Ravaged by floods and landslides in successive years, Kerala is set to incorporate land utilisation policy and spatial planning in the state’s development strategy, with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan saying that the government will bring in restrictions on construction on landslide-prone areas.
The government on Monday began a state-wide survey to identify new areas vulnerable to landslide and flood in order to earmark danger zones.
While a study by the National Centre for Earth Studies put 28 per cent of the state’s geographical area as vulnerable to either landslide or flood, sources at the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) said that areas vulnerable to such natural calamities may have grown since the last report was prepared in 2009.
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Agriculture Minister V S Sunil Kumar said, “We have to decide what should be cultivated, and what should not be cultivated, in a particular geographical area. (As part of the survey) the entire geography of the state would be divided into 23 agro-ecological units, and each unit would have its own suitable farming practice and crops. We will not allow farmers to change agricultural practices without considering topography and nature of the soil.’’
According to state Planning Board member Dr K N Harilal, “A land-use policy and spatial planning strategy is very important for Kerala. As far as development is concerned, we have to think what should be done, including farming practices, or allowed in a particular area.”
Harilal said that historically, Kerala never took spatial planning seriously, and over the years a lethargic approach had developed towards land utilisation.
Dr P Harinarayanan, principal scientist with the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment, said unscientific agricultural practices, including mono-crop in land slopes, would contribute to natural calamities.
It is time Kerala develops a clear land-use policy to mitigate damage triggered by heavy rainfall, he said.
In fact, Meppadi panchayat in Wayanad, where 17 people were feared dead in the landslide at Puthumala, did not have a scientific approach towards land use and spatial planning. In the last 15 years, 260 resorts or homestays have been built in the hills of the panchayat, including Puthumala region, according to data.
Meppadi panchayat president K K Sahad said, “The SDMA says our panchayat is vulnerable to landslides. But no agency has so far warned the panchayat about what should be done, and not done, on our landscape. No expert agency has tailored a land-use policy or spatial planning for our region.” According to data, incidents of landslides are growing alarmingly in the state’s hilly belt.
Sixty-three incidents of landslides led to 257 deaths between 1961 and 2009, while 82 people have been killed in four landslides so far this year.
While scores of buildings have been raised in the ecologically fragile Western Ghats, the state Economic and Statistics Department’s data on new buildings, published in May this year, reported that out of 3,89,544 newly constructed structures in 2016-17 across the state, 77.61 per cent were in rural areas of the state.
Non-residential buildings in rural sector is approximately seven times more than that in urban sector, it stated.
Kerala’s Economic Review, 2018, found that midland and highland regions are being subjected to urbanisation at an alarming pace.
Amid a real estate boom, hilly tracts in the interiors are flush with modern social and infrastructure facilities, particularly in the education and hospitality sectors. Kerala government’s ambitious hill highway project is slated to cut through the landslide-hit Meppadi and Pothukal (Kavalapara) regions of the Western Ghats, and hills of Meppadi would have to be cut again for the proposed 5-km tunnel road to another landslide-prone area, Anackampoyil in Kozhikode district The state’s growing demand is met by granite mines in these hills.