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Kerala floods: Natural calamity? No, a man-made disaster

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Early Warning Signals and expert opinions
The beautiful land of Kerala has a lot of specialties connected to water. The Southern state has 580 Kms of coastal line and out of 14 districts 9 districts have a long coastal line stretching from north Kasargode to South Trivandrum which is one among the longest coastal lines among Indian States. Apart from that, Kerala has 44 rivers and a numerous lakes and back water reserves in the state. As you can see how the population of 3 million is spread very near to the water bodies. Even though Kerala has a 580 Kms long coastal line it has only 35-120 Kms of width from mountains to Arabian Sea. We have 44 Major Dams and 40 Small Check Dams which takes the tally to almost 84. There are 2 Major Monsoon season brings abundant rain to the state which ranges from 6 to 9 months sometimes, starting from May every year. My home is near to the beautiful river Periyar, near to Perumbavoor – Kalady and Aluva which was totally devastated in recent floods which never happened in last 90 years.

Why I mentioned the importance and vital data of the water bodies, rainfall and geographical structure of land is because we receive heavy rainfall every year via 2 monsoon seasons and there are enough water channels, rivers, canals, streams which can take the rainwater comfortably to the water bodies and eventually to Arabian Sea. Even along the longest stretch of 100 Kms right across the state, water may take only 4 to 5 hrs maximum to reach the Arabian sea, not more than that. Then what happened after August 14th night in Kerala? Who flooded the entire state of Kerala?

After August 12th Kerala Govt suddenly realized the magnitude of heavy rain crossing all the limits, which started in the beginning of May 2018, which filled all the dams already in Kerala to its full capacity by July 2018. The dams when reach its full capacity, if not opened and flown out, may explode and will be total disaster. All of a sudden Kerala Government opened 80 dams to the fully packed densely populated urban lands, which flooded all the rivers and all the water bodies in less than 4 hours. People living near the rivers went to sleep when everything was normal but woke up in the morning to water half their height inside the houses. The river water was flowing everywhere through the land areas of the cities. People had no choice other than abandoning the house and save their life. Lot of people got stranded as the water level rose to more than 5 ft in no time and people who went upstairs for safety got trapped as water surrounded everywhere so fast.

People had no idea that up to what level water will rise as the Govt didn’t issued any early warning to the people living in the catchment areas of water bodies or didn’t informed them to evacuate or to be ready to move out on emergency call, as per the protocol. They lost everything they saved in their life time, house, money, farm lands, assets, equipment, business, animals, vehicles, shops, stock. Within 24 hours of time 75% of Kerala was under water and the major big 38 dams were opened to the connected rivers. When people realized what is happening around, Kerala lost its connectivity by road, rail and air. Within a few hours electricity cut off completely and in another few hours people who were relentlessly trying for a safe route to escape, drained out their mobile phone batteries and lost all connection with the world. Now only option they were left with is to pray for their rescue.
Ask this question again. Who flooded the State of Kerala?

Facts are Facts:

The heavy rainfall started in Kerala in the month of May itself and was more than double the normal rate, state usually receives. The trend of heavy rainfall continued till the floods, covering 4 months of time. But the state failed to take actions to prevent the floods and avoiding huge collateral damage by forecasting the data on rainfall with the existing data on rainfall and early warning from the IMD (Indian Meteorology Dept ) throughout these 4 months. As per the data received from IMD dept , the rainfall from June 1st to August 24 was almost 200% higher than the previous year’s rainfall but before realizing that, everything swept away by the floods. The water level of almost all the dams in Kerala was almost full by the month of July itself. The data is again available in public domain as well as the Facebook post of Kerala Electricity Minister MM Mani. Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) owns and operates all the major dams in Kerala. Many experts advised the State right from June that if you don’t open the dams slowly during this continuing heavy rainfall, dams may reach its full capacity and it will be an out of control situation. The Government didn’t give ears to that expert opinion. So taking stock of the situation, we have to assume that all these major dams which opened together in 24 hours of time had not followed any Dam Management Policies as per the protocol nor they followed any Optimum Reservoir Water Management system to use the dam.

