Lessons from the Chennai floods for Kerala – C. I. Issac

Chennai Floods 2015

Prof C. I. Issac“Here in Kerala, the numbers and significance of the people who adore nature as ‘Mother’ is shrinking day by day. At the same time, the importance and influence of religions which advocate nature as a resource to alleviate the greed of man is also mounting day by day. The best example of this was the destiny of the Madhav Gadgil Committee Report and the role played by the bishops.” – Prof C. I. Issac

The main reason behind the disaster borne out of the unpredicted outburst of floods in Chennai was the humiliation of ‘Mother Earth’ by the regimes of the Metro City and Fort St. George for last three decades. This is not a topic confined to the Tamil Nadu state alone, but the warning of the times, the writing on the wall for the entire country, and specifically for the state of Kerala.

Kerala is the most densely populated state in India; according to the latest available data, the State’s density of population is 860 per square kilometre. A place with regular and recurring rainfall, it is now in the extra danger zone. Should a Chennai-like situation develop here, the depth and extent of the calamity could be far more disastrous than Tamil Nadu.  

Chennai Floods 2015The main reason for the present havoc caused by floods in Chennai is the creation of the greedy real estate and construction mafia. Related to this is the unscientific road construction along with the encroachment of creeks, backwaters and other traditional water-clogging areas by a highly influential section in the political class of Tamil Nadu.

These areas are vital mechanisms of nature, because while at the time of frantic and violent rain these creaks will drain-out the excess flood water, the rest will be absorbed by the lakes, backwaters and other traditional or natural water-storing areas. All these are now a panorama of bygone days in most of our cities. This write-up is concerned with the situation in Kerala. 

Kerala is the single largest metropolis of India with a population 33.3 million (2011 census), excluding expatriates. The repercussions from any sort of natural calamity in this ‘God’s Own Country’ (the land created by Lord Parasurama) will be far worse than Chennai.

This is because the topography and density of population in Kerala is entirely different from that in the rest of India. God created this land with all safety valves to overcome any such adverse situations that occur rhythmically in nature. Kerala has 44 west-flowing rivers and each river has 150 to 250 tributaries and 10 to 50 distributaries that embrace the sea; hitherto the backwaters also functioned as flood water managers.

It is a wonder that nature has provided such a fantastic device to a place with a landmass of 38,863 sq. km., and length is 580 km. This enabled Kerala to survive as a safe haven for human habitation all this time. But in recent decades, the flow of petro-dollars along with hawala money and counterfeits from the 1970s onwards, sabotaged the divine human-nature relations of Kerala.

Today, all the 44 rivers of Kerala have shrunk by 2/3 of their natural width. As many as 50 per cent tributary rivers have vanished. The banks of the backwaters are subject to encroachments in Cochin, Kumarakom (famous for its bird sanctuary), and so on in all the cities and towns of Kerala, all under the benediction of the ruling and opposition parties in the Legislative Assembly. 

One such encroachment of a backwater by a company run by an in-law of the Congress dynasty was unearthed by the visual media of Kerala. (I mention this instance only to show the power and impunity of persons who plunder nature and violate the law in this state). Under the umbrella of these administrative forces, several malls and resorts have mushroomed by acquiring government purambokku (government land belonging to none), river beds, shallow regions of backwaters and violating lease agreements in cities like Cochin.

In cities like Trivandrum and the like, the business communities are occupying roads and streets under the power of collective communal vote banks. All such violations have enjoyed the backing of both the ruling and opposition parties. This nexus has also worked to sabotage the genuine infrastructural projects of the state. What was the destiny of the Gadgil Commission ReportMadhav Gadgil Committee Report to save the Western Ghats? This is a well-known story, so I am not going to dwell upon it.

In the wake of havoc caused by the recent Chennai flood, the Chief Minister of Kerala announced that development means not two-storied buildings but skyscrapers. This response of the Chief Minister was in the light of the decision of the State Fire Department Chief to implement fire norms strictly in the case of flats, apartments, shopping malls and skyscrapers. This decision of the Fire Department opened a ‘wrestling platform’ in which doyens of the builder lobby met the State Fire Chief and the poor Fire Chief was knocked out.

The irony was that the (unfair) umpire on the platform was the Chief Minister of Kerala. The result was that the Chief of the State Fire Department lost his chair. And the State Cabinet decided to apply the 1994 State Municipal Building Rules by evading the existing National Laws and Acts relating to the building of skyscrapers in the state hereafter. A recent non-formal study says that 90 per cent of the big budget constructions since 2000 are going on in blatant violation of the vital norms of the State Building Rules. Yet all these hitherto construction violations were ratified by the authorities!

Here in Kerala, the numbers and significance of the people who adore nature as ‘Mother’ is shrinking day by day. At the same time, the importance and influence of religions which advocate nature as a resource to alleviate the greed of man is also mounting day by day. The best example of this was the destiny of the Madhav Gadgil Committee Report and the role played by the bishops.

One bishop went to the extent of threatening the State Government that “they have no hesitation to create another Kashmir in Kerala if they go with Madhav Gadgil suggestions.” Sadly, the impotent law making and implementing authority of the day in Kerala shut their ears and closed their eyes before this treasonable threat of the bishop, thereby revealing the destiny that lies ahead for ‘God’s own country’ in the days to come. – Vijayvaani, 8 December 2015

Lynn Townsend White Jr

Prof Lynn Townsend White Jr

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