Even as Kerala is trying to gauge the magnitude of the losses it suffered nearly a week after the unprecedented floods and landslides unleashed a trail of destruction in the state killing 360 people, a bitter war of words has begun between the opposition and the government over the causes that led to this calamity of this nature. While the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have chosen to hold Pinarayi Vijayan government responsible for the disaster, the chief minister is taking refuge by citing extraordinary heavy rains and blaming the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) for the allegedly delayed forecast.
The Opposition grilled him during the special session of the state Assembly on 30 August for the government’s failure in not opening the dams before water reaching the brim.
Vijayan accused the IMD of not giving any prior hint about extremely heavy rain on 14 and 15 August. However, an IMD official at Thiruvananthapuram said they had issued Red Alert (heavy to very heavy rainfall) in Idukki, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Wayanad, Kannur and Kasargod districts on 14 August and in all 14 districts on 15 August.
The official said that IMD had also issued Orange Alert (heavy to very heavy rainfall in isolated places) in Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Ernakulam districts on 14 August. Red Alert was in force in Idukki and Wayanad, the two worst-affected districts, even on 13 August, he added.
While replying to the opposition allegations, the chief minister said that the government had taken all precautions as per IMD’s forecast. But as the water level in the reservoirs increased swiftly and unexpectedly, there was no option but to open the dams and release the excess water, he said.
Vijayan claimed that the IMD forecast for 9 to 15 August was an average rainfall of 9.85 cms, whereas the state received 35.22 cms during that period. He said that there was no alert of ‘extremely heavy rainfall of this magnitude.
Thiruvananthapuram IMD director K Santhosh said that Red Alert implied severe rain. He said that the department had given sufficient warning to the government about severe rain in eight districts on 14 August and in all districts on 15 August. The Red Alert includes a call for action against disaster, he added.
Joseph C Mathew, who served as advisor to former chief minister V S Achuthanandan, said there were factual errors in the chief minister’s statement. He said he had documents to prove that the IMD had alerted the government timely about the grave situation.