Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Restoring the Soul of Salcete

Restoring the Soul of Salcete

By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat

GSPCB has only been engaged in academic research for last 20 years. GSPCB, which enjoys powerful mandate under very strict laws, somehow forgets that the first commitment of the chairman and members of the Board is first to the people, then conservation of environment and finally their political bosses. People in the Sal river basin should know that the GSPCB has not been following the MINARS national guidelines (known as MINARS/27/2007-08) for water quality monitoring despite having manpower and expensive analytical instruments. These were issued by the chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Mr Mauskar on December 28, 2007. I checked available data about the pollution status of the Sal River from latest available annual report of GSPCB for 2009-10. GSPCB appears to have censored the data on dangerous pesticides - Alpha BHC, Beta BHC, Gama BHC, (Lindane), OP-DDT, PP-DDT, Alpha Endosulphan, Beta Endosulphan, Aldrin, Dieldrin, 2, 4-D, Carboryl (Carbamate), Malathian, Methyl Parathian, Anilophos, Chloropyriphos.
I suspect that for political reasons GSPCB may not have carried out these tests once a year, during the monsoon season, as recommended by CPCB. GSPCB has not informed the people on the eastern and western banks and the fishermen making a living from the river about the significance of their pollution findings.
GSPCB report hides MINARS normal values/criteria for water. Does GSPCB expect people in the Sal river basin to develop cancers? GSPCB monitors Sal River at Jacknibandh, Kharebandh, Orlim, Rumdar, Mungul and Pulwado. It has another station at Pazarkhoni, Cuncolim.
The values at the Cuncolim station show that, most probably, metallic pollutants from metallurgical industries within the Cuncolim industrial estate have entered the river. Besides, dissolved oxygen levels show shocking values indicating the slow death of life in river. This is very bad news because the concentration of heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead, nickel and copper is reaching alarming levels. These metals were supposed to be below detectable levels.
People should immediately give up exploitation and consumption of shellfish from this area because heavy metals get concentrated in their meat. Two years ago, in the April of 2009, I wrote a series of four articles in this daily to draw the attention of the people and the government to the ecological tragedy of the Sal River. I had urged Velim MLA, Filipe Neri Rodrigues, a constituency nursed by the same river, to form a River Sal Basin Management Authority (RSBMA) and prepare a detail project report for eco-restoration of the river. With a length of 35 kms, basin area of 301 sq kms and runoff of 700 million cubic metres per year, Sal River is the third largest in Goa and needs treatment deserving that rank. It is high time the people of Verna, Consua, Cuelim, Cansaulim,  Arossim, Majorda, Calata, Seraulim ,  Benaulim, Varca, Orlim, Carmona, Cavelossim, Nuvem, Margao, Navelim, Sirlim, Deusua, Chinchinim, Cuncolim, Assolna, Velim and Betul unite to demand for a systematic eco-restoration, conservation and sustainable management of the river. Their ecological security, security from natural calamities such as flash floods similar to Canacona in October 2009 depends on the health and ecological integrity of this river. The river has maintained and sustained all these beautiful villages for several centuries.
The freshwater zone from source at Verna to Margao needs special attention because massive encroachments and siltation of the channel have truncated its normal course. Near Margao the river is almost unrecognisable. The saline tidal zone from Kharebandh to Betul is very eco sensitive. The salinity of the river increases as it reaches Sinquetim, Navelim.
Just a century ago this entire area was a major salt production zone of India. The mosaic of salt pans, visible even today from Google Earth satellite images, shows the lost economic glory of Sal River. Meticulously the local communities had built this massive infrastructure. The tidal effect in Sal River becomes more pronounced beyond Sinquetim. It is felt strongly at Varca. From Varca to Betul, the river assumes an interesting identity of being India’s only tropical estuary which follows a course parallel to the coastline or the beaches.
Sal River had a violent tectonic berth. Now human interference in her ecosystem and ecological neglect may spell an equally painful demise for this river. How? Pollution values show that the river is fighting for oxygen because of the sewage, domestic effluent and trade effluents that are dumped in it. Very wisely GSPCB has not published the values for phosphorus otherwise the growth of aquatic weeds would have matched these values. After the river continuously receives pollution load, heavy metals, oil, grease, pesticides, nitrates, phosphates, and faecal matter that boost pathogens, the Sal River will become the sewer of Salcete - an open drain similar to Panaji’s Santa Inez creek. If the death of the river is slow it is because of the tidal effect and the monsoon discharges. But the bottlenecks near Betul and Cavelossim are causing difficulty for the tidal clock.
The first indication of a dying river is already seen in oxygen depletion and eutrophication. The second stage will be the decay of organic matter due to anoxic conditions, the death of the remaining fish and shellfish and the generation of offensive odours due to methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide gasses. Dead fish will be reported from both banks of the river. The third stage will see increase in siltation, heavy shoal formation and congestion of flow. At this stage, flooding of interior areas near both banks will be reported - especially in low lying villages. The effect would be transmitted upstream and would impact the entire Verna-Nuvem-Margao sub-basin. In her last hours the dry bed of the Sal River will see extension of the urban areas with constructions coming up right inside her channel. The river now narrowed to a few metres would get trained by the developers and would end up as an open gutter.
Finally, in the next 20 years, the map of the river will have to be redrawn because only the stretch between Cavelossim to Betul would survive. Considering the high population and settlement density of Salcete and continuous expansion of urban pockets on eastern and western banks of the river- the future scenario is very grim. Death of Sal River would also spell doom to coastal occupations and beach tourism in Salcete. When the soul is lost – Salcete will be lost. Whatever remains will be claimed by rising sea levels.
Expectedly, the Sal River, the soul of the Salcete taluka, is again in the news. The credit for the neglect this river suffers goes to indifferent village panchayats, heavyweight politicians of the area, and the inefficient Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB).