From the data received from the concerned departments and data pooled from the Facebook post of the Kerala Electricity Minister by the end of July, dams are almost up to full of its capacity during the mid-monsoon. The IMD already predicted very heavy rainfall in the coming days. The Dam Safety authority during its Press brief on August 7 defied any plan to open the dams due to safety issue and exactly one week after they opened all the big 38 dams in Kerala all together.

The Biggest dam in Kerala, Idukki dam has reached 2370 ft of water above sea level on July 20 itself. The radial shutters of the Cheruthoni Spillway of Idukki dam is at 2370 feet. When water crosses this level dam can be opened any time and you can spill the extra water and control the water level at an optimum capacity of the Dam. But the authorities including Kerala Govt and KSEB waited till the water reached its maximum capacity, ie 2403 ft to open all the 5 shutters of the dam together. Remember the dam has not opened all its shutters since 40 years since its inception. Idukki dam water will flow through river Periyar to reach Arabian Sea in 5 hours of time.

There was 2 more big dams in the river Periyar down the line after Idukki, ie Idamalayar and Bhothathakettu dams. So when you open Idukki dam you have to open the 2 dams first in full capacity so that the water from the biggest dam, Idukki wont hit the dams at lower stream and overflow those 2 dams. So in effect 3 dams opened together and water flown down to river Periyar in millions of lakhs litres of water per second. Water flow in river Periyar flooded towns like Kalady, Aluva and Kochi Airport in no time. Kochi Airport was shut for 15 days due to floods inside airport terminal.

Smilarly In Thrissur district which saw the wild mode of river when it changed its course which drowned the entire village of Karuvannur. Chalakudy town was drowned completely when Peringalkuthu Dam and Sholayar dam opened to river Chalakudy Puzha. When Sholayar dam opened and water came to Peringalkuthu dam, a much smaller Peringalkuthu dam couldn’t take the quantity of water came in suddenly. As a result Peringalkuthu dam overflowed to all the sides which resulted in a tragedy in nearby areas. Similarly when water from Peechi Dam and Chimminy dam opened to the course of river Kurumali and Manali River, the water flow was in such a heavy pace that river changed its course at many places to the villages and towns as the river banks couldn’t contain the pressure, force and flow of the water which came like never before. People stood astonished when they saw a river itself is coming through their fields and roads. They lost everything except their life. Thanks to Indian Navy , Army and Police.

Things were little different and scary at the worst flood hit district of Pathanamthitta. Areas like Chengannur, Pandanad, Aaranmula were completely submerged under the water for 3days. Now also life has not come to normal in these areas. The destruction happened and the worst calamity happened due to clear and visible mis-management of Pamba Dam and Kakki –Anathod dams. You might have seen the cry of the Changannur MLA Saji Cherian over Social Media to save his people; thousands are dying, seeking help from Army and Navy out there for rescue. But nobody will believe that, the dam increased its water flow at night time which flooded all these places and people didn’t even get time to escape at night.

This is totally against the dam management policies and protocols. Many people have been rescued after break opening the doors of the houses at night. No information passed on to people to move out from the banks of river Pamba by the authorities before releasing such a massive amount of water from the dams to the populated areas. The Army, Navy , NDRF teamsand Airforce conducted maximum rescue missions in these areas to save trapped stranded people.

The Banasura Sagar Dam in Wayanad District of North Kerala was opened even without informing the District authorities; forget people in the vicinity and catchment areas of the dams. Banasura Sagar dam in Kerala’s Wayanad district is the largest earthen dam in the country. Early on August 9, more than 1,000 people living near the dam woke up abruptly to find water gushing into their homes. When the water reached knee level, they scampered for safety, carrying children and elderly people in their arms.

Watching their neighborhoods go under water, the residents initially thought that the heavy rains that had been lashing Wayanad for a week were responsible for their homes being inundated. But they later discovered that the water had been released by the Banasura Sagar dam. The Kerala State Electricity Board, which manages the dam, had opened its water flow gates without giving any warning to residents of the area.

