Here's why Kerala is recalling Gadgil committee report

Volunteers, local residents and members of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) search for survivors in the debris left by a slandslide at Puthumala at Meppadi in the Wayanad district, Kerala. AFP photo

Even as Kerala faced another round of devastating floods and landslides second year in a row, the warning given in 2013 by ecologist Madhav Gadgil that Kerala may soon face major natural calamities is echoing in the state once again.

Veteran CPM leader and Kerala former chief minister V S Achuthanandan said that the state was paying the price for ignoring recommendations of experts like Gadgil to curb activities like quarrying in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats.

Illegal construction in ecologically fragile areas should be restricted, illegal quarrying should be banned, landfills should not be allowed and all activities that damage the environment should be stopped, Achuthanandan urged.

Reacting to the recent calamities in Kerala, Gadgil had told the media that the government had failed in protecting the Western Ghats by succumbing to interests of groups with a vested interest. No new laws were required to protect the environment. Existing laws need to be implemented strictly, he had said.

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Gadgil prescribed strict restrictions in activities at the ecologically fragile areas in 2011. It was opposed by the people of the hilly regions and political leaders.

To overcome the strict restrictions prescribed by the Gadgil committee, the government appointed the K Kasturirangan committee, which subsequently diluted the restrictions suggested by the Gadgil committee massively.

In last week, Kerala suffered about 70 landslides, two of which were major. Kavalapara in Malappuram district, where more than 35 were so far killed and over 25 persons still missing, the reason for landslide was mainly attributed to quarries working within a radius of around five kilometres of the landslide spot.

At Puthumala in Wayanad, where about ten persons were killed in a major landslide and seven bodies still missing, the Kerala Government's Soil Conservation Department came out with a report that massive tree felling for cardamom cultivation was the reason for the mud slip in which the topsoil became loose and caved in.

A study conducted by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority after the 2018 floods had found that 5,607.5 square kilometres of Kerala were landslide-prone and 5,624 square kilometres were flood-prone, which means that 29 % of Kerala's total area was prone to landslide or flood. Kavalapara and Puthumala, as well as most of the 70 odd landslide spots, fell in these areas.

Wayanad Nature Protection Group president N Badushah told DH that while quarrying, earth removal and tree felling continue to be the most serious issues affecting the Western Ghats, there were many other factors too. Diversion of natural streams by resorts, levelling of hilly lands, making rain pits in the hilly areas and unscientific decommissioning of used quarries were also factors that trigger landslides, he said.

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