How Natural Radioactivity Harms Goans

How Natural Radioactivity Harms Goans

By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat

After the Japanese nuclear catastrophe I have been researching material which can tell us something on the natural radiation dose to which we here in Goa get exposed. This work is absolutely necessary in public interest because people are now concerned about operational Kaiga and the proposed Jaitapur mega nuclear reactors. My own university and the nearby NIO had been a great disappointment in this regard. Scientists from these public funded institutes need to proactively reveal any information about natural background radiation which they have for any location or samples in Goa. There is a solid lid on such information which is a sad comment on our research culture. But the published research since 1986 is now available from radiation health physicists outside Goa.
Neither the Goa state pollution control board nor the state STE department has cared to prepare and disclose a natural radiation Atlas of Goa. So people are taking chances with their lives and the medical sector is blindly ruling out natural radiation and the atmospheric nuclear fallout which we get in Goa as the probable potential cause of various cancers.
What is natural radiation? I referred to the publication of health physics division of BARC (1986) by Nambi and co-workers. According this publication, nearly 75 per cent of the radiation dose to the public arises from the natural background. BARC claims that mankind has in fact evolved in a natural background radiation environment which can be basically divided into four components: (i) cosmic rays originating in outer space: it has a slight variation with the latitude but increases markedly with altitude. (ii) primordial radioactivity in the rocks and soils: the outer half-metre layer of the earth’s crust contributes effectively to almost all of this component of the background radiation at any location; the radioistopes responsible are daughter products of natural U and Th and K-40. (iii) internal radioactivity distributed within the body in its tissues: the major contribution arises from K-40. (iv) lung irradiation due to radon and thoron inhaled through air and their daughter products; this is generally higher inside a building because of restricted ventilation.
What is intriguing on the background of the veil of secrecy by Goa government is the justification given by BARC for understanding the levels of background natural radiation. BARC believes that – “A knowledge of the population exposure to natural radiation and the general distribution of exposure as is not only important for its own sake but also because: (i) it creates a proper perspective vis-à-vis the radiation insult caused by the nuclear industry and (ii) it helps in epidemiological studies correlating radiation exposure.
BARC report conducted studies in Panaji and Marmagoa and concluded in 1986 that the radiation levels were below the natural average for these two stations. They calculated Goa’s per capita natural radiation dose as 600 microSieverts per year and population dose as 215 Sieverts per year estimated with 1981 census data. For the members of public, the maximum permissible whole body effective dose limit is 1000 microSieverts in a year. So BARC reports indicate that people in Panaji and Marmagoa receive only 60 per cent of the dose. But both these towns account for only 15 percent of the state’s population and less than half a percent of geographical area.
What the BARC missed has been published by Scientist D N Avadhani and his colleagues from Mangalore University. In their October 2001 study titled - Dietary intake of 210Po and 210Pb in the environment of Goa of south-west Coast of India. Both these are potent poisons-notorious slow killers. They dealt with the distribution and activity intake of 210Po and 210Pb in food, diet, and potable water samples of Goa. They estimated committed effective dose due to ingestion of these radionuclides. They detected activity concentrations of 210Po and 210Pb in about 30 food and diet samples from different places of Goa in order to know the distribution and intake of these radionuclides. They were surprised to find that activity concentration of 210Po in fish and prawn samples were significantly higher than concentrations found in vegetable and rice samples. Higher concentrations of 210Po and 210Pb were observed in leafy vegetables than in non-leafy vegetables. Among the diet samples the activity concentrations of 210Po and 210Pb in non-vegetarian meal samples were relatively higher than in vegetarian meal and breakfast samples. The committed effective dose due to annual intake of 210Po was found to be 94.6 microSv, 49.1 microSv, 10.5 microSv, and 2.2 microSv and that of 210Pb found to be 81.6 microSv, 59.9 microSv, 14.6 microSv, and 2.0 microSv for the ingestion of non-vegetarian meal, vegetarian meal, breakfast, and potable water, respectively. So we would like to know the official stand of FDA authorities of Goa about the natural radiation levels in our diet.
In another paper (2005) authored by Dr Avadhani it has been proven that radioactive Radium and Polonium is deposited in Goa from atmospheric precipitation. This study also found that Radioactive Radium, Thorium and Potassium leaches out from granite rocks of Canacona where they detected higher levels of these radionuclides.
Canacona soils have higher levels of radioactive Radium, Potassium and Thorium. Then why did all the medical research teams which investigated the causes for the kidney failures in Canacona taluka ignore this dangerous dimension? Along with alkaline groundwater I have suspecting that the natural radioactivity could be a cause of the high prevalence of kidney diseases in Canacona. I won’t be surprised if this lead proves to be correct.
The Government of Goa needs to have an active collaboration with Dr Avadhani’s team to survey and sample all rocks, minerals, soil types, water resources, vegetation and come out proactively with a detail village and town wise natural radiation map of Goa. People have right to know that the place where they live or the tourists reside is normal from radiation angle, the houses have tolerable Radon emissions, drinking and irrigation water and locally grown food which they consume is safe from radionuclide contamination. The world 25 years after Chernobyl disaster is now moving very cautiously on anything that is nuclear. Many genetic disorders, tumours and cancers could be accounted
Our government is afraid to tell us how much natural radiation which we, including the cabinet ministers and MLAs receive and what radionuclides we get from our diet. Even the granite tiles and tabletops generate radioactivity. But there are no standards for such materials in India.

