By and large, the Western Ghats have been subjected to rapid erosion of natural capital with the building up of man-made capital, regrettably imposing excessive, unnecessary environmental damage in the process, accompanied by a degradation of social capital as well”.
— Report of the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Part I, Submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, August 31, 2011
Kerala has seen the unprecedented dance of death to the flood fury. Hundreds of people lost their lives; lakhs are stranded or have taken shelter in the relief camps and the material losses of how many thousand crores is still to be estimated. Whether somebody declares it or not, it is a national calamity, and there is a need to stand up in the reconstruction process. While doing so, what kind of Kerala we want to built also should be kept in mind, so that we would not have to face the similar disaster again.
The reconstruction process of Kerala should not be discussed in a partisan manner. As we have been showing in all the disasters and tragedies, it is ‘we, the people’ who have to come forward in the reconstruction process. While doing so we should not forget the role of usual and unsung saviours like Army Jawans, NDRF teams, Swayamsevaks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the volunteers of the Sewa Bharati, in the case of coastal areas – the fisherman community and many more heroes who directly and indirectly contributed in the rescue operations. We should not just be grateful to them, but they should inspire us to join the relief and rehabilitation programmes in whichever capacity we can. The way entire Kerala, irrespective of caste, community or political differences came forward to hold each other’s hand should be seen as the real spirit Bharat. The way other States – both Governments and people – are coming forward for help is really commendable, but with the receding water, the medical and material help will require with greater quantity and different nature, which we will have to coordinate skilfully under the expert and experienced guidance.
The controversy related to the foreign aid for rehabilitation is unnecessary, as no official communication is there regarding such an offer. More importantly, we as a nation are capable enough regarding resources – material and human – to rebuild parts of our motherland. Besides this, the whole discussion about North vs South or narrative against the discrimination by the Union Government or the campaign against the armed forces is nothing but the concocted attempts by the same breaking-Bharat forces. We should not just expose them but also sensitise our brothers and sisters in Kerala about such a sinister plot. The rebuilding cannot happen on divisive binaries. United we stand, divided we fall is the basic and simple rule in the times of devastation.
Most importantly, in the reconstruction process, we should keep this in mind that the much celebrated so-called Kerala Model of Development was somewhere wrong and there is a need for immediate rectification. You cannot rebuild Kerala on the same parameters of development that led to this devastation. As the Madhav Gadgil committee report mentioned, “The Western Ghats are a veritable water tower of the Indian Peninsula and therefore the source of numerous east- and west-flowing streams. Evidently the entire Western Ghats region must be considered as ecologically sensitive for preserving the geological and hydrological features which are critical for the sustainability of the river sources of the Indian Peninsula”. In Kerala, dams are without dispute the most direct modifiers of river flows and the biggest Idukki Dam is the classic example where the catchment area is encroached, which led to the major devastation. The dregs in the dams have not been cleared for the years, and that has reduced the storage capacity of the dams, the greed to increase the electricity production has led to the politicisation of the expert opinion. All these factors, along with respect for indigenous ethos and ecosystem, should be taken into consideration while building a new Kerala.
The reconstruction of Kerala is going to decide not just the present population, not just the life of people in the entire Western Ghats but also the prospects for future generations. Therefore, non-discriminatory distribution, human rehabilitation and ecosystem-centric development are the key factors we should keep in mind while rebuilding Kerala.