The Big Story: Monsoon log

Over the last few days, torrential south-west monsoon rains have left a trail of destruction across Kerala. Since Wednesday, as many as 22 people have died and four have gone missing in rain-related incidents. The gates of 22 major reservoirs, including the giant Idukki reservoir that can store up to a height of 2,403 feet, have been opened after water levels threatened to breach the maximum storage capacity.

Floods have drowned hundreds of villages and towns, while landslides have destroyed roads, houses and farms. Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force, Army and Navy are being deployed for rescue operations. The bleak situation may continue for a couple of days as the meteorological department on Thursday issued a red alert to at least five districts for August 10 to August 13. A red alert is issued if heavy rainfall of between 12 cm to 20 cm is expected within a 24-hour period in a particular area. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday described the situation as “grave”.

According to the data from the Indian Meteorological Department, Kerala received 1,739.4 mm rainfall from June 1 to August 8 against the normal of 1,508.2 mm – 15% more than the normal rainfall till Wednesday. All Kerala’s 14 districts, barring Kasargod and Thrissur, received excess rain.While such downpour has been a major cause for the destruction, it is not the only one.

The majority of the human casualties have been caused by landslides. Of the 22 deaths reported on Wednesday, 20 people were crushed to death when boulders from cliffs fell on their homes. Unregulated construction in the guise of development has contributed significantly to the situation. The chance of landslides increases when human intervention such as constructing high rises, stone quarrying and building roads become rampant. The use of explosives to blast through rocks in quarries is another factor. A recent study conducted by scientists TV Sajeev and CJ Alex of the Kerala Forest Research Institute found that there were 5,924 big, medium and small quarries in Kerala.

The state has also witnessed unprecedented flooding thanks to the indiscriminate reclamation of lakes and paddy fields. This had blocked many waterways, preventing water from draining freely into the sea. In the third week of July, flooding drove 170,000 people in Kuttanad in Alappuzha district to government-run relief camps. A report by renowned scientist MS Swaminathan had blamed the floods on unplanned road laying across the region, with no regard to the direction of water flow. The government contributed to an environmental disaster recently when it brought a legislation that made it easier to reclaim land for infrastructure projects that “benefit the public” – a sweeping term open to cynical misinterpretation. Environmentalists claimed the legislation would devastate paddy fields and wetlands.

The monsoon has compounded the miseries of people who live on the sea shore as giant waves battered their villages and homes. The disappearance of beaches is a huge cause of concern in a state where the coast is mainly protected by sea walls, groynes and breakwaters. However, experts have warned that these man-made structures actually exacerbate beach erosion and do not provide a long-term solution for the problem.

Governments always act when disasters strike. But what residents need is long-term plans to reduce quarrying, land reclamation and stopping the construction of man-made structures along the coast to prevent future monsoon miseries.

The Big Scroll

  • Why landslides continue to wreak havoc in Kerala during the monsoon.
  • In Kerala’s monsoon-ravaged Kuttanad, recalling a failed project to make the region flood-free.
  • Kerala’s altered conservation law will decimate its paddy fields and wetlands, critics say.


  1. “India’s graft system was not as orderly as it used to be in Malaysia or South Korea,” writes James Crabtree in the Hindustan Times. “But for a few years in the mid-2000s it just about worked, until the wheels fell.”
  2. Scrapping of the special laws would close the last opening for reconciliation in Kashmir and therefore in South Asia,” writes Naeem Akhtar in the Indian Express. “Handing out a final defeat to people of the state at the hands of their own country would come in a situation where even status quo could mean victory for them.”
  3. “All nationwide surveys under the government of India, including the Census, the National Family Health Survey and evaluation reports by the drinking water and sanitation ministry, either made no distinction between the use of toilets and their construction, or did not include usage as a metric,” writes Pritha Chaterjee in the Print.


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