Kerala floods and the CAG alarm bell that went unheeded
The 2016 report had flagged the disastrous impact of unchecked illegal constructions; but it was never tabled in the Assembly
Early warnings of a 2016 draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Kerala office about the disastrous implications of the environmental degradation due to unchecked and illegal construction activities in the State seem to have been buried, with the report inexplicably not getting tabled in the State Assembly.
The report (a copy of which is with BusinessLine) titled ‘Implementation of Environmental Laws by Kerala State Pollution Control Board, Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (KCZMA), State Environment Impact Assessment Authority with respect to Apartments, Commercial Complexes, Hospitals, Hotels and Industrial units’ had asked the State Government to investigate the lapse on the part of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the Local Self Government Institutions (LSGI) in not initiating legal action against Environment Clearance (EC) violations that took place between 2006 and 2013.
Principal Accountant General of Kerala during the period, Amar Patnaik, was “surprised” that the CAG had not tabled the report. “The report had details about the serious violations of environmental and coastal protection laws. It could have helped in creating awareness and equipping public during the floods of 2018, 2019 and 2021. I have written to the CAG to know why the report is not yet finalised and tabled,” Patnaik told BusinessLine.
The then Minister of the Local Self Government Department – in the Left Democratic Front government headed by Pinarayi Vijayan – AC Moideen said he had never heard of such a report. He explained his position by saying that during his tenure, the Government “tried to stringently follow the laws and rules”.
VD Satheeshan, former chairman of the State Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that examines CAG reports after they are tabled in the House, said he would have definitely followed up on such a report had it been tabled. “I will take this up with the CAG,” he said. PAC chairman of Kerala Sunny Joseph said the PAC has not received such a report. He too said he will take this up with the CAG in the next meeting of the PAC. The office of CAG Girish Chandra Murmu refused to comment on why the report was not finalised and tabled.
The report is a detailed study about violations that started in 2006 and continued unabated. It warned that the hotels, hospitals and other construction sites near beaches and backwaters without proper environmental considerations entail “high risk”. This was before the devastating 2018 floods in Kerala.
10 districts more vulnerable
“Out of total 14 districts of the State, 10 districts (Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, Kasaragode and Kottayam district) were even more vulnerable considering that they had coastal regulation zone areas, making adherence to environmental regulations crucial,” said the report.
The report flagged various violations in at least 25 apartments in different districts. The CAG recommended legal action against at least nine commercial complexes and malls, owned by the Government and private builders such as the Shobha Developers and the Oberon Group for various violations.
The CAG said hotels such as Crowne Plaza in Ernakulam, All Seasons Resort, Hotel Fragrant Nature and Hotel Raviz in Kollam were operating without obtaining Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance from KCZMA. The CAG found irregular issue of CRZ clearance by KCZMA to Hotel Vivanta by Taj in Kovalam. Hotel Lake Palace, Kadinamkulam, Thiruvananthapuram and Hotel Vivanta by Taj in Bekal, Kasaragode, were found violating conditions imposed in the CRZ clearances granted. The CAG found violation of construction rules, provisions of Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1988 and various environmental Acts and rules in about 20 hospitals.