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Kerala’s Marines

Kerala’s Marines

Among several heroes after the great deluge that engulfed Kerala were seafaring fishermen who worked selflessly to save more people than trained rescue workers of the Indian Armed Forces and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

While the regions closer to the riverbeds in South Central Kerala had to bear the brunt of the water released from the dams apart from the incessant rains, not many may know that some of these regions are located below sea level.

Unlike South Central Kerala, the monsoon was not too heavy in the southernmost districts. This meant that the fishermen in the southern coast were ready to venture into the sea for a good catch. After the mandatory trolling ban and natural fish breeding season, mid-August is when a good catch awaits a fisherman, who could easily row home to make a Rs 5,000 profit on it.

However, several of them were attending mass on the Feast of the Assumption and praying for the nation on Independence Day, when their parish priests told them they could save several lives inland in neighbouring districts. The fishermen shared the message on Whatsapp and organised more from their community.

The volunteers then carried their heavy boats to the shore, boarded them on trucks and reached the flooded areas. With a local person familiar with the surrounding and GPS which guides them in the ocean, they moved swiftly to answer each SOS and saved several thousands of lives.

Negotiating the river was not difficult for them as they routinely navigate in the turbulent ocean. But they had never dealt with barbed-wire fences, compound walls or civic stuff on land such as electric poles which damaged the boats.

While the NDRF and Armed Forces used jackets to swim, these men just jumped into the water to reach the people that needed to be rescued. While the trained personnel stopped the rescue operations at dusk, the fishermen continued operations with just a torch. They were used to darkness and continued the search.

In the end, they were left with battered boats but the Kerala Government has promised to repair the boats, pay Rs 3,000 per day for rescue work and honour them at a public function shortly. However, nothing will match the satisfaction they received from saving fellow humans. Their only regret was that some people refused to be rescued.

An average Malayali looks down upon these ‘nature warriors’ who tame the waves every day for a living. I am not sure how many felt for them or took a small measure to help them after Cyclone Ockhi last November. While the fishermen in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which has a proxy government of the BJP, received better compensation, a petition was filed in Kerala High Court on August 7 seeking compensation for those fishermen unable to continue their work following the mental trauma inflicted by Ockhi.

Among several hundred photos of the flood was one of a giant statue of Jesus walking over water, given a real dimension by the flood surrounding the statue. However, His modern day disciples did not sink at the sight of the wind or depth of the water. They saved the lives of fellow humans risking their own lives.

Why Not Blame Ocean?

I have always suspected that several environmental experts never study the nuances of any given natural disaster before forming their opinion and that their responses are stereotype and counsel most often ‘cut-paste’.

I received proof of this as the great deluge in Kerala was at its peak. Those connected with the Union Home Ministry in charge of disaster management as well as the author of the Gadgil Committee Report on protecting the Western Ghats came out with ill-informed and pre-meditated responses to the unprecedented event in Kerala’s living memory.

For NDRF, the disaster was ‘man-made’ as Kerala had not formed or trained a team to meet such an eventuality. For Gadgil, it was because his report was overwritten by a subsequent commission in deference to the wishes of the seven state governments where the Western Ghats stands.

I am one with those who believe that the Western Ghats need to be protected and one should stop mining and quarrying and making roads and power projects in the fragile ecological zone. However, I have no idea how one can achieve ‘sustainable development’. In my opinion these are contradictory words.

If we have to sustain nature, we should forget ‘development’ as we know it. One needs to go back to nature, give up all the comforts, which may include not using even candles or burning torches once it is night. I don’t think it is practical. But what is practical is to protect nature from big companies and politicians who make projects for massive exploitation of nature and share the profits.

I wish the Western Ghats will be left alone for our future generations to have a quality life but I am sorry to say that Mr Gadgil has got it all wrong when he says that ignoring his report was what caused the greatest recorded deluge in Kerala. On the contrary, one could blame the Western Ghats for trapping the moist air from the surrounding, causing unprecedented rainfall that Kerala received from June to August and still sound less stupid.

Rain gauges left by the weather department around 2 metres above the highest flood line in different places of Kerala were untraceable during the deluge. Many of them were believed to be at least 2 metres below water. That simply meant that the rainfall received was more than 2000 mm than the maximum recorded earlier by the gauges.

Is Mr Gadgil suggesting that this non-stop rain in Kerala happened because his report was watered down subsequently? Environmentalists blankly blame every natural fury on environmental degradation and human exploitation of nature. Excess rain and drought are thus blamed on environment degradation, without even studying a particular flood or drought. I wonder how they account for the Ice Age.

One could blame the landslides in Idukki, Wayanad and Trissur districts (which pale in comparison to the water level in several areas of Pathanamthitta district) on overlooking Gadgil report, or exploitation of the ecology prior to the report, but who can explain why it rained so much?

Not that there are shortages of unscientific explanations. One only needs to look into tweets of some BJP trolls. I will not elaborate on them and give respectability to such idiots but I wish environmentalists would stop behaving like manipulative politicians and come off their arm chairs and study each disaster before labelling them man-made disasters.

( abey.kay@gmail.com)

(Published on 27th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 35)