The Neglected Fruits of Goa

The Neglected Fruits of Goa

By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat

species - Annona reticulosa (bullock’s heart) and Annona muricata (palpanas), three related species of cultivated jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), acidic bilimbi (Averrhoa bilimbi), carambolam or starfruit (Averrhoa carambola), raj aawla (Phyllanthus acidus), Adam’s apple or adanva (Mimusops / Manilkara kauki), zagama and chafera belonging to Flocurtia species - this is not a complete list of neglected fruits  of Goa.
For past 50 years the agriculture department has done virtually nothing to promote these species. Clubbed under “minor fruit crops” there is only a limited academic interest in these fruits - many of which can be found only in Goa and the Konkan. The Goa state horticulture corporation which is promoting cultivation of hybrid crops has also turned its’ back on these fruits and it is the same story regarding the Goa forest development corporation and the plantation wing of the Forest department. So who would then encourage the cultivation of these fruit species?
These fruits attract premium price in the market. Zamb - Syzigium jambos is a nice, tasty, soft, fleshy fruit. The pale green variety is seen in markets more frequently than the attractive small coral red and the very delicious and sponge like pinkish one. The last two varieties have become very rare now. A few families in Bardez and Salcete may have these trees. The pale green Zamb fruits are sold for ` 20 a dozen. These are semi evergreen trees and provide nice shade in the garden. Very few people engage in commercial plantation of Jamun or Jambul. Most of the stock which comes to market is from collection from wild jambul trees. There are at least five varieties - the small pink, the small black, the medium pinkish black, the large purplish black and the large black.
A large number of old jambul trees from Tiswadi, Bardez and Ponda have been cut. So now most of the supply of Jambul comes from the Sawantwadi area. The prices have escalated to ` 80 per hundred.
The Portuguese are credited with the introduction of the Annona species in India. But the government did not promote cultivation of bullock’s heart and palpanas species. It is very rare to see these fruits in local markets despite their taste and value. Those who bring a few bullock’s heart fruits to the market demand premium price of ` 60-80 per fruit.
Palpanas reminds one of Durian. It grows very well in the soils of Bardez but there is negligible production. Goa is endowed with a rich diversity of Artocarpus fruits. Panas or the jackfruit is a major fruit of Goa. There is surplus production but no market. The crisp kapo variety and the juicy, rasal variety - are both popular. At least 50 products can be made from local jackfruits. Nothing goes to waste. Even the seeds can be roasted and consumed.
Compared to the jackfruit the story of the breadfruit - Artocarpus altilis, is different. There is more demand and less supply. Breadfruit trees are well adapted to the soils of Goa. A breadfruit promotion mission is required. A single large breadfruit is sold for ` 60 which shows how wealth can be generated from breadfruit plantations. Stress has to be given on the diseases of breadfruit trees which cause fruit drop. For landscaping also breadfruits are an excellent species. Being evergreen with wide a canopy, breadfruit trees can add to the quality of the local environment.
Another rare but neglected variety is Artocarpus integer - it looks like a jackfruit but is not the same species. However the agriculture department has no information on distribution of Artocarpus heterophyllus and Artocarpus integer species. It may wake up only after a multinational seed company makes them an offer to source germplasm of these species.
Nothing has been done to promote otamb fruits produced by another Artocaprus species - Artocaprus lakoocha. The rind is a good source of organic acids. Although bilimbi and carambolam trees are common in Goa’s rural areas, there is not much emphasis on improving the cultivar and promoting their value added products like – sliced, salted and dried bilimbi, bilimbi pickles, production of oxalic acid from bilimbi, etc. Ripe bilimbis can be used for wine production. Carambolam make excellent pickles and jams. Both these fruits are not recommended for people with kidney problems as the oxalate content is high. Carambolam wine is popular in South East Asia.
A form of gooseberry - raj aawala - Phyllanthus acidus is an excellent source of Vitamin C. But people plant this species more for ornamental purposes and waste the abundant fruits. The fruits make tasty sweet and sour pickles and jams.
Zagama and Chaferam are now rarely seen in the markets. These fruits of the Flocurtia species have good nutritional value. At least Goa’s major educational institutions could have raised gardens of these fruits.
The Portuguese planted Adanva trees near the churches and chapels. Then these beautiful evergreen trees spread to the interiors of villages. But during the harvesting period (December-March) very small crops are now seen in the markets.
Six years ago I had paid ` 300 for 100 fruits. There needs to be a systematic attempt to use these luxuriant trees for landscaping of church and temple premises. So far no thought has been given to use these species for roadside arboriculture.
Goans patronised these fruits for several centuries because they love to experiment with novel plant species. It is the duty of the village panchayats to catalogue the wealth of the fruit trees in their jurisdiction and provide incentives to cultivators. Most of these fruit species are garden crops and don’t require very large tracts of land for cultivation.
If villages in Tiswadi, Bardez, Ponda, Salcete and Marmagoa keep a target of planting just 10-20 trees of each of the above species every year then these areas would turn into tropical fruit gardens. National horticulture mission needs to be converted into State fruits promotion mission.
Coloured fruits, fruits with phenolics and anti-oxidants, fruits with beneficial pigments have been highly recommended as probiotics to keep away various forms of diseases and cancers. Goans are compelled to eat temperate fruits imported from China, Australia, New Zealand, Chile only because there is inadequate supply of traditional seasonal fruits.
The neglected fruits of Goa need focus of the civil society before their diversity is completely lost. Poor crops of Cashew and Mangoes indicate that local fruits have no real local champions. For the next generation, the photographs of Zams, bhedsa, palpanas, zagama, adanvas, chaferas may be the sole consolation.

