Kerala floods: The prescriptions for the Western Ghats

The News

Amidst severe floods in Kerala, Madhav Gadgil, who headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel in 2010, said that the disaster was partly man-made.


Major causes of floods in Kerala

1. Natural causes:

  • Erratic Monsson
    • The floods are triggered by the monsoon rains.
    • According to the meteorological department, the cumulative rainfall in Kerala between this June 1 and August 15 was 2,087.67 mm, which is more than 30% of the normal 1,606.05 mm rainfall.
    • Some districts, such as Idukki, have received 83.5% excess rainfall.
    • The unusually short break between rains has exacerbated the problem.
  • Opening of Dams
    • Higher rainfall has forced the officials to release water from dozens of dams to prevent them from bursting.
    • For instance, the Idukki dam, had to open all its five shutters because of the incessant rain.
    • This has inundated places downstream.
  • Landslides
    • Swelled rivers have also triggered landslides.

2. Manmade causes:

  • Construction activities in Eco-Sensitive Zones
    • Landslides have occurred in ecologically sensitive areas due to construction activities.
    • Cities are expanded with buildings being constructed on leveled farmlands where water otherwise would naturally drain.
    • Dilution of Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008, leading to large-scale land reclamation, causing environmental degradation and groundwater depletion.
  • Deforestation
    • A study from IIT Bombay held deforestation mainly responsible for the phenomenon.
    • Unviable use of land and soil due to deforestation could be a reason the water was able to travel across land unhindered.
  • Mining and Quarrying
    • According to Madhav Gadgil, mining and quarrying are the major reasons for the mudslides and landslides.


Background: A timeline

  • In February 2010, Save the Western Ghats group had pointed out the threats to the ecosystem from construction, mining, industries, real estate, and hydropower in Western Ghats.
  • Following this the government set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel under Gadgil to make a set of recommendations for preserving the ecology and biodiversity of the fragile region.
  • The committee submitted the report in 2011.
  • Since none of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, the government in August 2012 constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report.
  • This committee submitted its report in April 2013.
  • Consequently, Environment Ministry notified an area of 56,285 sq km in the Western Ghats as ESA.


Key Recommendations of Gadgil Panel

  • Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats to be about 1,29,037 square km.
  • The entire area was designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
  • Further the area was divided as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III.
  • About 75% of the area to be ESZ I and II with high level of protection.


General recommendations

  • Ban on cultivation of genetically modified in entire area.
  • Plastic bags to be phased out in three years.
  • No new special economic zones or hill stations to be allowed.
  • Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.


Regulation of ESZ

  • Ban on diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.
  • Restriction on mining licences in ESZ I and II area
  • No new dams in ESZ I
  • No new thermal power plants or large scale wind power projects in ESZ I
  • No new polluting industries in ESZ I and ESZ II areas
  • No new railway lines or major roads in ESZ I and II areas
  • Cumulative impact assessment for all new projects like dams, mines, tourism, housing
  • Phase-out of all chemical pesticides within five to eight years in ESZ I and ESZ II


ESZ in Kerala

  • In Kerala, an area 9,993.7 sq km was declared as part of ESA.
  • This was much less than what Gadgil Panel had recommended.
  • According to Gadgil panel report, Kerala has 15 taluks under ESZ-I, two in ESZ-II and eight within ESZ-III.



Gadgil on Kerala Floods

  • According to Gadgil the following activities have exasperated the disaster caused by erratic monsoon.
  • In ESZ-I which requires maximum protection following activities are undertaken
    • Use for non-forest purpose or agricultural activity.
    • Extension of village settlements
    • Road and public infra expansion
  • ESZ-II was allowed to renovate and extend existing structures such as hotels and resorts.
  • ESZ-III was allowed use of land for non-agri purpose.

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