Kerala and Floods

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.
Section : Environment & Ecology