Three colourful varieties of cultivated Zamb (Syzigium jambos - pale green, coral red and pinkish), five different varieties of Jamun / Jambul (Syzigium cumuni), two rare annona (custard apple family)

The Neglected Mammals of Goa

The Neglected Mammals of Goa

By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat

This is the first part in a series of articles as a curtain raiser for the world environment day - June 5, 2011, and to focus public attention on neglected faunal creatures of Goa.
Goans get carried away by the hype created over a few species of animals which get good press. But in the process the rest of the fauna gets neglected. Understanding animals is a serious biological science which has been diluted by amateur busybodies in Goa.
It is awful to see hundreds of large earthworms crushed under speeding vehicles during the monsoon. It is shocking to see freshwater tortoises being sold in village markets. These unfortunate creatures end up as ‘Xacuti’ in some homes. It is sad to hear gunshots wounding fruit bats (pakhe). Every beat of Goa’s ghumat echoes the death throes of monitor lizards. Every local dish of sharks like ‘mori ambot tikh’ reminds one of the ban imposed on their catching. But our fish markets are full of banned elasmobranches fish.
People love to talk about elephants, tigers, panthers, turtles and frogs - animals which have global support. But there are hundreds of other species which also need our attention. The present knowledge of faunal diversity of Goa is based on surveys conducted by the Zoological survey of India (ZSI). They identified 1326 species of 17 groups. Among these birds dominate with 458 species.
Goa could be called a paradise of birds because 37 per cent of country’s bird diversity is found here. In our small university campus spread over less than two sq. kms area, Prof Shanbhag and his students have catalogued 110 species of birds or 25 per cent of state avian diversity.
Whereas 456 species of reptiles are found in the whole country - Goa scores well with 100 species. The most advanced group of animals - mammals is well presented here with 83 species (21 per cent) out of the total 390 for the whole country.
Mammals of Goa also comprise six marine species - Indopacific Humpback dolphin, common dolphin, spinner dolphin, back finless porpoise, fin whale and dugong. There are reports of killing of dolphins. Dugongs were sighted at Chapora and Anjuna some time back. These are extremely shy and rare marine mammals. There are many reports of whale carcasses washed ashore in coastal Goa. But the forest department doesn’t monitor such events and report these to IUCN or whale and dolphin conservation society.
The other 77 mammal species are listed here. Shrews (chichundri) are represented by Madras tree shrew, common house shrew, Savi’s pigmy shrew. Bats are very important in seed dispersal and pollination. These flying mammals have the gift of echolocation. We need a better knowledge of bats and the viruses which they carry in Goa. I would not advise anyone to consume fruits damaged or punctured by bats because there is a chance of viral transmission of diseases. Some of these viruses are fatal to humans.
The bats of Goa include 26 species - Indian fulvus fruit bat, Indian flying fox, short-nosed fruit bat, lesser Dog-faced fruit bat, Pouch-bearing tomb bat, Long winged tomb bat, Black bearded tomb bat, Theobald’s tomb bat, lesser false vampire bat, Greater false vampire bat, Blyth’s Horse-shoe bat, Rufous Horse shoe bat, fulvus leaf nosed bat, Kelaart’s leaf-nosed bat, Schneider’s leaf-nosed bat, painted bat, Tickell’s bat, Horsfields’ bat, Kellart’s Pipistrelle, Indian Pipistrelle (three subspecies), Asiatic greater yellow house bat, Asiatic lesser yellow house bat, Long-winged bat or Schreibers’ bat and Egyptian Free tailed bat.
The tiny and cute pipistrelle bats routinely visit the corridors of my faculty building during the monsoon. At night sightings of Indian flying foxes is common. They just love to hang on our fruit trees. When I used to keep ripe fruits as baits on my roof they used to descend and smartly pick them. I suspect that a colony of these giant bats may be present on ‘Bat Island’ in the Marmagoa bay.
The primates have a smaller population in Goa - slender loris (vanmanus), Bonnet Macaque (makod/khete) and Hanuman Langur (vandor) - just three out of 25 primate species in the country. There is just a single species of pangolin-Indian pangolin.
The canine family is represented by Indian jackal, Indian wild dog (dhole/kolsun) and Bengal fox. Among these we need to pay special attention to the small surviving population of highly social Indian wild dog found in the Western Ghats.
A single species of sloth bear is what is left of the ursidae family.
The smooth –coated Indian otter (ud) is a wonderful and rare species of Goa. Other wonderful and cute species include - small Indian civet, Palm civet or Toddy cat (catandor), Indian gray Mongoose, Ruddy Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Jungle cat, Leopard Cat, Rusty spotted cat, Leopard/panther, striped tiger, Indian elephant, Indian wild boar, Indian mouse deer, Indian spotted deer or chital, Sambar, Barking deer, Gaur, chosuinga or four Horned antelope.
Squirrels are well represented. The Bondla sanctuary is the best place to watch the Indian Giant Squirrel and common giant flying squirrel. There are two species of Indian giant squirrel. Other local species include three striped jungle squirrel and the Indian five striped northern palm squirrel. The latter is very common in Goa and abounds in our gardens.
Why should Goa host so many species of rats? The family of wild rats and mice, muridae family is represented by Indian Gerbil or Antelope Rat, Long tailed tree mouse, Metad rat, House rat or Roof rat, white bellied rat, Norvey rat, Indian bush rat, common house mouse, little Indian field mouse, lesser bandicoot rat and Large bandicoot rat (three subspecies). The Indian crested porcupine can be seen at the Bondla zoo.
The Indian black napped hare (soso) has been hunted down in Goa for centuries. Occasionally it is spotted after the first monsoon rains in grasslands. During my childhood, attempts to domesticate this species rescued from hunters had failed as our space was not sufficient for this mini kangaroo like creature. It used to jump so high that each leap used to take our breath away.
How much we know and care for the habitat of these 83 mammal species? The wildlife census of the forest department lists only a few species. They don’t care about the other life forms. What about the species outside the forest areas? The peculiar call of the Indian jackal is missed in the villages of Goa. Farmers now hate the monkeys destroying their plantation crops. The nocturnal and shy toddy cat now finds it difficult to hide itself, feed and reproduce as constructions have come up close to coconut plantations.