Experts speak:

Remember the dates, the man-made floods devastated Kerala from August 14 when dams across opened in one go. I will take you the comments of Mr. Muralee Thummarukudy, working as Head of United Nations Disaster Reduction Cell for the last 25 years of his career. He has seen all the major disasters in last two decades across the world closely as a part of his job. I am proud that he also belongs to Kerala and as well as from my home town. He is in very good relations with the Govt of Kerala and gave a speech also in the Kerala Assembly before the disaster, about Disaster handling and precautions. He is one of the most followed profiles in FB as far as Keralites are concerned. Even Celebrities, Ministers, Beaurocrats and other high profile people closely watches his profile and read his posts with regard to many subjects. That means he is a notable person in Social Media and also outside in the real world also.

Mr. Thummarukudy via his FB post on June 14 2018, reminded the state administration and people to take a note of the heavy rainfall in Kerala and the level of water in the major big dams. Water level of both are rising dangerously high and is alarming. He reminded that the Dam water may reach its maximum by next month July and we have to plan accordingly to release water step by step. As this is the mid of South West monsoon season in June, dam may again get further rainfall for electricity generation. So when considering the data received from the IMD Dept also, there is no worry of less water in the dams due to less rainfall. So start flowing out the water slowly so that the rivers can absorb it comfortably without any shock and take it to the sea without causing any harm to people around. No Government, No electricity board, no politicians listened to this expert opinion, when we had ample time to react.

Again on July 26 2018, he again warned the people and administration that the rain has crossed all limits and the water level of all the dams are now full. There should be storage optimization plan as per the dam management Policy Protocol. That should be implemented as soon as possible to avoid a disaster which is on its way if we don’t move swiftly. Nobody cared to listen to that. Who is responsible?

Once again on August 4 2018, the same expert in the domain of disaster reduction via his verified Facebook profile he explained the magnitude of danger awaiting inside the dams. He quoted the examples of 2010 Pakistan floods and Thailand Floods in 2011 which impacted the human life there miserably due to clear mismanagement of dams. The same thing can happen here also. He again reminded the authorities to hold a joint meeting immediately with Dam management authority, Dam Safety Authority of the State, Engineers, Water Reservoir Managers, Kerala State Electricity Borad, Ministers and District Administratons to discuss about the alarming situation which can drown half of Kerala in water anytime. If all these major 42 dams to be opened together it will be a total panic situation and may go out of the hands. But even on August 4 nobody took this serious warning. Who is responsible for that?

Now we will listen to the words of another expert in this area of operations.
JNU Professor Dr. Amita Singh Chairperson, Special Centre for Disaster Research revealing another shocking information with regard to Kerala Floods. She proved that Kerala Government administration totally ignored the EWS (Early Warning Systems). She says;
As the administrative machinery which was expected to do the following ie;
1. Map in advance the most vulnerable zones,
2. Streamline the most appropriate rescue operations,
3. Mark evacuation safety points,
4. Storage godowns for basic necessity foods and medicines,
5. Shelter platforms for animals and
6. Fast track GIS and meteorological possibilities of disasters through dams and landslides etc.

The administration was found having done nothing of the above. Interestingly, the early warning systems (EWS) forecasting was installed but overlooked wherever it could have been available. Both the human as well as the instrumental equipment side of the device was ill prepared. EWS is a mechanical system where technology takes over or performs the task of appropriate identification, detection and mobilization of action. The EWS succeeded in warning people but the trust deficit on one hand and governance deficits on the other hand failed appropriate response to the warning.

Kerala as the most developed state in India was systematically warned by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that despite its huge investment of 2.34 Crores in the LBEWS the state neglected the installations and repairs of installed EWS due to which 289 out of 351 EWSs were found non-functional. Therefore, EWS is just a bit of technology and largely a tool of governance which should be brought together in a network all stakeholders much prior to the disaster

Not only the above experts;
Indian Metro Man and renowned engineer Sri. E Sreedharan expressed his opinion that the Kerala Floods disaster happened due to improper handling and opening of all dams together during heavy rains. Three former Irrigation ministers of Kerala called a joint Press Conference and expressed their views regarding opening of dams which led to a catastrophic situation in Kerala and drowned lakhs of people overnight. Lot of people who are known personalities and experts in their area of study and work, put the same words that the mismanagement of dams and irresponsible attitude of Kerala government and authorities concerned played a major role in causing floods in Kerala.

