relief efforts.” On Friday, Vijayan tweeted, “Kerala is facing its worst flood in 100 years. 80 dams opened, 324 lives lost and 223,139 people are in about 1500+ relief camps.”
Expressing solidarity with the flood-ravaged State, Telangana Chief Minster K Chandrashekhar Rao on August 17 announced Rs 25 crore as immediate relief on behalf of the State and urged the people to donate their mite to the Kerala government as responsible citizens of the country. The Chief Minister also observed that due to polluted flood water, people had no access to safe drinking water and asked the officials to supply Rs 2.5 crore worth reverse osmosis equipment to Kerala to provide drinking water to people. He directed Chief Secretary SK Joshi to make necessary arrangements on a war-footing.
The Odisha government announced a financial assistance of Rs 5 crore and Puducherry offered Rs 1 crore, while Supreme Court Bar Association chipped in with Rs 30 lakh. Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana too announced Rs 10 crore each. The President of UAE Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered the formation of a committee to provide aid to Kerala.
The young Hanan Hamid who broke the internet by selling fish to finance her studies voluntarily donated Rs 1.5 lakh. Malayalam actors Mohanlal and Mammootty announced an aid of Rs 25 lakh each. Kamal Haasan and Vijay Devarakonda also contributed Rs 25 lakh each. Meanwhile, donations from all corners of the country are pouring in.
Cochin University of Science and Technology and Calicut University have postponed examinations scheduled in this month. The Railway Recruitment Board has postponed its ALP and technician recruitment exam which were scheduled for August 17 in Kerala. There have also been requests to reschedule the IBPS and ICAR UG exams slated for August 19.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an aerial survey of the State on Saturday and announced Rs 500 crore as immediate aid, in addition to the Rs 100 crore announced earlier. He also announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the next kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured.
With funds and help coming in, Malayalis may have some respite soon. But sooner than later, the causes of this unprecedented calamity must be analysed and preventive steps taken.
Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, said brazen violation of environmental norms is to blame for the recent floods and landslides in Kerala. He also called it a ‘man-made calamity’. He said that the committee report was rejected by the Kerala government.
Gadgil Committee had suggested classification of 140,000 km of Western Ghats into three zones. The panel had recommended severe restrictions on mining and quarrying, construction of highrises and use of land for non-forest purposes in the 2011 report.