(To be concluded)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Konkans day of Apocalypse [science fiction short]

[Translated by the author, Dr. Nandakumar Kamat, from the Marathi original
Konkanpralaya?, first published on 30 May 2004 in the Daily Gomantak,
Panjim, Goa, Sunday supplement 'Shabdasohala']

Initially the seismologists thought that the epicenter of that earthquake could be the area around the Koyna dam. But considering the experience of Latur, they began immediate and detail investigation. On Richter scale
the tremors measured only six and the quake had lasted hardly for twenty seconds. Tremors of lesser intensity were still getting recorded. Napoleon Lobo and Janardan Sawant had gone for a fishing trip in the Bay of Marmagoa. Near Sunchi reef they had spotted an unusual piece of rock projecting from the surface from the surrounding water. Perhaps a new island might be emerging -- they thought. Four houses on the slopes of Altinho, Panjim had collapsed. This mishap had caused panic among the Panjimites. Landslides close to many roads in Goa had caused motor vehicle accidents. Residents of Salvador da Mundo, Betul, Balli, Poladpur, Harnem, Mangaon, Kudal, Konkan and Goa were stunned to find their regular
village wells unexpectedly overflowing. They couldn't explain the
phenomenon. The Galjibaga coastline had been hit by unprecedented dance of
turbulent sea. Most of the beach was eroded. Giant waves had also eroded
the Anjuna coastline. Advocate Gomes had a palatial bungalow on the banks
of Mandovi estuary at Ribandar. He noticed that the walls were slowly
sinking. People had thronged to Surla village on Goa?s border with
Karnataka to witness the newly formed hot water spring. It strongly
smelled of sulphur. A few geologists had also rushed there. But the smart
local people had not permitted them to carry out any research. The Deccan
trap found on the north east of Goa had been formed 65 million years ago.
The western ghats known as Sahyadris were born 45 million years ago, but
the geologists were convinced that this orogenic process had halted or
slowed down. The west coast fault located in the Arabian sea runs parallel
to the coastline of Goa and Konkan. The rivers in Goa show a zig zag
course on account of ancient tectonic activities. There was an atmosphere
of gloom in the Indian geophysical institute. The seismographs were
clearly indicating the possibility of a major earthquake. Commands had
been issued to measure the declination or the microscopic movement of the
Konkan coastline using laser altimetry. The famous seismologist Dr. Harsh
Gupta had issued a warning to remain vigilant for 24 hours. It was June,
2007. The monsoon had begun on time. The Konkan belt was having a party.
It was bumper crop of Alphonso mangoes. The Ratnagiri-Kolhapur railway
link had become operational. Work on the new multilane west coast highway
had finally begun. New technology had reduced landslides on the Konkan
railway route. But on June 14 th, the Padi tunnel in Canacona developed a
huge linear fissure. Mud and water began leaking through it endangering
railway travel. The fissure looked like a clean knife cut. On war
footing the repair works were in full swing. So far all these events
scattered in space and time were not co-related and none had suspected
any link to the anticipated earthquake. After anchoring his trawler to the
Vasco fishing jetty, Napoleon Lobo spoke to Janardhan Sawant- ? the sea
appears mischievous. I can see a strange colour in the water. It it as if
something is churning at the bottom the sea.? Accepting Lobo?s
observations, Janardhan Sawant remarked-? I remember the strange rock
which we had encountered. What do you think about it?. Don?t you think
that it came out of the sea like a whale jaw?.? Lobo noticed the overcast
southwestern horizon. A huge bank of oddly shaped clouds was forming. ?I
fear that a storm or may be a cyclone is coming this way?. Sawant did not
agree with him. He said-? Napolean, if that was the case then they would
have furled a red signal flag at the jetty much in advance. Where is the
While they were speaking, the bottoms of the Indian ocean were in turmoil.
A process which was thought to have slowed down million of years ago, had
become active again. A chain of dormant volcano was close to the Reunion
islands. These were ovens of the earth, now almost extinguished by time.
But Earth is a peculiar, unpredictable planet. Although detail maps of the
ocean floors were available, there was insufficient information from ocean
core drilling project. In absence of any reliable global data about the
composition of the ocean floor sub-surface, the scientist believed that,
it could be considered stable.
17 June 2007. The government wheels started moving.
Precautionary orders were issued in anticipation of the
earthquake. Panjim saw a huge rally which educated the citizens
on disaster preparedness. Margao, Marmagoa, Ponda, Usgao,
Karapur, Kalapur, Gimonem, Amonem -- the meetings at all these
places warned the people about the impending earthquake. But
nobody knew the magnitude of the coming disaster or its? timing
or what was expected of them to deal with such a situation. The
television channels were constantly churning features, which
made contradictory claims and created confusion. Some said that
a mega earthquake was going to hit the west coast. Some others
claimed that a supercyclone was brewing somewhere.
21 June 2007. Kolaba, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Panjim observatories
recorded tremors of six magnitude. The seismologists were more or less
successful now to identify the unstable region. The trouble spot was
towards the north of Reunion islands. Suddenly that region had become
seismically reactivated. Immediately messages flew. Supercomputers began
crunching numbers and data. Probability maps were ready based on models of
the sinking of the ocean floor and its? impact on the land. The Laccadives
island groups faced the biggest threat followed by the islands of
Seychelles and Reunion. Then was the turn of India?s west coast.
23 June 2007. The President of India issued a declaration proclaiming
civil emergency on the west coast from Vapi to Mangalore. ?Don?t panic?
the appeals told the citizens. Tourists in Goa had retreated. All new
bookings had been cancelled. Goa was under the cloud of invisible anxiety
and tension. Fear of the unknown was in the air.
24 June 2007. The Chief minister Mr. Mansamrat presided over an all party
meeting at Miramar. Politicians otherwise at loggerheads with each other
found themselves brought together by the approaching calamity. They
resolved to face the disaster unitedly.
25 June 2007. A new volcano exploded in the southern Indian ocean near
Reunion and began belching fire and molten lava. There were mild tremors.
But the new Volcano literally shook the global community. When the first
images from the submersible were telecast-people could assess the
seriousness of the event. There was danger ahead.
Napoleon Lobo spoke to Janardhan Sawant: 'My god..I don?t think that the
signs are good for Goa. We need a change Jana... The rain has not yet
picked its rhythm -- so why not go for picnic?.? Janardhan responded
enthusiastically. His friend stayed at Paroda. The Paroda hillock was very
close to his house. ?Lobo, listen.. I would show you the famous
Chandranath hill. You can really enjoy Goa from its? beautiful summit.?.
Lobo had heard about this place but never had any opportunity to visit it.
After they arranged for the safety of their trawlers, Lobo and Sawant
drove towards Paroda.
Morning of 26 th June. There was a light drizzle. Slowly it became a
torrent. Then it started raining cats and dogs. People began running for
shelter everywhere as the rain picked up momentum. Panjim recorded 12
inches rainfall within four hours. At three PM the Observatory issued a
special weather bulletin. It said that very heavy rainfall was possible in
Konkan and Goa for the next 48 hours causing flooding of low lying areas
and flash floods. On their way to Paroda, Lobo and Sawant had no idea of
this bulletin. They reached Paroda. They purchased food at Quepem. Then
they located the house of Janardhan?s friend. They couldn?t find him
there. He had already gone to watch the rain from Paroda hill. So, the duo
decided to visit the Paroda hill. They drove as sheets of rain beat on
their windshield. The rain had erected a thick curtain around the hill.
But Lobo and Sawant?s Toyota jeep was strong enough to take them to the
summit. They reached near the Chandranath temple as the faint Sun began
sinking on the western horizon. Lobo first noticed the fierce waters of
the Arabian sea. It was something different and unfamiliar to him. He
could not help it and said? ?Janardhan, I doubt if this rain would ever
take rest now..?.
Almost at the same time, there was a flood like situation near Panjim?s
Mandovi hotel. People were forced to enter the Hotel. They were treated to
complimentary cakes and biscuits. Nobody noticed the Sunset. The night was
approaching. Suddenly the power went off. It was beginning of a
nightmarish night. The Navy helicopters were flying sorties in the
darkness of the night. The wireless center was deluged by appeals for help
from flooded areas. Vasishthi, Savitri, Kundalika, Gangavali,Kali, Mandovi
all major western flowing rivers were in spate. The water had broken all
the barriers and bundhs. Sal river had flooded Salcete. From Margao to
Assolna the valley was completely flooded. People from Majorda and
Cansaulim climbed the Remedios hill, but they had a mass panic attack after
they looked down towards the Salcete plains. Upto Cavelloshim-Betul, there
was water, water everywhere.
26 June 2007. Several small volcanoes erupted to form a chain in the
Indian ocean. The surface temperature was now rising. The winds started
blowing. It was past 6 PM. One of the newly formed volcanoes exploded with
massive force. All the seismographs in the world recorded the tremors.
Relatively the magnitude was small. But it had catastrophic power. The
real danger was from the giant Tsunami waves created by the volcanic
eruption. With every explosion, a new Tsunami wave front, ending to reach
a crest of 100 metres was forming and then these raced towards the
coastline. These waves had immense destructive power.
Afternoon, June 27 th. Paroda. Sawant exclaimed: ?Lobo, look there!?. Both
of them turned to watch the coastline of Goa with horror. From the
southwest, they saw giant waves towering to a height equalling more than
the combined length of ten coconut trees collapsing on Goa?s coast and
fully eroding it. The Tsunamis did not spare the rest of the Konkan and
the west coast. The ocean had ultimately snatched back the land which was
once called-?Parashuramkshetra?, 'Gomantak? and 'Shurparaka? . It was
Konkan?s day of apocalypse!