IMD (Indian Meteorology Dept) Warning:

IMD issued clear warning signals regarding the heavy to very heavy rainfall in Kerala during the ongoing south west monsoon. On July almost all the mainstream Media reported the warning issued by IMD. The Indian Express heading on July 10, 2018 regarding the same was very alarming. “Brace for very heavy rainfall and thunderstorms, MET Dept warns Kerala”. So there was clear warning on continuing record rainfall, breaking all the early predictions and averages well before one month to prepare and take preventive measures to reduce the damage. But Government failed as usual. Again on August 9, 2018 IMD Dept issued a press release warning Kerala to be ready for a very heavy rainfall for the next 5 days. That also went in vein. Minister MM Mani who is charge of the dams, mocked that early warnings and said Dams are safe and we are not going to release water as we have to collect maximum rainwater for generating electricity. He said this a week before the disaster, that there is no plan to open the dams even though there was multiple warnings regarding heavy rainfall. So Is the disaster a Natural calamity or a failed administrative lapse?

Dreadful words of Electricity Minister of Kerala on Floods:

Electricity Minister MM Mani first came in limelight when for his crude words on political killing by CPIM. He said in a public meeting that they made a list of opponents and killed them one by one and explained the modus of operandi or murder also. This landed him in deep trouble. That was his introduction to the state politics from the hill range of Idukki District of Kerala. Now the same “Raw Man” of CPIM politician is a minister in charge of all these dams across the state controlled by Kerala State Electricity Board. What do you expect?

On August 8 When Press asked him why don’t KSEB open the dams as it has reached its full capacity. Idukki, the biggest of all dams has reached 2399 ft where the maximum capacity is 2403 ft, just 4 ft more. After all the rain is still strong and may turn fatal in couple of days. He just smiled and said, who will bring water to generate electricity, You? If there is power cut or load shedding in coming days when water fall short, you yourself will blame me for that. So we are not going to open the dam, whatever happenes. The dam is safe and no worries over that. May be because of lack of education or there is enough experts to advise him or out of adamant attitude, he rejected the demands and expert opinion to open the dam and start flowing out water slowly to avoid the damage.

On August 14th when the dams reached maximum level of water and there was a chance of overflow from the dam, the minister , KSEB and the dam safety authorities had no choice other than opening all the dams. And you know what happened in the next 5 days in Kerala. Half Kerala went inside water. And you will be amused to know what was his reaction when he opened the dams finally. He said “I am feeling happy when I see the dam is full under my rule and at the same time I am too worried that we are flowing out the water from the dams which we would have used to make electricity”. This was his words immediately after opening the dams. Its Surprising that, a minister of the state don’t know the range of calamity that can happen when all the dams are opened at the same time to populated areas where people living?

And today during the second week of September, he made a statement which was an abuse and mockery to the entire population of Kerala. He said, When it is flooding quiet a lot of people will die and lot of people will survive, its natural. Do you agree with these words from a Minister who is primarily answerable for the floods happened in Kerala? Can you believe a minister of the state said the above words? Will this be the reaction of the media if some minister from some other state said the same?

Demand probe and inquiry:

The National Disaster Management Authority should conduct an expert panel inquiry with regard to the policy and protocol violation in opening the dams during heavy rains which caused the worst calamity of the century in Kerala. The early warning signals and the opinions of the experts were completely dropped out. No necessary care was taken by the government authorities to evacuate and inform the people living in the catchment area of the connected rivers before opening the dams. The culprits who flooded the state, killed hundreds of people and made loss to assets worth crores should be brought in front and give model punishment for not performing their duties. The PMO should intervene in this mass murder and issue an order for scientific expert panel probe in this issue.

Viswaraj Viswa
Kochi, Kerala
Mob : 8007628862

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