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Kerala Oppn, experts question Centre, state on dam management

By Shine Jacob
October 26, 2021 13:08 IST
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Poor dam management was considered as a major reason for the 2018 floods in the state that led to a loss of around Rs 50,000 crore and claimed as many as 483 lives, reports Shine Jacob.

At a time when floods and landslides have claimed more than 35 lives in Kerala, the Opposition and environmental experts are again pointing fingers at the dam management citing the state and the Centre have not learnt from the mistakes in 2018.

Image used for representational purpose only. Photograph: ANI Photo

Poor dam management was considered as a major reason for the 2018 floods in the state that led to a loss of around Rs 50,000 crore and claimed as many as 483 lives.

 

On October 18, Idukki’s member of Parliament Dean Kuriakose had asked the state government to empty the water in the Idukki dam, the largest dam in the state, before the onset of more rains which were expected by the end of the week.

While experts are ringing alarm bells too, state water resources minister Roshy Agustine said that the government was taking proper measures, giving advance alerts and leading evacuation, taking a cue from the 2018 experience.

Red alerts were issued in at least 10 dams in the state on October 18 itself, while the government had said that it might open the Idukki dam soon. On October 19, the authorities had opened three shutters of the dam one after another from 11 am.

Idukki and Kottayam districts are the worst affected -- with 13 deaths being reported from Kottayam and nine from Idukki -- due to floods and landslide-related incidents this month. As on October 17, the water inflow to the major 16 dams in the state was seen at 3,790.35 MU, at least 3 per cent higher than 3,682.5 MU during the same period the previous year.

According to the central water commission, Kerala has a total of 61 dams and out of them, over 30 are operated by the Kerala State Electricity Board and the rest by the irrigation department. It was alleged in 2018 that for both these departments, the priority was using the water for electricity and irrigation rather than flood control.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People, said that the governments at the Centre and the state had not learnt from the 2018 mistakes.

“They should not wait till the last moment or red alert to release water from the dams, especially when you are aware that further rains are coming. In addition, though some data on water level in Kerala dams are available to the public, there is no accountability,” Thakkar told Business Standard.

Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan had raised questions too as to why the state did not act, despite the India meteorological department warning.

The state has received more than 445 mm rainfall in October so far, which is around 140 per cent higher than 184 mm received during the same period the previous year. There was heavy rainfall in the many parts of the state on Saturday due to a fresh spell of easterly winds from the Bay of Bengal.

When asked about this, R Ramkumar, a member of the state planning board in charge of flood control, said that the state is following protocols defined by the central water commission.

“We are following strictly the protocol for the dam management. In 2018, since it was for the first time, we might have had some confusion. Now, before opening dams we alert people when the water will reach the downstream and also release water in a limited way,” Ramkumar said.

"The recent floods in Kerala and Assam are yet another example of climate extreme anomalies ravaging lives and livelihoods. There has been a four-fold increase in floods and a two-fold increase in landslide events in Kerala in the recent decades. Unsustainable landscape planning in the Western Ghats has led to a 42 percent loss in wetlands and forests, among others, thereby intensifying these climate extremes,” said Abinash Mohanty, programme lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

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Shine Jacob in Chennai
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