Continuous heavy rains that lashed coastal and parts of interior Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra over the last two weeks have flooded many areas throwing normal life out of gear. Across the three states, thousands of houses have been inundated and lakhs of people have been affected. Daily life has become difficult as provisions and food items have been in short supply. Power lines have been cut. Potable water has become scarce in many villages due to flood water. As the medical emergency stares at the affected population, the government and medical help groups are gearing up to provide required medical aid to the affected people.
In Karnataka, parts of Dakshin Kannada, Kodagu, Belgaum and Chikmagalur have been the worst affected and have witnessed heavy to very heavy rainfall over the last one week. Schools and colleges have been shut. Nearly 50 people have lost their lives with more than 15 people missing. Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Karnataka CM Yediyurappa and a team of government officials have toured the affected regions in North Karnataka and promised all help. In Karnataka alone, 6 lakh 73 thousand people have been evacuated. A total of 50, 595 animals have been rescued. 1224 relief camps have been operating across 17 affected districts. The data provided by the CM Office says that 2,738 villages have been affected in the state with a crop loss across 4.30 lakh hectares. 40,523 houses have been damaged in the rains and ensuing floods so far.
In Maharashtra, coastal areas and the region between Sangli and Satara have been worst affected. More than 30 people have lost their lives with nearly 10 people reported missing. Damages to homes, crops and properties have been immense. Government reports say that 105 rescue teams are currently on ground zero. These include the National Disaster and Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guards and other agencies. The extent of the devastation is so huge that just in 5 districts of Pune region, over four lakh people have been evacuated to safer places due to floods. More than 200 roads and 94 bridges were closed in the division due to flood and landslides. More than 300 medical teams are working in Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara districts. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on August 10 visited flood-affected Kolhapur and Sangli, to take stock of the situation. 85 teams of National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Force, Territorial Army, Indian Navy and Indian Army are currently deployed in Sangli and Kolhapur districts for rescue efforts.
Kerala, which suffered its worst floods in a century in 2018, is under a deluge again this year. Last year, the blame for the flooding was on improper management of water released from dams. This year, however, though the water levels are much lower, many parts of Kerala have been submerged, which indicate improper town planning and ravaging nature in the name of development. More than 80 people have lost their lives and nearly 50 have been reported to be missing. A total of 83 NDRF teams were deployed in addition to the 173 teams of Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard to take part in the relief operations. They are helping people to be relocated to safer places and are also providing food, essential items and medicines to those who are stranded. In Kerala, over 2.51 lakh people have taken shelter in 1,639 relief camps.
Reports from the affected regions especially in Karnataka and Kerala indicate that rampant construction activities, sand mining, deforestation, settlements along the river basin have been the primary causes for the loss of life and property in these floods. Most of the areas that have been inundated have been river banks, closer to erstwhile lakes, closer to areas where sand mining or heavy constructions have occurred in the last few years. Environmental experts like Prof. Madhav Gadgil have repeatedly warned that unless we respect nature, nature will not spare us. The floods this year again have a lesson for us and will spare us in the future only if we are willing to learn.
Relief by RSS Swayamsevaks
Hundreds of RSS swayamsevaks have been rendering continuous service in the areas that have been affected by these floods. From evacuating people to safer places to providing food and necessary items, the Swayamsevaks have turned out to be angels for the distressed.
Relief centres have been opened by Sewa Bharati, which have been providing both food and shelter to the affected. The Swayamsevaks are also providing clothes, food, medicines and first aid kits to the affected people in Belagavi. The Swayamsevaks in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka are also working round the clock to aid the affected people. Several relief centres have been started in Gokak, Kumta, Ankola and Karwar.
A life dedicated to Sewa ended doing Sewa
RSS Mysuru Mahanagar Sampark Pramukh and former ABVP functionary Sri Ravi Kumar passed away in a road accident on August 11. He was 43. He was a public relation officer in Maharaja Institute of Technology in Mysuru. He was returning after distributing flood relief materials to affected victims of Savadatti in Belagavi district of Karnataka. He leaves behind his wife and two young daughters.
Ravi Kumar along with other volunteers had been rendering service to rain-hit places in Uttara Kannada district. They had collected relief materials and had been distributing the same in the affected areas in and around Belagavi for several days. On August 10, after delivering the essential items at the relief centres, the group was returning to Mysuru when their vehicle collided with a transport vehicle. Ravikumar who was injured badly was rushed to a hospital in Sirsi but doctors declared him brought dead. Four of his friends who were injured were admitted to the hospital.