four out of seven "natural wonders" of Goa fall in or around the Canacona-Quepem area.

around palolem

Dr. Nandkumar Kamat says four out of seven "natural wonders" of Goa fall in or around the Canacona-Quepem area.

Morpila Sacred Grove.
Ancient, sheltered forests are plentiful in interior Goa. Kamat feels the one at Morpila in Canacona's neighboring Quepem Taluka as the "most interesting of all". It protects the starting place of a mountain stream.

Chandranath Hill
Chandranath hill is another topographically-interesting feature. It comprises two hillocks of near-uniform contour height. One hillock is 300m and the other is 350m high. Scientists suggest a meteorite fell on Chandranath Mountain during the pre-historic period.
Chandranath Temple
Shree Chandranath temple is located on the summit of the 350 meters high hill of Chandranath, at Paroda, Quepem. Chandreshwar was the deity of Bhoja kings who ruled South Goa before the Portuguese till the middle of the 8th century. They had furthermore named their capital Chandrapur after the deity. A rock is there within the temple precinct which exudes artistic splendor whenever rays of full moon fall on it. Some claim that milk oozes from the Shiva Linga at this special celestial event. A shivalinga is also carved out from this rock. The temple is so designed that Linga receives moonlight on every full moon. The temple commands panoramic view and also its surroundings are very charming. The temple’s ancient chariot is well known for its woodcarvings that are visited by lot of people. 'Chandrashila', the iron-meteorite worshipped in the temple, further adds to the mystery of this place. (View more Photos)

South Goa's straight coastline.

The coastline of South Goa according to Dr. Nandkumar Kamat is of a peculiar linear shape which stretches from Majorda to Betul, just north of the Canacona-Quepem coast. This could be a much "younger" coast (around 6,000-15,000 years young) compared to the rest of the Goan coast, and is a "trekker's dream-stretch".

