God’s own country Kerala is witnessing the worst flood ever. The death toll has crossed 400, which is the official count and the ground level NGOs claim that the number is much higher than what has been announced. According to a media report: “Officials said 22,000 people were rescued on Sunday. At least 30 bodies were also found, taking the death toll above 200 since the torrential rainfall on August 8 and to more than 400 since the monsoon started in June.”
Kerala is a state that routinely witnesses heavy rainfall but this year it was nearly 30% higher than the average rainfall, leading to the disaster, as per official reports. But, is this only about the higher rainfall? Experts have contradicted the claims and said that the reason is also unplanned development, cutting of trees and illegal forest land acquisition at the Western Ghats.
The Gadgil Committee (formed by the Central Government headed by Prof. Madhav Gadgil), which is formally known as Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), submitted its report to concerned authorities in August 2011. In the report, the committee had predicted a flood situation at that point in time, urging the government to take steps to protect the Western Ghats. But all the governments rejected the report claiming it is “too environment-friendly”.
Key Findings Of The Report
1. The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) designated the entire Western Ghats as an Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA). It divided the area into three zones depending on ecological vulnerability: Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1), Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 (ESZ2) and Ecologically Sensitive Zone 3 (ESZ3), and the assignment was done at the Taluka level.
2. It recommended that no new dams based on large-scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 as defined by the panel. This included a suggestion to not give clearance to the Athirappilly and Gundia hydel projects.
3. For all settlements and built areas/ to be developed areas, certain types of areas would be no-go areas, including watercourses, water bodies, special habitats, geological formations, biodiversity-rich areas, and sacred groves. Special Economic Zones should not be permitted. New hill stations should not be allowed and public lands should not be converted to private lands.
4) A building code should be evolved which includes inter-alia eco-friendly building material and construction methods, minimizing the use of steel, cement, and sand, providing water harvesting methods, non-conventional energy and waste treatment. The application or detailing of the framework would be done by local authorities to suit local conditions.
5) Certain practices recognized as the best construction/development ones such as topsoil conservation, trees conservation, etc. should be followed as per the guidelines of Green Building certifications of Eco Housing and GRIHA. Any other appropriate codes are also to be encouraged. Certain activities such as filling of marshes/ wetlands, the introduction of alien invasive species are not permitted. The area that may be saved is to be restricted; paving of ground areas may be done in such a manner that there is no change in the run-off/permeability of the plot overall before and after paving (if some area is paved, the recharge from other areas will have to be enhanced).
6) Local authorities should be made responsible for developing regional systems for handling hazardous, toxic, biomedical wastes as well as recyclable materials.
7) Promote organic agricultural practices; discourage cultivation of annual crops on slopes exceeding 30%, where perennial crops should be promoted; introduce incentive payments for sequestration of carbon in soils, introduce incentive payments for maintenance of select traditional cultivars, encourage participatory breeding programmes to improve the productivity of traditional cultivars; encourage precision in agricultural practices.
8) Forest Rights Act to be implemented in its true spirit by reaching out to people to facilitate their claims, Community Forest Resource provisions under FRA to replace all current Joint Forest Management programmes.
9) No new licenses to be given for mining. Where mining exists, it should be phased out in 5 years, by 2016. Detailed plans for environmental and social rehabilitation of mines to be closed. Illegal mining to be stopped immediately.
10) Educate the energy consumer about the environmental and social impacts of energy production and the need for reducing luxury demand. Encourage demand-side management; enhanced energy efficiency across sectors. Launch smart campaigns as key components of demand-side management, focusing on smart grids, smart buildings, smart power, smart logistics and smart motors. Promote decentralized electricity and use of solar power.