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Environmentalists Investigate The Kerala Floods

In 2014, as floods swept Kashmir, encroachments were blamed for diminishing the holding capacity of lakes and other water bodies, aggravating the impact of the heavy rains.

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An aerial view shows partially submerged buildings at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India. VOA
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As India’s southern Kerala state looks at the task of rebuilding in the aftermath of devastating floods that swept away homes, inundated farmland and destroyed infrastructure, environmentalists have raised the question: Could the damage have been reduced if more attention had been paid to sustainable development?

The floods were triggered by the most intense rains in nearly a century that lashed a picturesque state whose coastal plains and low-lying mountains beckon tens of thousands of tourists each year. Gates of overflowing dams had to be opened following heavy downpours starting August 8, sending water rushing across much of the state.

Environmental experts say a construction boom that saw houses, buildings and tourist resorts mushroom in areas that traditionally soaked up rainwater worsened the impact of the monsoon.

“There is a huge wave of construction, firstly on wetlands, which would have otherwise earlier stored water, no longer do so and encroachments on rivers,” said ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who in 2011 prepared a report for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on protecting the highlands known as Western Ghats.

Kerala Floods
An aerial view shows partially submerged road at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India. VOA

Natural resources

Gadgil said the massive construction prompted indiscriminate sand mining and quarrying in the mountains.

“A large number of landslides have occurred because of these stone quarries. Rubble from them has blocked streams and rivers,” he said. Some of the 400 victims of the recent flooding included people buried under landslides.

The rapid development in Kerala in recent decades was partly fueled by money from tourists as well as from a diaspora from the state that lives and works in Middle East countries.

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Map of Kerala, India. VOA

G.M. Pillai, the head of the World Institute of Sustainable Energy in Pune, claims the recent flooding was more devastating because of the disappearance of traditional paddy fields.

“About 80 per cent of the paddy fields in Kerala have been levelled or converted to other activities, either construction or rubber plantations. That is a huge environmental neglect,” he said. “Paddy fields are kind of wetlands in Kerala’s topography capturing water from the surrounding hills.”

Pillai, who grew up in a village in Kerala, said traditional drains have been blocked there, too.

He said the international airport, in the state’s main city, Kochi, was built close to the Periyar River and had to be closed after runways were damaged and floodwaters entered the airport. It is scheduled to reopen later this month.

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An aerial view shows partially submerged houses in flooded areas. VOA

Environmental degradation

This is not the first time that experts have drawn attention to environmental degradation as India caters to the ever-growing needs for more power, roads and homes for its 1.3 billion people. After heavy rains in 2013 triggered devastating floods and landslides in the northern state of Uttarakhand, an environmental panel said the buildup of sediment in rivers, caused by hydroelectric plants, had aggravated the flooding.

In 2014, as floods swept Kashmir, encroachments were blamed for diminishing the holding capacity of lakes and other water bodies, aggravating the impact of the heavy rains.

But others point out that the push for development cannot be ignored, Kerala, for example, has one of the highest population densities in the country, putting pressure on the land.

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Flood-affected people wait to receive food inside a college auditorium, which has been converted into a temporary relief camp, in Kochi in the southern state of Kerala. VOA

“A lot of people from the villages are coming to cities for work. So, naturally, development is necessary,” said John Samuel of the Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala’s capital.

But Samuel calls for a halt to construction along riverbanks and strict observance of environmental laws.

“They have lots of houses coming, flats coming on the banks of the river. That can cause more havoc,” he said.

Also Read: Samsung to Launch ‘Galaxy On’ Smartphone With Infinity Display in India Next Week

Some senior officials in the state have said that Kerala will have to seek sustainable development as it rebuilds damaged homes and thousands of kilometres of eroded roadways. But others worry that the mammoth task of reconstruction will only put more pressure on resources.

“The immediate requirement is constructing infrastructure which has been lost,” Pillai said. “But along with that you should also do what I call construction of environmental infrastructure, you have to restore a lot of those paddy fields, for example, which have been lost.” (VOA)

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For Delhi Commuters, Google Maps Now Show Auto-Rickshaw Routes

Google Maps provides globally over a billion kilometres worth of transit results every day and has schedules for over three million public transit stops

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Auto rikshaws in India. Pixbay

Commuters in the national capital can now view “auto-rickshaw” routes as well as fares on Google Maps app, tech giant Google Monday said.

“Starting today, commuters in Delhi will be able to see a new public transport mode in Google Maps — auto-rickshaws. By selecting this mode of transport, commuters will be able to view suggested routes for the ride as well as the estimated auto-rickshaw fares,” Google said in a statement.

The new feature will reflect fares based on the official fare model shared by the Delhi Traffic Police, it said.

Google maps, auto-rickshaw
The latest version of the application includes enhanced voice input.

This feature will be available in the Google Maps app on the Android devices.

The idea is to incorporate one of most commonly used modes of public transport in Google Maps and share transparent information about the price of journey, Google Maps Product Manager Vishal Dutta said.

“Currently, for an unfamiliar journey, commuters often overpay and don’t have an idea about the distance or best route,” he added.

auto-rickshaw
By selecting this mode of transport, commuters will be able to view suggested routes for the ride.

Dutta said the feature will also help the users plan their journey better.

“…so they could look at the expected cost of the auto-rickshaw ride and decide whether they want to take it all the way, or perhaps take a different mode of transport instead — like a bus or the metro,” he explained.

Also Read: Google Not Going to Offer Controversial Face Recognition Technology

Google Maps provides globally over a billion kilometres worth of transit results every day and has schedules for over three million public transit stops worldwide, the statement said. (IANS)