Ernakulam: A political blame game has begun in flood-hit Kerala, with the opposition blaming the government’s dam operations for the calamity.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress led the attack on Wednesday, alleging that the government was primarily responsible for the floods, and not the rains. “This is the result of unscientific shutter operations of various dams, and opening them without proper alert." The Congress leader also demanded a judicial inquiry into the issue.

Chennithala said it rained less in Kerala in 2018 than in 1924, when the state was devastated by floods. However, the damage in 2018 was far more than that in 1924, he claimed.

The floods killed 231 people, and forced more than one million people to move to safer zones, leaving behind a trail of destruction that is officially estimated to be around 20,000 crore.

Mint had reported on 21 August that Kerala’s floods highlight India’s poor dam management. Had the dam reservoirs in Kerala been emptied ahead of the onset of monsoon rains, damages from the floods would have been lower.

The report had also pointed out that more than half of Kerala’s dams (57%) are hydroelectric projects operated by the Kerala State Electricity Board. The rest are operated by the irrigation department. For both entities, the amount of water stored is motivated by demand for electricity and irrigation, rather than flood-control measures.

Earlier, environmentalist Madhav Gadgil, who was tasked to write a 2011 report to save the Western Ghats, had also alleged that man-made factors had contributed to the disaster. Unchecked quarrying and construction in ecologically weaker areas contributed to the damage, he added.

Chennithala attacked officials of the Kerala State Electricity Board for trying to reap maximum profit by generating more power, even as the situation was getting out of hand. In mid-July, all dams were 90% full. KSEB and the government ignored the warnings, he alleged.

Allegations have also surfaced that the three shutters of Banasura Sagar dam in Wayanad district were opened without even informing the district collector.

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) Wayanad district secretary P. Gagarin said there were complaints that people were not informed initially, but in the second phase, enough warnings had been given asking people to shift to safer places. “No one has lost life due to rise in water levels. Some deaths had occurred due to landslides."

The Aliyar dam in Upper Sholayar was opened by Tamil Nadu without warning, thus flooding many parts of Thrissur and Chalakudy, while there are charges that no red alert was sounded before the dams of the Sabarigiri scheme were opened, resulting in severe flooding.

However, dam safety chairman C.N. Ramachandran Nair said that the allegations were “baseless". “Everyone knows water was rising in the reservoirs and rivers were in spate. Now the allegations are being levelled only for the sake of blaming somebody."

KSEB chairman K.P. Sreedharan Nair also denied the allegations and said there was no lapse on part of the board, adding the dams were opened after enough alerts. There was no point in blaming the board for opening of the dams as most of the rivers were overflowing due to heavy rains, he added.

On Wednesday evening, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the opposition allegations “baseless" in a press meet, and said the dams cannot be blamed for the floods, as Kerala received exorbitantly more rainfall in this phase of the monsoon.

“Between 1st and 19th of August, Kerala received 788.6mm rains compared to the average 287.5mm. In Idukki alone there was a 617% increase in rains. Chennithala has compared the annual rainfall over the year in 1924 to the season’s monsoon in 2018, how is that a fair comparison? Plus in 1924, Kerala had only one dam. In 2018, we have 82 dams, including 44 major ones. Chennithala himself has written in his previous Facebook posts on the adequate warnings given when each of these dams were opened," Vijayan said.

He blamed the sudden increase in velocity of the rains as the reason for not being able to lower dam levels long before the rains peaked.

“Before 8 August, we received only 13.8mm. On 8 August, rains increased to 128.6mm. It continued on 8th and 9th and by 16th it increased to 295 mm. This is one-third of Kerala’s average rainfall, within four days," he said. “It was not the dam spills, the natural rains was the main factor for the floods."

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