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Killer land slips; no lessons learnt post 2018 flood as govt takes the ‘ungreen’ rebuild path
News analysis

Killer land slips; no lessons learnt post 2018 flood as govt takes the ‘ungreen’ rebuild path

Ajayan

If it were the opening of big dams at one go around this time last year that left a good part of Kerala inundated and claimed over 480 people dead, this time it was mainly landslides that has left more than 60 people dead.

The army along with NDRF forces is engaged in trying to rescue more than 50 people, including several children, lying under the debris at Kavalapara in Nilambur for three nights and two days.

The hilly terrains of Wayanad, Malappuram and Idukki bore the brunt of landslides concretising the argument that this too was a man-made disaster.

It was not long ago but in 2013 that Madhav Gadgil said the Western Ghats has been destroyed and if right steps are not taken, it will not take ages but four or five years before a massive disaster happens in Kerala. One will then understand who is lying, who is scared.

The apocalypse of the August 2018 floods still haunting the people, the hollowness of the LDF Government's designs and it's refrain of 'rebuilding Kerala on a sustainable model' stood exposed after the latest tragedy.

Defying its own promise, the Pinarayi Government gave licence to several quarries in the State. Blasting of rocks in the Western Ghats can pose environmental disasters is what even school children know, but not the Government. It even diluted the wetland laws to help people fill paddy fields, for ages seen as the best example of watershed management.

Not to stop at that, the Government recently decided to regularise illegal buildings of 1,500 sq. ft plinth area in Munnar with a ceiling of 15 cents. Anything above the 15-cent limit would be taken over by the government and handed over to others to be run for a limited period. The basic legal premise of such buildings, several of them on slopes, going against the principles of the environment conservation, will now get legal sanction, only to prove the 'foolish' Gadgil right.

Rescue operations at landslide-affected areas was hampered as excavation at one point led to more landslides. The soil is already loose.

"You don't need to go to college or attend study classes or leadership camps at Charalkunnu or baithaks to know that tree roots hold soil and prevent erosion. Trees go and so does the soil. That explains why landslides occur. This is no big science," says a tribesman in Idukki, who admits that the Left or Right or mid-path governments are guided by the vote bank.

The lop-sided development strategy of LDF through its Government after the August 2018 floods gets better explained in its approaching the World Bank, once detested by it, for aid.

There were two clear rebuilding options in front of the Government after the 2018 flood. One was the UN-based Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) report which was a green strategy aimed at making Kerala a model for environment-friendly development as a good part of the land is in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats and has 44 rivers running through it.

The other was that of the Rebuilding Kerala Development Programme whose focus has been on strengthening the state's institutional and financial capacity and having projects in the context of higher standards of infrastructure, assets and livelihood. It is basically all to do with projects, even linking unfinished ones, contracts and the lot which will keep out local bodies out of this development strategy. All this when an earlier LDF attempt at a successful people's programme had done wonders.

The LDF which once raised a hue and cry over privatising water supply now admits that "mobilising private finance for water is critical" in its rebuild Kerala initiative. For transportation, the RKI speaks of High Speed Corridor, another name for 'Expressway' against which the LDF had led agitations.

Most of the steps mentioned in the programme like crowdfunding or financial support from outside (the disaster of the CM's foreign tour a case in point) have turned disasters. Worse, over Rs 80 lakh has been set aside to refurbish the RKI office, a building of a party's 'comrade' taken on rent, clearly indicating where the rebuild strategy is headed to.

The Kerala Government, the Union Government and the World Bank have already signed a $250m (₹1,750 crore) loan agreement for the Resilient Kerala Programme.

The rebuild initiative has nothing to do with floods as development is on another level, well supported by several steps already taken by the government over the last one year that have proved disastrous during the last one week.