As flood-hit Kerala struggles to restore its civic infrastructure, the reconstruction of the damaged road network poses a major challenge. The state faces the task of rebuilding 10,000 km of damaged roads under the state public works department even as it faces an acute shortage of raw materials. The state will also have to support construction of at least 1 lakh houses damaged in the flood, further increasing the appetite for stone mining.
The unexpected need for huge mining comes at a time the state’s booming construction sector has been under strain since June, after the government ordered closure of stone quarrying units in ecologically fragile, landslide-prone areas in the Western Ghats. Also hit by the ban on mining is construction of 4.3 lakh houses for the homeless people in the state, slated to be completed in the next three years.
Kerala has around 6,000 stone quarrying and crushing units, mostly in villages. At least half of them have been closed in the last two years after they failed to get environmental clearance, which was made mandatory by the Union Environment and Forest Ministry.
Public Works Department Chief Engineer (Roads and Bridges) M N Jeevaraj said the rebuilding of roads would be affected for want of materials. “During a normal monsoon, roads of 400 km would be destroyed. However, this time, the length of damaged roads is 10,000 km. Besides, several bridges are in danger. Hence, we have to pull out all means to restore the road network. The huge demand for raw materials will make things difficult,” he said.
All Kerala Government Contractors Association general secretary Sunny Chennikkara said the shortage of materials would affect rebuilding of flood-ravaged roads. “Even with the normal workload, road sector works do not get enough materials. As river sand is not available in Kerala, we depend on manufactured sand (made by crushing stones), which again demands more mining. Even emergency repair works are pending in hilly districts like Idukki and Wayanad, where most of the mining unites had been shut down,” he said.
Advocate Harish Vasudevan, a green activist, said mining has been going on at most places hit by landslide. “Now we will exploit the same area more intensively for rebuilding Kerala, which may lead to similar tragedies in future. Nobody is ready to assess the environmental cost of rebuilding Kerala,” he said.
Vasudevan, who has fought several environment-related cases, said the flood had helped instill ecological awareness among people. However, the need for development at any cost would prevail in the current scenario, he added.