Kerala, After The Flood: For rehabilitation efforts to bear fruit, state's developmental policies need drastic changes

Editor's note: Described as one of the worst since 1924 by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the rains in Kerala have left over 350 dead and rendered thousands of people homeless. According to the latest tally, 80,000 have been rescued so far. Over 1,500 relief camps have been set up across the state that currently house at least 2,23,139 people. In a multi-part series, Firstpost will attempt to analyse the short-term and long-term impact of these unprecedented floods on the lives of the people, economy of the state, and the environment.

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After the catastrophic floods in Kerala over the past month, the rehabilitation and reconstruction work that is required now are the biggest developmental challenges the state has ever had to face. However, the developmental policy that both the Left and Congress followed in the past may be an impediment in the process, as unlike after the tsunami in 2004 and Ockhi cyclone last year, the floods affected the whole of Kerala, and not just pockets. It's clear that a simple, locally-focused rehabilitation plan will not work in this case.

The deluge caused an estimated loss of Rs 20,000 crore. Given the scale of the losses incurred, CARE Ratings has revised its figures for Kerala's economic state for the current financial year and has predicted a 1 percent decline in its State Domestic Product. The agency's prediction is likely to be on point, given the trade losses the state has faced with regard to Onam celebrations this year. Also, it must be noted that Kerala's capability in post-disaster rehabilitation is sub-par and does not match its well-known model of development.

The government and agencies involved in rehabilitation work often consider the task a project to ensure the bare minimum to those affected — i.e minimum quantity of water supply, sanitation facilities and housing. This minimum-supply approach has proved ineffective in helping people rebuild their lives after a disaster, as it does not take long-term recovery into consideration.

Food and water being distributed to the victims of the Kerala floods. AFP

Food and water being distributed to the victims of the Kerala floods. AFP

After the tsunami in 2004, the 1,150 families relocated from the coastal areas of Kerala ended up living in 52 colonies with the bare minimum facilities and also faced social boycott. However, political parties and the general public never consider the isolation rehabilitated civilians experience a problem. State forces and agencies believed they could overcome this issue of dignity and lack of a support system because the people affected by the tsunami were concentrated in two districts. But in the case of the 2018 floods, it is going to be a much bigger challenge. The floods had devastating impacts statewide, which is why a state-level policy change is required in each sector of the economy to meet the needs of those affected.

Take, for example, the effect of the floods on the drinking water supply. Wells and sources of water supply though pipelines are contaminated with mud and dirty water. Adding to people's woes, the Kerala government has removed the street and public taps installed as part of a Rs-451 crore World Bank-funded project of the Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency in four districts. Initially, it was a community-based system of supplying drinking water, wherein the community bore the operational and maintenance costs. When it became a part of Kerala's rural drinking water supply programme, the government submitted another Rs 1,200-crore proposal to cover all rural areas of the state, but it was not sanctioned. The Kerala government had also handed over responsibility of such rural water supply schemes to local governments, making it an impossible task now to take back the onus to extend relief to the flood-affected regions as part of the rehabilitation process. This leaves the state only with the option to approach the affected communities and seek their financial participation in rehabilitation work, though this would further delay people's post-flood social and economic recovery.

In Kerala, infrastructure projects are based on either the public-private partnership (PPP) model or on the norms of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIFBI). These projects mainly aim to reduce government investment and involve the private sector, which is the national policy, as well. Ventures based on the KIFBI's rules and the PPP model both primarily prioritise the net income the state and investor can earn from the projects.

It is out of question to prioritise profitability while helping flood victims, which rules out applying these developmental methods on rehabilitation work. The state government has to take on the full investment, which also makes it a necessity to make changes to the existing policies.

Environmental governance is another aspect to be taken into consideration during the rehabilitation work.

Kerala was the first state to oppose the report of the Madhav Gadgil Committee, which had recommended conserving the Western Ghats based on the economic value of the natural resources in the state. Communities mobilised statewide, with the active support of both the Congress and the Left, to oppose the report. Given the emergence of this economic class capable of challenging the state, Kerala's first challenge before rehabilitation works gets underway in full swing is to ensure that a strict environmental conservation policy holds before private capital gain.

The government has asserted that the state will be transformed into a new Kerala rather than just rebuilt through rehabilitation. While the statement is welcome, how is the administration going to achieve this end? At present, post-disaster rehabilitation projects are critical, and the state needs the Centre's help, or public borrowings, to fund the initiatives.

Kerala's fiscal deficit for 2018-19 stands at Rs 23,957 crore, which is 3.1 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product. The estimate exceeds the 3 percent limit prescribed by the 14th Finance Commission. So any additional borrowing for flood recovery will further increase the deficit. This means that the Kerala government cannot initiate the rehabilitation work by itself and will need special central assistance.

The central government never accepts all requests that state governments send in such cases, preferring to forward such requests to international lending agencies and even other countries. This leaves the World Bank as the most likely option as it has a long history of supporting India in rehabilitation efforts. However, the process to sanction the funds takes at least a year to complete, which, once again, puts the onus of meeting the interim expenses to run the system on the state government. Such delays in approvals for financial assistance further adds to the vulnerability of the affected communities.

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It is clear that the existing development policies of Kerala will not work with the rehabilitation work needed to rebuild the state. Therefore, for a "new Kerala", the state government has to amend its norms, and the central government has to accept the importance of the policy changes, as well.


Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 15:56 PM

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