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Flood-hit Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra need to learn their lessons

In what has now become a familiar pattern, the monsoon began feebly in June but lashed back in July and the first week of this month, claiming over 50 lives in Kerala and displacing at least two lakh people in western Maharashra, northern Karnataka, Kerala and coastal Karnataka. Western Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Bihar are flood-ravaged as well. Rescue and relief operations are underway in Maharashtra and Kerala, supplemented by active civil society involvement. Standing crops of sugarcane, maize and vegetables on over a lakh hectares have been damaged, besides loss of property and valuables. While the IMD has said that the South-West monsoon will end up as ‘normal’ by September, at 96 per cent of the 50-year average, the fact is that most of this rain will have occurred over a far fewer number of days with a possibility of disruption in the coming two months or more. While the all-India deficit was in the region of 33 per cent by the end of June, this has actually turned into a surplus of 1 per cent now (with deficit pockets in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Jharkhand). The deficit in Kerala’s case has narrowed sharply from 32 per cent at the end of June to 4 per cent now (which falls in the normal category). With the late onset of the monsoon having become the norm, it may be time to consider delaying kharif sowing as well. It is surprising that the disaster management machinery has failed to take note of this ‘climate change’, namely, delayed and concentrated rainfall (the retreating monsoon tends to cause havoc in September and October). While restoring normalcy and compensating the affected, it is time to redress the environmental imbalance that has played a major role in intensifying the damage.

Kerala and Karnataka, which went through all of this last year, must take corrective steps. It is surprising that mining and quarrying continues unabated in the hilly regions, as a result of which the Malappuram and Wayanad regions have been yet again hit by some 80 landslides. Kerala appears to have brought riverbed sand mining under some control, with crushed stone being used instead for construction. But it is time for these States to take the Gadgil Committee, which suggests that 64 per cent of the Western Ghats be declared an ecologically sensitive area, more seriously. The sad truth is that these States have yet to accept even the Kasturirangan panel’s report on the same issue, which suggests a no-go zone for only 37 per cent of the Ghats region. The fact that Kerala and Karnataka went bone-dry last year after the deluge must be better understood and prevented.

Climate change has undeniably arrived, be it heat waves, super-cyclones, searing droughts and violent rain. Policies on development and water management are way behind the curve.

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