There can be little doubt that the catastrophic floods in Kerala which have wrought havoc on human lives and property are essentially the result of human failures and ineptitude of the state governments over a period of time.
Had the Congress government in 2011 heeded the recommendations of the expert committee headed by Madhav Gadgil, such calamitous results could have been averted to a fair degree. The current CPI-M regime of Pinarayi Vijayan which took over two years ago is equally guilty of callous neglect and rape of the environment.
A lot of unauthorised encroachments have taken place in the forest areas. Because the mountain slopes are cut and encroached upon, the natural support that land has is lost. The landslides are partly because of such encroachments.
The other factor is deforestation. There is no dearth of laws to stop felling of trees in the forest areas, but there are mafias that are having a free run on chopping of trees. The governments are either in league or oblivious of the damage that is being caused to the environment. Protection of forest resources is not on the agenda of any government.
Afforestation is not happening. If thick trees are there in the mountain region, it prevents landslides. It also helps in absorbing water in the area. So, the heavy drainage of water downstream does not take place. However, in actual practice, there is denudation of forests without adequate planting of new trees.
The rejection of the Madhav Gadgil report which outlined corrective measures back in 2011 was the most shocking example of governmental apathy and neglect. The expert panel report went virtually unheeded.
Complacency set in as the monsoon was below normal in the last four or five years. Suddenly this year, there was a deluge and all the man-made ills came back strongly to compound the problems.
During the rains, water drains off to the rivers and lakes, and they in turn flow to the sea. Almost all the rivers in Kerala are choked with sand deposits, which reduces the capacity of the rivers to hold more water. The result is, with the slightest increase in water level, there are floods. The same thing applies to lakes also. Protecting the river bed is something that is urgently needed but that is not done.
The Gadgil committee had suggested that 140,000 kilometres of the Western Ghats be classified in three zones as per the requirement of environmental protection in the areas. But the Kerala government of the time rejected the recommendation.
The most affected area is Kuttanad which is the agricultural part of Kerala. The Kuttanad area is fully inundated and all the crops are destroyed. It is an ecologically sensitive area and the government has to stop construction of buildings in this agricultural area which was conveniently ignored.
In some areas the committee had recommended strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes and construction of high rises which too were summarily dismissed.
Madhav Gadgil has said that irresponsible environmental policy is to blame for the recent floods and landslides while calling it a "manmade calamity". He said that the committee report had recommended to protect the resources with the cooperation of local self-government and people, but those recommendations were rejected. He also pointed out that quarrying is a major reason for the mudslides and landslides.
There is little point in crying over spilt milk but at the same time, some lessons need to be learnt lest we repeat the same mistakes again and again.
With the advancement in technology, we should use modern means to assess natural calamities and plan in advance so that damage due to floods is minimised, and disaster management made better.
The afforestation momentum has to pick up and deforestation must be prevented at all costs. It is high time governments turn more sensitive or else the future generations would never forgive us for wrecking the environment, unconcerned with the consequences for the future.