October fury: Opposition blames poor response, govt says events beyond prediction

Thiruvananthapuram: As expected, when the Assembly resumed sitting on Monday, the Opposition UDF blamed the government for poor disaster response.

The government, in turn, said the cyclonic circulation over the Arabian Sea that eventually wreaked havoc over Central Kerala could not be predicted even by global forecasters and claimed that it had done everything in its power to mitigate the consequences.

Revenue Minister K Rajan said that unexpected extreme heavy rainfall happened over Kokkayar in Idukki and Koottikkal in Kottayam on October 16. "Leave alone 'red', there were no 'orange' alerts even for both these regions even at 8 a.m. on October 16," Rajan told the Assembly on Monday.

Later, Opposition Leader V D Satheesan contradicted the minister saying that the Thrissur District Collector had issued a warning on October 14 saying that the cyclonic formation over the Arabian Sea was deviating from its usual course and moving towards Kerala.

The Revenue Minister had said that the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had assigned only 'green' or 'yellow' alerts, the lowest ones, for districts like Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta that turned out to be the most affected.

Satheesan countered this, too, saying that right on the first page of the IMD report released on October 12 had stated that there would be heavy rains in Kerala on October 15, 16 and 17. "The IMD forecast is not precise. It is up to us to analyse the warnings they put out, " Satheesan said, and added: "The State Disaster Management Authority has a meteorological wing. What were they doing about the information that the cyclonic formation was straying from its defined course put out by the IMD on October 8 itself."

Congress MLA Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who raised the issue as an adjournment motion in the Assembly, hurled a battery of questions.

One, has the government built any of the 17 cyclone shelters Kerala was allotted under the National Cyclone Risk Management Programme. "Why were shelters not constructed in places like Kokkayar and Koottikkal, " he asked.

Two, has the government provided disaster-preparedness training in vulnerable areas. "The training was supposed to be done by Kerala Institute of Local Administration. Were the funds transferred to KILA, " he asked.

Three, has the government implemented any of the recommendations put forward by the Post Disaster Needs Assessment drawn up by the United Nations after the 2018 floods.

Four, has the government carried out flood mapping, an urgent activity to mark the areas a river would inundate when water levels rise up in an incremental manner.

Rajan responded to none except the first question about cyclone shelters. He said 10 of the 17 cyclone shelters were completed. He also said as per the Central programme, the shelters were only for coastal areas and not for high ranges like Koottikkal and Kokkayar.

The Opposition leader had yet another question. He wanted to know why the government had failed to implement any of the measures suggested to prevent extreme rainfall events by an expert committee constituted by the Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment (KSCSTE).

"If you had no intention of listening to its findings why did you constitute such a committee in the first place, " Satheesan said.

The Revenue Minister, while arguing that the tragedy could not be anticipated, said that Kokkayar and Koottikkal were marked as only moderately-prone in the landslide vulnerability map prepared by National Centre for Earth Science Studies (NCESS). Satheesan said that the map was drawn up way back in 2009. "Given the frequency of landslides, the government should have taken the initiative to redraw the landslide map, " Satheesan said.

To emphasise the urgency of a revised vulnerability map, the Opposition Leader said over 900 landslides had taken place in Idukki alone in the last four years. "After 2018, the LDF government had sanctioned 233 quarries. Reality is, only one-tenth of existing 6000-odd quarries in Kerala possess a valid licence, " he said.

Satheesan also alleged that despite the consecutive disasters the government had not taken any steps to upgrade Kerala's warning system, disaster mitigation mechanism and rescue protocols.

Apparently unsatisfied with the government response, the Opposition staged a walkout in the Assembly.

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