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Devastating Kerala floods: National indifference or political partisanship?

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Heavy rain hit Kerala on 8 August leading to floods that have affected 443 villages. By Friday, the death toll rose to 177.

The Centre announced a relatively meagre Rs 100-crore package on 11 August. An additional Rs 320-crore was released to the Kerala government two days later.

ThePrint asks– Devastating Kerala floods: National indifference or political partisanship?

Centre has provided us with all relief and rescue support that the state has asked for

P. H. Kurian
Additional Chief Secretary, Revenue, Kerala

Centre has provided us with all relief and rescue support that the state has asked for

The Centre has been providing us with whatever we have asked for to date. We asked the Centre for boats, teams from the armed forces. We have 58 Navy teams who are working in the rescue operations. From the National Disaster Response Force, another 53 teams have been deployed and more are on their way. The Army, too, has been helping us and is sending more forces.

We are being provided with all the relief and rescue support that the state has been making demands for. Even all our neighbouring states have been talking to me and the chief secretary to see how they can be of help. Since our focus is on rescue missions now, we will reconnect with them again when we would need more relief material.

Our immediate task is to rescue people who are stranded and move them to safer locations. The Centre has provided us with logistical and rescue support, as well as food material. The delay is when they are unable to provide support and they try and arrange it from other parts of the country.

Lack of coordination in rescue efforts needs to be fixed immediately

Ramesh Chennithala
Leader of opposition, Congress, Kerala

The ground situation in Kerala is terrible at the moment. There are a number of areas that still remain isolated. People have been without food and water for days now. That makes the need for intervention all the more critical.

The government needs to send more officers from the Army and the Navy. We also urgently need helicopters to send supplies. The government may be making efforts, but these are not reaching the people.

The disaster management response has been scattered. The effort needs to be better organised. Even in the rescue camps, people aren’t receiving rations. The water level is rising there as well. I’m presently at a rescue camp in my constituency. The people are upset.

The question is not about releasing funds, the question is – are they being used in a timely fashion? This is a natural calamity, and we don’t want to get into criticism, we need to regroup and work towards helping the people.

There is a lack of coordination that needs to be fixed immediately and more rescue teams need to be deployed.

Read more: Kerala floods claim more than 100 lives in a single day

Central and state departments working in perfect coordination

Lokanath Behera
State Police Chief, and Director General of Police of the Kerala State Police

The Centre is proactively helping the state government in Kerala. Of course, there are limitations. But these are limited to matters of rescue, and the fury of nature is coming in the way of that.

In certain places, the currents are very strong and it is raining heavily. People are stranded and sending out calls for help. But because of the climatic conditions, we are unable to reach them. The helicopters that have been dispatched can’t handle the turbulent air currents nor do they have a place to land.

We expect the conditions to improve in the next few days. Till then, all departments, at the Centre and in the state, are working together in perfect coordination. The chief minister is reviewing the situation twice a day. Although the death toll has gone up to 130, thousands have been rescued. Rehabilitation and reconstruction are later concerns, and right now our only priority is to save maximum number of lives.

We have put our best foot forward. Every possible attempt is being made to mitigate the situation at hand.

Public contribution has probably been a lot more than that of Central govt

James Wilson
Special officer, Inter State Water, Kerala

There have been two major floods in Kerala in the last century – one in 1924 and another in 1961. The magnitude of the current flood nearly equals the calamitous floods of 1961. The devastation is almost as severe.

Social media and the local administration are doing their best to help prevent any further harm. People are on high alert, and officers are working 24 hours a day to ensure help reaches the people. Initially, the funds released to the Kerala government were less. However, I believe the situation may change now.

The public has contributed immensely to the rescue efforts. Their contribution is probably a lot more than that of the Central government, which opens its coffers in thousands for the northern part of the country. A Rs 100 crore donation was too less for a calamity of this magnitude. Moreover, Tamil Nadu’s refusal to cooperate with limiting the release of water from Mullaperiyar dam has also worsened the situation in part.

There are many reasons for the situation turning this grave. The population density of India has increased. Hence, the impact has also gone up. Moreover, despite all efforts being in full swing, there are limitations when it comes to disasters like these. Help can’t reach many areas because of reasons beyond our control.

But the media has played a great role in helping usher preventive measures. Every day, there is a new crisis in Kerala. We are doing everything possible to counter it.

We got rescued today thanks to social media outreach

Naveen Murali
Group brand manager at Asian Paints, Kerala flood survivor

This is not the first time Kerala has received excessive rainfall, but this is the first time in my life that something of this magnitude has taken place.

My parents and I were stranded in our home in the Aluva district for 42 hours. We got rescued today around noon by a rescue team on a boat.

Despite trying all the rescue numbers that were making the rounds on media, no rescue team was able to reach us. No one denied us help, but they couldn’t physically reach us. Various helicopters kept circling the region where we were stuck for nearly two days. We even burned paper so that they detect our presence. The entire ground floor was swamped, the water started rising and we moved our essentials to the first floor. We had hardly any drinking water and stayed without power for 40 hours.

Thanks to social media and good connectivity, I managed to post a video on Facebook on 16 August. A lot of people reached out to me after watching my video. Late last night, I received a call from someone from the union home ministry as well.

The rescue camp was full of civilians and police officers, but since we had family nearby we decided to go to their place instead.

While there is a shortage of resources — less number of boats and limited helicopters — I don’t know if that is because of a lack of funding by the Centre. Frankly, I don’t think the state has a disaster management problem. This seems to be a weather anomaly. Easier availability of resources could have helped avert such a situation.

Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, journalist at ThePrint. You can reach her @deekbhardwaj on twitter.  

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  1. I extracted this information from a website:

    Rain (in mm) in 24 hr period on 21st June 2014: Panamkutty – 343, Neeriyamangalam – 277, Pookot – 164, Lower Sholayar – 154, Idukki – 140
    Nilambur – 136, Kuttiyady – 134, Kollengode – 131, Vazhathope – 130

    But no disaster. Why? Maybe because the dams happened not to be full to the brim then!

    So this 650 mm rain per week is not a black swan event and should have been planned for by the reservoir managers. So all this talk of nature’s uncontrollabe fury does not seem to be based on facts.

  2. By the way, the approximately 650 mm rain received in Idukki in the week prior to the disaster is fairly huge not unprecedented.

    In fact, there have been instances of more than 650 mm rain IN A SINGLE DAY in many places in India. These historical high figures should have been factored in before deciding what safe water level to maintain in Idukki and Sabarigiri dams and of course other dams so that huge sudden releases that completely inundate downstream areas need not be resorted to.

  3. There is a very simple way to prevent floods – done daily across the world as a matter of course – rational and methodical reservoir management for dams. If Idukki and Sabarigiri reservoirs were managed properly in the last 3 months the huge spillage from these dams during Aug 14 -18 which caused most of the flooding could have been avoided.

    Why was water not released in manageable quantities all through July.? Forget that, even if water was released from the first week of August itself the floods could have been avoided or hugely mitigated.

    It is almost as if the bureaucracy and politicians in Kerala forgot that dams are for flood control also and focussed on storing the maximum possible amount of water for power generation and allowed these massive reservoirs to be filled to the brim even when a strong monsoon had not run through its course. Flirting with disaster and then disaster happened. No point blaming nature…….

  4. There ought to be a way to control nstures fury next time without depending on centre. Sone measures need to be way to reduce rampant deforestation and massive population.

  5. 1. Heavy rains (and let us not forget, lack of preparedness to face fury of nature) has unfortunately become a routine occurrence in our country. We have experienced huge loss of human life and property in Mumbai in July 2015, in Chennai in December 2015 and now we are facing a similar unprecedented flood situation in Kerala in August 2018. 2 Question is this: why do we find ourselves in such situations? If floods are on account of heavy rains, why do we often fail to predict the possible impact of heavy rains? 3. From news reports it is clear that flood situation in Kerala is pretty serious. Many citizens like me think that any natural calamity like floods should be treated as such. Hence, first priority should be to provide relief to thousands who have been stranded or displaced. Right now it is NOT the time to blame the Central government for inadequate assistance. Floods in Kerala cannot be seen as an opportunity to politicise issue of Central government assistance. 4. What is a ‘national emergency’? If the situation in Kerala today is to be declared as a national emergency, why is it that Kerala State government has to demand it? 5. I feel that natural hazards have to be regarded as a recurring risk. Every State government must make a provision for this risk in its yearly Budget. Unutilised provision must be carried forward as a reserve to met cost arising out of future natural calamities. This kind of measure of fiscal prudence has become a necessity in today’s uncertain times.

  6. Ashamed as a Malayalee by the ingratitude, arrogance and totally irresponsible comments of James Wilson, who is a Kerala State Govt employee and part of disaster response team. His toxic comments try to peddle some artificial divide of Keralites vs Northern States, State vs. Centre, Kerala vs. Tamil Nadu etc..

    First, as an ordinary Malayalee let me express my gratitude to the NDRF, Army, Navy, Airforce and other officials from all parts of the country who have undertaken massive and effective relief operations, particularly in light of the very inadequate disaster planning and operations of the Kerala Government.

    Special thanks to many of our brothers from Tamil Nadu who have chosen to ignore the bile against Tamil Nadu by the likes of James Wilson and donate and physically deliver relief aid to Kerala. Thanks to the Chief Minister of Karnataka who at the first instance donated Rs. 10 crores to Kerala even though many parts of Karnataka itself are under severe flooding. Ditto the Chief Minister of Orrisa.

    The public in Kerala did pitch in with a lot of effort and material. They had no choice – the efforts of State Govt were ineffective. So it is the central forces aided by the common man that saved the day. By the way 100 crores by the Centre is in addition to all the services provided by Central agencies. Even the Rs. 100 crores is an interim figure and likely to go up. So his crib that the rest of the country/ central govt did not help is totally baseless. and attempt to divert attention from the real story.

    Now the elephant in the room, the real story – the floods in Kerala went totally out of control because all reservoirs were filled to the brim or close to the brim by Kerala State Agencies, a very risky move given that the monsoons are going on. As a result the dams became totally ineffective in flood control. If controlled releases were made from these reservoirs in advance there would have been enough headroom in these dams to store sudden heavy rainfall and prevent or mitigate flooding. Example – the huge discharge of about 2500 cumecs from Edamalayar and Idukki dams on 14/15 August flooded many towns along Periyar.

    In short – Inefficient reservoir management, inadequate disaster preparation and operations by state govt created a mess but the public along with Central forces massively supplemented the feeble State govt efforts and saved the day. Nothing more, nothing less.

    • Very true . This loose cannon who goesby the name of James Wilson and his twitter rants inciting people of two states should be immediately censured by CM. If it was any other state government or central government employee he would have been hounded out by now the media. This guy needs to be shown the door for his his venom against fellow Indians at time of national crisis.

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