Devastation in coasts and hills underlines ecological fragility, calls for revisiting development paradigms

Synopsis: Whether in the Western Ghats or the Himalayas, there are pressing reasons for states to rethink development paradigms.

Introduction

This monsoon season has given ample evidence of extreme weather events. For instance,

In July, a fortnight of torrential rain left a trail of destruction in the mountains of north India and the coastal parts of Western India.

At least 20 people are feared to have lost their lives in another bout of floods in Uttarakhand.

In Kerala, incessant downpour in the past four days has swelled rivers and caused landslides, sweeping away homes, bridges and claiming at least 38 lives.

States require much more than emergency measures to address and mitigate such climate-related vulnerabilities.

Why hilly states are more vulnerable to climate changes?

The topography of most hilly regions makes them prone to landslides.

Deforestation, quarrying, road construction and other land-use changes that neglects ecology increase vulnerabilities of such areas during episodes of heavy rainfall.

That’s why several expert committees have advised utmost caution in implementing infrastructure projects in both the Himalayas and the Western Ghats.

– Madhav Gadgil committee: In 2011, the committee recommended that a roughly 1,30,000 sq km stretch spanning Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu be declared an environmentally sensitive zone. It called for strict regulation of developmental activities in this stretch.

– K Kasturirangan committee: It was a substantially diluted recommendations. It proposed to reduce the size of Western Ghats’ eco-sensitive zone by about half of what was earmarked by the Gadgil panel.

What was the response by the state governments?

None of the six states agreed with its recommendations. Kerala, in particular, objected to the proposed ban on mining, restrictions on construction activities and embargoes on hydroelectricity projects.

The substantially diluted recommendations of K Kasturirangan also did not get much traction in the Western Ghat states.

What needs to be done?

Greater coordination amongst forecasting agencies and reservoir management authorities: In recent years, state governments in most parts of the country have been criticised for taking disaster management decisions too late. For instance, opening up of reservoirs to avoid flooding. Dam operators blame the delay on not being alerted about extreme weather events in time. Hence, there’s a case for greater coordination amongst forecasting agencies and reservoir management authorities. This would ensure the timely opening of dam spillways and create holding capacity in the reservoirs to absorb excess rainfall.

Investments in disaster management systems: With studies and IPCC reports warning about more destructive floods caused by sea-level rise and high-intensity rainfall, India should not delay investments in disaster management systems.

Source: This post is based on the article “Devastation in coasts and hills underlines ecological fragility, calls for revisiting development paradigms” published in Indian Express on 20th October 2021.

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