Partagal Mutt Temple
This Mutt headquarters earlier existed at Bhatkal in 1476 AD. Later (after the Samadhi of Swami Shrikanta Tirtha) shifted to Partagali village on the banks of the sacred river Kushavati in Goa known as  Gokarn-Partagali Mutt. This place is popularly known as Bramhasthan. After Swami Jeevothan Tirtha the Mutt is also called Jeevothan Mutt.  Present pontiff Vidhyadhiraj Tirtha succeeded to the Peetha in 1973. The Mutt has its headquarters at Partagali, Poinguinim, and Canacona in Goa. Close by is the banks of the Talpona river. (View more Photos)

Largest Banyan Tree in Goa
There is a giant Vatavriksha (Banyan tree) about 200 meters to the north of the Partagal Jeevothan Mutt with 220 aerial roots and total area admeasuring 235 feet x 225 feet and is believed to be 2000 years old. It can accommodate about 1000 people in its shade. (View more Photos)

Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Canacona Taluka of South Goa. The best time to visit the sanctuary is from October to December. The sanctuary is open from 0700 till 1730 for visitors. The sanctuary has eight well laid out nature trails traversing it. There are six watchtowers in the sanctuary. Also there is one 'tree top', it is situated about 20 meters high on a tree overlooking a waterhole. Both the Gal and Talpona rivers of Canacona Taluka originate from the sanctuary.

At the entrance to the sanctuary there is an ecotourism complex which houses the nature interpretation centre, cottages, toilets, library, reception area, rescue centre, canteen and Range Forest Office.  The lesser-known animals in the sanctuary include the Flying Squirrel, Slender Loris, Indian Pangolin, Mouse Deer, Four-horned Antelope, Malabar Pit Viper, Hump-Nosed Pit Viper, White-bellied Woodpecker, Malabar Trogon, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Speckled Piculet, Malayan Bittern, Draco or Flying Lizard, Golden-back Gliding Snake and Malabar Tree Toad.
Cabo De Rama Fort
Long land that juts into the sea, takes its name from the hero Ram of the Hindu epic, "The Ramayana", hence the name Cabo De Rama. Not far from Agonda beach is Cabo de Rama, untouched by most of the visitors in this region.
The atmosphere of the fort creates a sense of history and drama that very few would fail to appreciate. According to the local legends, Rama stayed here with his wife Sita during the period of 12-year exile. This place has a very short coastline bordered by the remains of the fort and hence very rocky and not suitable for swimming. (View more Photos)

The vanishing wildflowers

Wild Flowers

The vanishing wildflowers
-  by Nandkumar Kamat

As you drive in Goa's countryside (and actually anywhere in the Western Ghats, along NH-17A and NH-4A) you would not fail to notice the plateaus, the hill slopes, the valleys covered by wildflowers. To the serious students of natural history and amateur wildflower watchers - Issac Kihimkars, “Common wild flowers” (2000) and Shrikant Ingalhallikar's,” Flowers of Sahyadri” (2001) are indispensable field guides.

Why should we be interested in wildflowers? Firstly, these species represent an important wild genetic resource-priceless biological wealth. Secondly, many of these are medicinal and only a few are cultivated. Thirdly, there is a serious and still ill understood ecological and biological dimension-the wildflowers support the food web. The insect and bird pollinators depend on certain species of wildflowers. Fourthly, there is an economic and biotechnological dimension - wildflowers could be a rich bank of biopharmaceuticals and pigments. Fifthly, there is cultural and ecotourism dimension - the wildflowers generate curiosity, awe, wonder and inspire creativity.
What daffodils were to the British poet Wordsworth, the wildflowers of Goa were to the first modern Goan Konkani poet - Bayabhav. His poetry collection was titled-Sadyavelim fulam, (wildflowers on a plateau).
Goan painters and artists appreciate Vincent van Gaugh and Paul Gaugin-but seem to have generally neglected the beauty of wildflowers in their own neighbourhood. Wildflowers of Goa, about 100 species have not yet entered into any serious environmental discourse. Their natural wild habitats have been taken over by settlements and industries.

How old are Goa's wildflowers? The flowering plants are 135 million years old. They flourished 70 million years ago. The Western Ghats are 45 million years old. The plateaus of Goa may be much more ancient. So, the endemic wildflowers are at least 70 million years old. Do you know what this means? When a fertile wildflower habitat in your neighbourhood is destroyed the gene pool with its evolutionary history of 70 million years also vanishes. Of course, there is a school of thought which feels that it is not necessary to conserve the wildflower habitats in small patches anywhere. These people believe that if a good patch of wildflowers in the Western Ghats (Kas plateau near Satara) is conserved then we need not worry about other local habitats. Unfortunately this is not the policy in USA and the European Union countries which respect their wildlife flora in all the regions and states. In India only the valley of flowers has been accorded the conservation status.

But, what about Goa's plateaus and valleys of wildflowers? Would anyone care for these habitats? One of the well known wildflower habitat is the Bambolim-Taleigao-Dona-Paula plateau. The best season to observe and photograph the succession of wildflowers is between July to September. What you find on this plateau? Here is a list for your reference. Many of these species are common on other plateaus of Goa as well. There are species of Cleomaceae-the spiderflowers-Whiskered spider flower-Cleome gynandra, Common spider flower-cleome rutidosperma, and Yellow spider flower- Cleome viscose.

