Would it be that it was our own faults that pushed Kerala into its flood of the century? And was it the laxity in decisions and lapses in co-ordination of a government, deemed strong and dynamic, that aggravated the extent of the disaster? Amicus curiae Jacob P. Alex, appointed by the High Court to find out the causes of the flood, through its report to the High Court, has once again raised such questions. The report which in effect puts the government in the dock, and raises several questions and facts which the latter has to explain, cannot be dismissed by going home and closing the door.
Similar doubts were raised even during the days when the monsoon had intensified and flood water indundated houses. Although several quarters had clamoured to bring out the facts about the disaster and search for ways to prevent them in future, the government was not prepared to take them at face value. All such apprehensions were dismissed by labelling them as attempts to discount the spectacular effort of a united Kerala to face the deluge. But when the High Court heard several petitions, including that of Foundation for National Values headed by E Sreedharan, and appointed an amicus curiae, the latter's findings have corroborated earlier apprehensions. The report lays it bare that the inefficiency of the government was a contributory factor in aggravating the scale of the disaster, and certainly warrants a free and impartial high-level enquiry.
Faults in dam management and sloppy planning by KSEB are highlighted in the report as the factors that deepened the impact of the floods. Twenty-five overflowing dams were opened at almost the same time by the irrigation department and KSEB. And they failed in using even one of the 79 dams in Kerala for effectively preventing the flood. The rules of National Water Policy and National Disaster Management were blatantly flouted. It is laid down that when the water level of dams crosses 90 per cent of capacity, they have to be opened. Although right at the the beginning of Ausust the main dams of Kerala had crossed that water level, the authorities concerned did not open them saying that there was no political decision.
Later, between 10th and 15th of August - the period with the heaviest rainfall - all the dams were opened together, without any precautionary measures to face the repercussions. It was this erroneous step that caused the flood in the Periyar- Pampa-Achankovil river belt. Even as the official version - that the cause of the flood was the steep increase in rainfall, by 42 per cent over the previous years - remains correct, the report establishes with no room for doubt that what changed the flood into a colossal disaster were lapses in planning and irresponsible attitude. The flood caused 433 deaths, financial damage of an estimated Rs 26,720 Crore, loss of homes for 14 lakh people and 54 lakh people being thrown into privation and thus becoming the flood of the century. People, who faced the flood as one, have a right to know who were responsible for not opening the dams in time when there were indicative weather forecasts and the situation was turning more dangerous each day. The real facts have to come light also about the finding that there was no consultation or co-ordination necessary to ovecome the aftermath of the flood.
Amicus Curiae also underlines the fact that the excess rain turned into a disaster as a price paid for the rapacious, unscientific and flawed exploitation of rivers and hills. Due to encroachment of coasts and unchecked sand mining, the capacity of rivers to hold water had already been depleted. It was because of this that the rising water levels caused by heavy downpour and the opening of dams changed the very course of river flow. It is a fact that should put every Malayali, as much as the government, to shame that the onslaughts on nature for short-term interests and the failure of authoritites and officials in taking timely decisions, led to such a calamity. Kerala, blessed as it is with climatic diversity, has turned into a region vulnerable to the destructive phenomena of excess rain and drought alike. That way, the report presented before the High Court is also a charge sheet about our myopic craze for development which has a major role in this. In order to ensure that in times to come, such a catastrophe will not repeat due to the lapse of man, the Malayali society – which has imparted big lessons of love and restraint to the world – has to resurrect itself.