‘We’ll be responsible for future disasters if we don’t protect the Western Ghats’: VS Achuthanandan

Former Kerala CM VS Achuthanandan. (File)

Former Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan Thursday called for emergency measures to stop the exploitation of the Western Ghats so as to prevent future natural disasters in the state. The state is in the throes of consecutive years of floods and landslides following torrential rainfall during the southwest monsoon. This year, over 110 people have been killed in rain-related incidents, of which a majority have been killed in landslides in Meppadi and Kavalappara, villages located in the Western Ghats.

Achuthanandan, veteran CPM leader who served as the state’s CM between 2006 and 2011, in a Facebook post, said there are numerous reports submitted by experts on the state’s environmental fragility including that of Madhav Gadgil, a reputed academic-ecologist. Gadgil had headed the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) which submitted a 552-page report with various recommendations for the protection of the Ghats. But Gadgil’s report has not been implemented by any of the state governments.

Rescue operations at the site of a landslide in Puthumala at Wayanad, Kerala. (Express photo)

Achuthanandan’s Facebook post read, "That filling of paddy-fields, breaking down hills, uncontrolled quarrying, construction of check dams on top of hills are the reasons for Kerala’s disasters is known to even small kids. People have reasons to believe that public representatives have still not understood the impact of such actions."

He continued, "When the governments themselves dilute provisions in the Paddy Land and Wetland Act, give approval to quarrying activities and illegal construction activities, people naturally become helpless. It is reassuring that quarrying has been banned now in areas where landslides have been reported. But we must not forget that it was because approvals were given that there are quarries there, and now disaster has struck."

With the premises flooded, devotees leave Muthappan Temple in Kannur on a fishing boat. (Express photo by S K Mohan)

The former chief minister, who has batted for protection of the environment during his term as well as when he played the role of the opposition leader between 2011 and 2016, said governments and people must not wait for another round of floods to start protecting the Ghats. Quarries must be at least 200 metres away from residential areas, strict ban must be enforced on development activities in eco-sensitive areas and check dams and other illegal structures must be removed from the top of hills.

"There is a public demand to implement the recommendations of the Gadgil report. We will be held responsible for all future disasters if we do not urgently begin to act on the exploitation of the Western Ghats," his post said.