Ravi Kumar, a resident of Pavagada had dedicated himself to the cause of Dharma and Sewa. A full-time volunteer of the ABVP for a long time, he was instrumental in expanding the reach of the organisation is several spheres especially Sewa related activities. Ravi also excelled in his profession and was the only point of contact for all the students in the college.
Many who knew Ravi recalled their association with him and condoled his death as a huge loss for the Sangh and Sewa activities. ABVP karyakartas too paid homage to their former colleague in Bengaluru. He was the sole breadwinner for his family and hence few concerned individuals are now raising funds through a crowdfunding platform online.
Continuous rains had damaged roads and areas around Dharwad were submerged. Trucks were thus stranded which left the drivers nowhere to go. As soon as this information reached the RSS Karyalaya in Dharwad, a team of swayamsevaks was formed who then organised packets of food, water and snacks. The team reached the outskirts of the town where the drivers were stranded. The swayamsevaks served lunch, water, snacks and biscuits to hundreds of truck drivers stranded on the outskirts of Dharwad city every day until the roads were cleared. One driver from Punjab who received the much-needed aid from the swayamsevaks said, “We were stuck here for three days. But you people (swayamsevaks) did not allow us to go hungry for even a single day and helped us every day”.
Farmers have been the worst affected. In Gadag, the Raitha Kendra (Krushi Bhavan) was also partially submerged and all agricultural activities came to a halt. As soon as the rains abated, RSS swayamsevaks cleaned and repaired the premises of Raitha Kendra at Konnur in Nargund Taluk of Gadag, Karnataka so that the farmers could start their activities.
In Kerala, RSS swayamsevaks and volunteers of Sewa Bharati were engaged in rescue works at several affected areas. In Poothumala in Wayanad, Kerala floods caused heavy devastation and houses, roads and properties were submerged. People were unable to even move outside to fetch items for their daily needs. Hundreds of swayamsevaks came together with required tools and along with the local citizens removed the debris and mud that had collected. The effort of two days resulted in the villagers being able to move around and reclaim their lost valuables. The work of the swayamsevaks was lauded by all including the police and the administration.
Kerala floods made worse due to damage to Western Ghats
A few years ago, an officer of the Kerala Forest Department was transferred out for pointing out the rampant rubber plantations done by the Church in the Western Ghats. He had highlighted the dangers of continuing the same. Instead of heeding to his advice, the Kerala CM under pressure from Church groups had castigated him publicly and transferred him.
We know what happened in Kerala last year. The devastation caused was the biggest in 100 years. The situation this year is grave and the areas affected are those where sand mining, quarrying and illegal construction are the highest.
A report from the government on the recent floods clearly says that nearly 30 people have been killed from the 83 landslides. Today, Kerala has a total of 5,924 quarries, an average of six quarries per Panchayat, of which 3,332 are in the ecologically sensitive zones identified by the Gadgil Report. The report indicates that a total of 56% of the quarries are in fragile spots in the Western Ghats, making them prone to landslides. Massive constructions have destroyed the slope of the hills and changed the course of rivers.
For instance, all the tributaries of the Panamaram River in Wayanad have been reclaimed and the water has nowhere to go. Incidentally, Wayanad is one of the districts most affected by the floods this year. The fragmentation of forests is another reason causing natural degradation and affecting the natural flow of water. A report suggests that Wayanad district has witnessed a change in temperature of 2-3 degrees in less than a decade which usually takes several centuries. Experts say that if destruction goes unchecked, future floods could bring bigger disasters.
Indications of natural disasters had been there for long for Kerala. But the governments chose to ignore it, including sane voices within their own governments. Congress MLA PT Thomas had warned the Church over unchecked construction on the Ghats. His concerns were brushed aside by the earlier Congress government in Kerala. But Thomas had continued to raise his voice against illegal constructions in forest areas. One of his recent meetings to educate people on environment degradation was disrupted by local Church priests. They also humiliated him by taking out his mock ‘Funeral procession’! Someone should tell the Church priests that Jesus will not be happy at the sins of his children committed on nature.
The tribal region of Kerala has been affected this year too and the government team is yet to reach here to provide succor to the affected families. Sewa Bharati, which is already rendering social service in the area, was the first to reach here and provide relief to the affected. When the news of flooding in the area reached Sewa Bharati, a team of 46 RSS swayamsevaks and Sewa Bharati volunteers was formed. Required relief materials were provisioned. Despite the access to the area being difficult, the volunteers crossed the Bhavani River at Attappadi and distributed essential food items and daily need materials to 32 Tribal families of the remote villages in the region.