Seven months after the devastating floods in Kerala and little done to mitigate the sufferings of the people, a petition has been moved in Kerala High Court seeking action against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Electricity Minister MM Mani for dereliction of duty and failure to safeguard the lives and property of people during the August 2018 floods.
As many as 433 persons were killed in the flood that occurred due to the mismanagement of dams as well as the lethargy and inefficiency of the ruling front under Pinarayi and his Power Minister Mani, according to the quo warranto petition filed by advocate Russell Joy. He had moved Supreme Court for decommissioning the age-old Mullaperiyar dam.
Besides the loss of life of humans and animals, species of flora and fauna were destroyed making a huge impact on biodiversity as well as environmental balance, Russell Joy told Pennews. The total estimate of loss was nearly Rs 40,000 crore.
He pointed out that the Amicus Curiae report submitted in the High Court said none of the 79 dams in Kerala were operated or used for the purpose of flood control/moderation, despite the obligation to utilise them as per stipulation under National Water Policy. Dams in Kerala had not maintained effective flood control zone and the flood cushion systems.
Most of the major reservoirs were almost full before the extreme rainfall between August 14 and 16, 2018, and did not have the capacity to accommodate the additional flow generated by extreme rainfall.
Sudden release of water simultaneously from different reservoirs during extreme rainfall aggravated the damage. Various alerts (blue/orange/red) were issued not in accordance with emergency action plan (EAP) guidelines for dams. There was no proper follow-up action and effective precautionary steps like evacuation after issuance of red alert, the petitioner notes.
Dam managers ought not to have solely relied on meteorological department predictions for dam management and variation in forecast or prediction could not be counted as a justification for delayed release of water from dams.
It also had to be noted that water storage capacity of reservoirs in Kerala was reduced due to siltation and sedimentation. Besides, nothing was done to check reduction in water carrying capacity of rivers and encroachment of flood plains.
Flood plain zoning, preparation of inundation maps, finalisation of emergency action plans, updating of rule curves, evolving dam specific operation and maintenance manual and having proper flood forecasting system in place were to have been carried out and implemented in a time-bound manner.
Even during the great flood and extreme rainfall, the Electricity Minister directed officials not to open Idukki Dam to reduce water level, contrary to the previous decision of the government to discharge water. Secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences M Rajeevan had stressed the need of a decision support system at dams which was lacking for all dams in Kerala. These were serious lapses and had to dealt with seriously, the petitioner says.
The lethargy, inefficiency and political ill-will were very much evident in a recent opening of a shutter in a dam in Perumthenaruvi river in Pathanamthitta district. A local resident took the remote for opening the shutters and he had pulled up the shutter.
Even though Pinarayi sent a letter to his Tamil Nadu counterpart to reduce the Mullaperiyar water level from 142 ft to 139, he did not take any steps to reduce water level in any of the dams in Kerala. This wilful negligence is also good ground to issue quo warranto against Pinarayi and Mani.
Noted environmentalist Madhav Gadgil and Metroman E Sreedharan have supported these, ideas Russell points out. Sreedharan also filed a writ petition in court seeking an inquiry by an expert body into the flood based on which the Amicus Curiae filed his report.
Many of the developed countries have machineries, equipment and technical expertise to explore cloud seeding, implement flood tunnels and systems to safeguard the lives and property of its people. It is essential to conduct a study and equip Kerala with such best-in-class techniques.
If authorities were capable, the flood of August 2018 would not have occurred. Hence, the interference of the court under Article 226 was highly essential to protect the lives and property of the people of Kerala, Russell notes in his petition.