Gadgil said the scale of the disaster would have been much smaller if environmental laws had been followed
Kerala has been ravaged by the worst floods in decades, with over 300 dead and lakhs displaced. While rescue and relief operations are underway, a scientist who authored a paper on the conservation of Western Ghats is of the opinion that the state government and local authorities are partly to blame for the disaster.
Madhav Gadgil, who headed the expert panel on Western Ghats Ecology formed by Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2010, said the scale of the disaster would have been much smaller if environmental laws had been followed. He said at least part of the problem was ‘man-made’.
Gadgil told The Indian Express, “Yes, there is an intense rainfall event which has caused this. But I am quite convinced that the last several years’ development in the state has materially compromised its ability to deal with events like this and greatly increased the magnitude of suffering.”
In 2011, the Gadgil panel had suggested measures to preserve the ecologically frail Western Ghats area. According to the report, Western Ghats should have been declared ecologically sensitive. It had also assigned three levels of sensitivity to regions within the Ghats.
One of the recommendations included banning of some industrial and mining activities in the area, as well as regulation of many developmental work in the area after consultation with local communities.
All six states opposed the report and its recommendations. Therefore, another panel was appointed by the Environment Ministry headed by K Kasturirangan to examine the Gadgil committee report. The new panel made the recommendations much more simplified when it submitted its report in 2013, suggesting that only a third of the Western Ghats be identified as ecologically sensitive.
Just last year, the ministry notified over 57,000 sq km of the Western Ghats as sensitive, resulting in a ban on all mining activities, large constructions, thermal power plants and highly polluting industries.
Gadgil said, “It is not a question of the report not being accepted or the recommendations being ignored. If the governments had just followed the law, if there was good governance, a disaster of this proportion could have been avoided.”
He added that the state governments are in collusion with vested interests and resist environmental laws. Gadgil believes that any law-abiding society that believes in good governance would have accepted his report.
He pointed to increasing stone quarrying activity in Kerala. “In 2013, after we had submitted our report, there were many demonstrations against stone quarrying in Kerala. But it has only become more and more rampant, and in the last few years, it has exceeded all limits. Activities like these certainly contribute to the magnitude of the damage that has been caused by the floods,” he said.He also said there had been an unregulated growth of illegal constructions and creation of real estate all over the state. Gadgil calls such activities unjustified human interventions rather than natural events.