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I refer to your cover story Barrage of Bunglings (Sep 3). The heavy rainfall and devastating floods in Kerala have resulted in loss of life and property, as well as the dislocation of vast numbers of people. Various states have experienced such disasters over the past few decades, but have no lessons been learnt? The abuse of nature is one cause—as per research, such rains and floods are linked to global warming. Humans cannot fight nature, but can prevent the worst by planning for preventive measures. The government must set up adequate drainage systems to flush out floodwater. With time, this water will go under the earth and will be usable for agricultural purposes.
Mahesh Kumar, Delhi
God’s Own Country became the Devil’s Own because of a series of bunglings by mortal men. When I went to Kerala in 1991, it was a big village from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram: rolling paddy fields, with walls of coconut and banana, and the sea that would ingress at many places, flowing above the land—famous backwaters at one end and hills jotting in between, and more than 40 rivers criss-crossing the state. We were there again in 2016, and the one big village had become one huge metro with concrete stretching for hundreds of miles: multi-storey apartments, malls, multiplexes, metro and posh homes, occupying all riverbeds and floodplains, so much so that even Cochin Airport is built on the floodplains of a stream, Chengal—a tributary of the Periyar, Kerala’s largest river—and just 400 metres from it.
This insatiable greed to earn fast bucks, and an unholy nexus between builders, politicians and industrialists, has destroyed the future of India’s most beautiful state. Environmentalist Madhav Gadgil had warned against this sort of developmental paradigm for the country’s richest biodiversity zone, but short-sighted and greedy policymakers debunked it and didn’t even implement the watered-down Kasturirangan Committee report in its totality—and the result is very much here now!
This small state’s 43 dams are embodiments of destruction, not development—just as in Uttarakhand in 2013, when many dams released water from their overflowing reservoirs. The same game was played again in Kerala: the state’s largest dam, Idduki’s reservoir, was filled by July 31, and it released water when the flood was at its peak, and then the Mullaperiyar dam did the same!
Hence, it is not nature but our greed that has created this disaster, as we can never stop rivers flowing—and when they do, they wash away every impediment in their path; remember the Chennai flood of 2015 and the Uttarakhand flood of 2013?
Rakesh Agarwal, Dehradun
Timely action by the Kerala police and the aid provided by the armed forces and NDRF have controlled the situation to a large extent and avoided a bigger catastrophe. The fishermen who chipped in with their boats also played a major role and need to be applauded. As Kerala focuses on returning to normality, our prayers go out to them. We must all help in whatever way we can. The question remains: could it have been avoided? The answer lies in the indecision about when to open the dams to let excess water flow out, which coincided with the heaviest rainfall seen in many years. Hopefully, we have learnt a lesson and will be more prepared the next time around.
Col Deepak Kher, Pune
The massive 24x7 rescue and relief operation undertaken by all the agencies in the midst of the deluge and thereafter to save as many marooned people as possible was awe-inspiring. The unprecedented dedication shown by fishermen and local people, and the donations in cash and kind from across the world, are heart-warming. Let’s hope this zeal is also maintained by all agencies in the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
The aftermath of a disaster is often focused on getting back to normal life. But there is a bigger ‘disaster’ perennially playing out in India—politics. Even as Kerala faces the task of rehabilitating its people and rebuilding the state, a huge debate has broken out over whether the floods qualify to be declared a national disaster or not. A national tragedy on this humongous scale has been politicised, treated cavalierly, made yet another channel for the bigotry and hatred sweeping across this country, and last but not least made a point of “national pride” in not accepting foreign donations. As help pours in from all corners of the country for this little state, conveniently dubbed “God’s own country” in good times (when it’s a tourist cash cow pouring shekels into the central government treasury) there are stories that come in, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. From fishermen to administrators to entrepreneurs, from an old couple breaking their fixed deposits to a young woman who saved up for her heart surgery and then donated half of it. Politics over relief work is the worst crisis to befall a nation.
