Central Water Commission recently released its study report on the Kerala Floods of August 2018. The report has squarely blamed the unusually heavy rain pouring for these floods. The report is contradictory in reaching the conclusion that dams had played no role in these floods. For corroborating its inference, the CWC report has given runoff computations of following sub-basins, namely – Periyar, Idukki, Pamba, Idamalayar, Kakki, Chalakudy, Bharathapuzha, Kabini and Combined runoff of Pamba, Manimala, Meenachil and Achenkovil. It has also discussed the reservoir operations of Idukki, Idamalayar, and Kakki dams as well as those built on the rivers named above.

First and foremost, there is no disagreement about the unusually exceptional rainfall in Kerala during the aforesaid period. But one is surprised to see that the report has conveniently overlooked the fact that all gates of 31 dams were open during these floods, coinciding with the exceptionally high rainfall. It may be recalled that there are more than 60 dams in a small state like Kerala.

Regarding the dam operations during these floods, the report candidly admits – “… most of the dams were already at FRL or very close to FRL on 14 August 2018, due to more than normal rainfall in the months of June to July 2018..” and on this basis makes its now infamous inference – “From the analysis it has been found that the dams in Kerala neither added to the flood nor helped in reduction of flood…

In India, the nomenclature of dam being a multi-purpose dam is an outright myth, perpetuated by the dam building lobby having vested interests. For the purpose of irrigation, dam operation require timely and frequent releases for irrigating the field, whereas for maximising energy production, water-level in the dam has to be kept at the maximum. These basic contradictory reservoir operations expose the myth of multipurpose dam.

And this is precisely what has happened during the Kerala floods. The water levels were maintained to the highest possible height in order to maximize electricity production hence there was no cushion for flood protection. When the heavy rain-pouring occurred, in panic all the gates of 31 dams too were opened – for dam safety and not for the safety from the floods – which worsened the situation manifold.

Here one can also not overlook the recommendation of the Madhav Gadgil Committee on Western Ghats, which recommended marking 67% of the Western Ghats under Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ), further subdividing it into 3 sub zones – ESZ1, ESZ2 and ESZ 3. It recommended that no new dams based on large scale storage be permitted in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1, indefinite moratorium on new environmental clearances for mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zones 1 and 2, a phasing out of mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 1 by 2016 and continuation of existing mining in Ecologically Sensitive Zone 2 under strict regulation with an effective system of social audit.

The central government, told the National Green Tribunal that it would not follow the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil report on Western Ghats. The scrapping of the Gadgil report is not entirely unexpected from the government given its attitude to put a certain sort of development ahead of environment. What the scrapping of the recommendation of the report also does is re-emphasise the rivalry between environment and development. The government almost gives a sense that it has chosen growth and development over other concerns.

Subsequently, government appointed another committee headed by Kasturirangan whose report sought to bring just 37% of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) zones — down from the 64% suggested by the Gadgil report. And obviously this report was accepted by the government.

Since forest are known as the provenance of water, world-over, massive deforestation, coupled with intense construction activities in the Western Ghats, drastically curtailed the potential of nature to play its role in absorbing water and save resident population from the fury of rains. River water is a natural system and essentially required a natural environ for its smooth functioning and unwanted intrusion in the existing ecological-environmental equilibrium will follow Newton’s Law – every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction.

Yet, the report unashamedly recommends – “In basins like Periyar, Pamba and Achenkovil basins, Kerala should explore the possibilities of creating suitable storage reservoirs, wherever feasible, for flood moderation and other multipurpose uses.”  Obviously, this report is an exercise in hoodwinking public at large, effort towards self-appreciating and doing business as usually expected from the government entities.

In contemporary times of churning climate change, the extreme weather events are likely to increase many times in future not so distant, yet establishment seems to have closed its eyes to deal with the threats looming on the horizon. The question is – who will wake this sleeping elephant?

Arun Kumar Singh

Click to read the CWC Report on Kerala Floods August 2018