Unrelenting rains force Kerala authorities to open dams' shutters; experts blame poor planning for scale of spate

The rain fury that left a trail of destruction across Kerala since 8 August has subsided but the water that it has brought to reservoirs of many major and minor dams continues to haunt a large segment of people in the state.

The influx of water from 25 reservoirs into rivers and canals in different parts of the state has caused huge loss to the people. The water from many dams has gushed into the houses of thousands of people downstream, destroying their clothes, furniture, household articles and valuables.

While the opening of the shutters of two dams in Pathanamthitta district has inundated large swathes of Kuttanad region, opening of the shutters of Idamalayar dam in Ernakulam district has brought untold miseries to hundreds of people living on the banks of the Periyar river.

A flooded road in Aluva. Many people in Aluva are sitting with their fingers crossed as the impact of the influx will be known only after the water hits the densely populated town Image procured by TK Devasia

Many people in Aluva are sitting with their fingers crossed as the impact of the influx will be known only after the water hits the densely populated town. Image procured by TK Devasia

As water from the reservoir of the Idamalayar flew through the sluice gates furiously, most people in the downstream ran for safety leaving behind their belongings, including valuables. Several families from Eloor area in Ernakulam district have moved to relief camps in the clothes they were in.

"I never expected that the water from the dam would flood the houses so fast. Even though the government had issued a red alert, we never thought that all the four shutters of the dam would be opened at the same time. If they had been opened one by one, we could have moved our belongings to safe places," said MC Joseph at Kuttikkatt village near Eloor.

He said that 65 families in the village had lost everything they possessed. Several people living on the banks of the Periyar river face a similar plight. The miseries will be compounded when the water from Idukki district passes through Idamalayar and reaches Aluva before ending in the Arabian sea.

People expected. Image procured by TK Devasia

People expected that the shutters of the dams will be opened in a phased manner and they would get enough time to shift their belongings to safety. But the electricity board opened just one shutter on Thursday noon and started opening the remaining shutters from 6 am on Friday without a prior nptice. Image procured by TK Devasia

Although five shutters of the Cheruthoni dam, which regulates the water from Idukki, have been opened by evening, it will take at least six hours to reach Aluva. Many people in Aluva are sitting with their fingers crossed as the impact of the influx will be known only after the water hits the densely populated town.

The water from the dam has already submerged Cheruthoni town. The bridge across the Periyar and the bus stand on its bank are fully under water now. The people also have complaints about the manner in which the shutters of the dam were opened by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) authorities.

Though the government had issued a red alert and advised people living on both sides of Periyar river to be prepared to move to safer places, many believed that the shutters will be opened phase by phase and they will get enough time to move to safe places comfortably.

In fact, Power Minister M Mani had assured the people that they will be given sufficient time to secure their belongings and move to safe places. However, the KSEB opened all the shutters within 18 hours after one shutter was opened for the trial run.

The first shutter of the dam was opened at 12.30 pm. After seeing the smooth trial run, most people in the downstream went to sleep thinking that they will be given time before the other shutters are opened. However, the KSEB started opening the remaining shutters one by one without prior notice since 6 am on Friday.

The discharge of water from Idamalayar and Idukki dams may affect 6,000 to 7,000 families in Aluva taluk, according to the estimates prepared by the Ernakulam district administration. This may necessitate the relocation of 25,000 people. Sources in the district collectorate said that 10,000 people have already reached the relief camps set up by the state government. Many people have also shifted to houses of their relatives.

Apart from this, people in Perumbavoor and Kalady, through which Periyar river passes, will also be hit by the influx of water from Idukki. The district administration has identified 140 families in Perumbavoor to be evacuated.

Dam safety experts feel that the impact of the miseries on account of the opening of the Idukki dam could have been minimised if the shutters of Idamalayar dam were opened earlier. Former KSEB chief engineer and a dam safety expert N Sasidharan said the Idamalayar could have held a substantial quantity of water discharged from the Idukki dam if its shutters were opened early.

"The authorities waited till the water level in the Idamalayar reservoir reached its capacity of 169 feet. If it was opened when the water level reached 165 feet, it would not have necessitated the evacuation of many people in the downstream areas. This is the result of poor planning by the disaster management authority," he said.

He said that the decision to delay the opening of the shutters of Idamalayar also could have posed a danger to the dam. If the water level had crossed 169 feet, it would have overflown causing bigger damage to the people in the downstream.

Experts are also dismayed by the extensive floods caused by the rain during this season. Noted environmentalist C Jayakumar said that the rain had not caused this much damage in 2013 when the state received 47 percent excess rainfall. The excess during the current monsoon is only 17 percent according to Indian Meteorological Department officials at Thiruvananthapuram.

An image from Pampa, the base camp on route to Sabarimala Temple. The river Pampa is now overflowing. Image Courtesy: Navin Nair

An image from Pampa, the base camp on route to Sabarimala Temple. The river Pampa is now overflowing. Image Courtesy: Navin Nair

"The heavy rain in 2013 did not necessitate the opening of the shutters of these many dams. It had not filled the Idukki reservoir either. What has led to higher rainfall in the catchment areas of the dam this time needs to be studied. The shutters of the 43-year-old dam have been opened after 26 years,” Jayachandran said.

Atmospheric scientists view this as a result of the global warming as well as local factors. S Abhilash, assistant professor of Atmospheric Studies at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), pointed out that Kerala has been witnessing two extreme climatic variations — floods during monsoon and drought during summer over the years.

Abhilash said that global warming has been leading to floods during rainy season as it has reduced the capacity of the atmosphere to hold water. He said that the climatic variations were also a major fallout of the unscientific human intervention in nature.

"People have been encroaching flood planes and building concrete structures there leaving no space on the earth to hold water. Indiscriminate forest encroachment, tree felling, mindless quarrying, sand smuggling and poor water conservation have added to this. This is a warning from nature. If the authorities do not understand this and act accordingly, Kerala will face recurring disasters like this," he added.


Updated Date: Aug 11, 2018 21:30 PM

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