Padmini Raghavendra, Secunderabad
You are confused when you ask questions like “ Why does nearly every natural disaster hit us on such a scale ? What are we doing wrong? Who’s guilty? Kerala’s monster monsoon leaves us with a deluge of questions.” Natural disasters are happening in places like America, Europe, China and Japan. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes are wreaking havoc in the most developed countries, culminating in the loss of human lives and property. The more developed we become, the more natural calamities we have to face. Kerala’s flood is another example of the fury of nature.
Ashim Kumar Chakraborty, Guwahati
Nature’s fury is more often than not a direct outcome of man’s insatiable rapacity.
Meghana A., New South Wales
It was very disturbing to read your story on the Chilika lake (Before Machine Birds Come In, Sep 3) and how the Centre and the state government are putting at risk the fragile ecosystem. When will the shortsighted and profit-hungry realise the importance of sustainability of natural environs and resources? Ironically, a few pages later comes the report on the Kerala floods. It is as clear as blue skies that the Kerala floods were man-made—we raped and ravaged the environment, which then responded in fury. This is a lesson to all of us. Let the flood report help the policymakers assess what the future will be if we mess with nature.
Ravi, On E-Mail
In Are You Hit by the Pink Tax? (Sep 3), the writer has meticulously covered the issue of women being losers on both the earning and the spending side. The story is full of minute observations regarding their employment in different positions as well as what they are charged for various services and products.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
This is about the obituary note for V.S. Naipaul (Bounty of Barbs, Aug 27). A master of expressing the fissures, dislocations and identity crises of a post-colonial world, Naipaul will be known as a supreme stylist of English prose in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, very few of his contemporary writers in English were as bold, blunt and daring as Naipaul. He could use the English language with rare mastery, every word would be right, in its proper place, advancing the argument or narrative of this major writer. The man could be notoriously difficult, but great art is forged in the turmoil of complicated minds.
Charu Shah, Surendranagar
This refers to your tribute to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (A Permanent Pause, Aug 27). Vajpayee was a gentleman politician, and there may not be many in this mould in his party, the BJP, these days. He proved to be a fine balancer of nationalism and Hindutva with liberalism in the coalition era of the 1990s. If Vajpayee’s persona nudged the politics of the BJP into larger spaces, his stint as PM will be remembered for big transitions. His deftness shaped our foreign policy. Despite severe US sanctions after Pokhran II, he laid the foundation for a nuclear dialogue with the US. Had he bowed to American pressure in 2003 to send our troops to Iraq, to work alongside the allied forces following the invasion of that country, India would have been in a quagmire and its credibility in West Asia would have taken a nosedive. Long before the BJP under Narendra Modi experimented and failed with the PDP alliance, Vajpayee had made inroads in the Valley with “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat”. He fought off resistance from outside and within the Sangh Parivar to bring in reforms. There are no other leaders in the BJP of Vajpayee’s stature; if there are a few, they have been marginalised. Yet his playbook will endure, and the BJP may need to take more than a leaf out of it.
Lal Singh, Amritsar
Vajpayee was PM for a full term, after serving two truncated ones. Even as his National Democratic Alliance depended on the outside support of several parties (such as the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh), Vajpayee never lost respect in his coalition, nor did he cravenly submit to partners’ demands. Everyone who has heard him speak talks about his consummate oratory, yet he wasn’t a demagogue. Nor was he cursed, as current politicians are wont to be. Jailed during the Emergency and foreign minister in the Janata government after it, he had the magnanimity to praise Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement policy. A bitter rival of the Congress, he had no qualms about calling Indira Gandhi ‘Durga’ in her finest hour after the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Atalji was truly beyond petty political enmity. Even though the Ram temple issue had rejuvenated the BJP and triggered a process that won it power at the Centre, PM Vajpayee kept Ayodhya on the backburner; neither did he go about trying to change national institutions, install yes-men in top posts and try to replace icons of the past—all of which the new NDA government is doing in an ungainly hurry.
J. Kishore, Hyderabad
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