Dam disclosures: on the Kerala floods -Ramesh Chennithala
The deluge in Kerala was made worse by inefficient management of 34 dams
The people of Kerala have braved the worst calamity since the great flood of 1924. The floodwaters have receded from most of the affected areas barring Kuttanad. Most people have gone back to their homes from relief camps, only to find them battered beyond redemption. As the State is coming back to a “new normal” after the devastation, it is time to ponder on the reasons for the floods.
Rubbishing the contention from the Opposition as well as studies from international experts that the mismanagement of dams was the primary reason for the floods, the Kerala government has stood firm that incessant rainfall in August is what caused the floods. This is in contrast to the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the Chief Secretary of Kerala, which cited the water released from a dam as the major cause of the floods. While there was considerable deviation in rainfall in August, it is unacceptable to put the onus only on that. In fact, according to a India Meteorological Department study, the rainfall in August was only the sixth highest in the past 143 years (1875-2017) in Kerala.
Mismanagement of dams
One of the major functions of dams is flood protection — to attenuate the flow of water and its impact downstream. The golden rule followed in dam management is to maintain a flood cushion (buffer) in case of unexpectedly high rainfall.
Kerala has 39 major dams. Their maintenance is shared between the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and the Water Resources Department. They had all reached their full reservoir level by July-end, and were thus incapable of containing the water flow from torrential rainfall in August. This forced the State government to open the gates of 34 major dams, thereby submerging all the major towns downstream.
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