I always wonder about the history of domestication of the common ladies finger and why farmers who used to cultivate it on this plateau reported bumper crops? The reason is that the plateau has a gene pool of wild ladies finger well adapted to the soil and climate. The members of Malvaceae are well represented -- we have wild ladies finger-jungli bhendi and ran bhendi, or Abelmoschus manihot ssp Tetraphyllus, we also see Country mallow-abutilon indicum, locally known as petari- the buttons of this flower are dipped in colour to make designs. Other wildflower species include the - Common mallow or Azanza lampas, grape leaved mallow or Kosteletzksya vitifolia (van kapus), Brazul jute or Malachra capitata, angled sida-or Sida rhombifolia, common burbush-Triumfetta rhomboidea, Mysore linseed-Tribulus terrestris, Little tree plant-Biophytum sensitivum, Common balsam-Impatiens balsamia, Rosemarine hill balsam-Impatiens rosmarinifolia, crab eyed creeper-Abrus precatorius- or Gunj, common swordbean- Canavalia gladiata, Bombay bean-Clitoria annua, Butterfly bean-Clitoria ternatea, creeping hemp-Crotalaria filipes, greater rattle rod- Crotalaria leschenaultii, common rattle rod-Crotalaria retusa, common psoralea- Callen corylifolia, Indian sweet pea-Vigna vexillata, Candle cassia-Cassia alata, pot cassia-Cassi torra-( Taklo-used as vegetable at tender stage), Flaming spike climber-Moullava spicata-or Wagatea spicata-(waghati-very good for making dry flowers), touch me not-Mimosa pudica, wild musk melon-Curcumis melo, Spiny melon-Curcumis prophetarum-(without which Dipavali cannot be celebrated), Bristle gourd-Momordica dioica, Madras pea pumpkin-Mukia maderaspatana, Common frineged flower vine Trichosanthes curcumerina, Great fringed flower vine-Trichosanthes tricuspidata, beautiful Mexican foss flower Ageratum houstonianum-( native of Peru and Mexico), purple heads-Phyllocephalum scabridum(excellent species for domestication), Graham's
groundsel-Selecio grahami (you can see vast carpets of these on hill slopes-Tivim, Sirsaim ,and on Assagao-Siolim plateau), blue dawn glory-Ipomea nil, Tiger s paw glory-Ipomoea pes-tigridis, little gooseberry-Physalis minima, oriental sesame-Sesamum orientale, Hairy creat Indonesiella echioides, Common small justicia-Justicia procumbens-July, Blue fountain bush-Clerodendrum serratum-( the flowers mimic the butterfly), Hill clerodendrum-Clerodendrum viscosum, Silver spiked cockscomb -Celosia argentea ( nice for flower arrangements), hill turmeric-Curcuma pseudomontana- (blooms only in June, medicinal), Glory lily-Gloriosa superba- ( a beautiful colourful flower with good shelf life, known as agnishikha, Vaghache chopke, kalalavi, the tubers have an anti-cancer drug-Colchicin).

There are plentiful of flowering tubers like the Dragon stalk yalm-Amorphophyllus commutatus, taro-Colocasia esculenta. The wildflower species include the relatives of domesticated cucurbits-and these may harbour interesting antiviral, fire and drought resistant genes.
There are other interesting species which come up in wet places-near seasonal ponds. These include the bead grass-Ericaulon sedwickii and the insect trapping Utricularia reticulata. A mosaic of white and purple colours would be found these days on Donapaula plateau. This is an association of Ericaulon and Utricularia.

Very little is known about such wildflower associations. It is an ecological mystery of nature which may never be elucidated in Goa because at least near the urban and industrial centers the future of the remaining natural habitats of wildflowers is uncertain. Within next few years one would have to travel deeper into the countryside to experience the beauty of the wildflowers.

I have found it difficult to convince the Goa University authorities about the long term genetic, ecological and biological importance of preserving, protecting and in-situ conserving the wildflower biodiversity of our campus. Practically this means, creating mini-wildflower reserves-small patches all over the campus and maintain them in pristine conditions. But these species have few friends and are condemned to vanish in a few years.


By Dr. Nandkumar Kamat


GEOGRAPHY is a wonderful and exciting subject. It has however suffered vast neglect in our country. Goa is not an exception.
Smaller the state, more the ignorance of geography. A majority of students do not have a clear mental picture of Goa's geography. One is puzzled by the disinterest of science and humanities students, who don't think it necessary to know more about Goa's geography.
In the US, the National Geographic Society revolutionised geographical knowledge of citizens of all age groups. The National Geographic magazine reaches millions of subscribers in more than one hundred and fifity countries. Many Goans who've returned after working abroad, subscribe to this magazine. Every issue is a collector's item.
Geographic knowledge is not a luxury but an economic and educational necessity in our modern world. Those who speak of globalisation seldom know of geo- globography. Those who know something about the globe, generally have poor knowledge of the geography of their state or the country.
If one were asked to make geography interesting, where better to begin than to introduce it in a compact, user-friendly form by highlighting geographical and natural wonders. Knowledge of Goa's geography could be introduced in seweral ways -- by studies of the genesis of the west-coast landmass, the western ghats, by providing a chronological sequence of emergence of today's Goa, by combining geomorpholoical hydrographic features or by emphasising on the human elements; how settlements arose in Goa.
But the difficulty is that even 36 years after Liberation, 22 years afterthe formation of the Goa SSC & HSSC Board of Education, 12 years after the establishment of the Goa University, there is still no Atlas of Goa, neither a good (1:50,000) wall map with standard geographic details available anywhere.Government officials, teachers and students are managing with tourist-maps of Goa!
The Survey of India maps are classified and are not available to the public. The best map is the regional map of Goa, which is a colour-coded, foldable wall map, stressing on the land utilisation pattern as envisaged in 1989. There are no contours or hydrographic or physiographic features in the map. Even then, for Rs 30 it is a buy.
With all these difficulties in mind, I decided to compile at least one thousand geographically interesting facts about Goa. This article deals with seven. These have been selected not necessarily because they are the best natural wonders of Goa. Many of these "wonders" are everyday features, to the people who take them for granted.
Let each of these wonders tell you an interesting story. Each wonder has its secret. Let us explore these wonders, one by one: MARINE FOSSIL DEPOSITS OF CHICALIM
Some 10,000 to 25,000 years ago, the sea-level must have been higher than it is at present. As you travel by the Cortalim-Vasco road, after crossing Sancoale, wherever the road has been widened by cutting the laterite, a continuous winding deposit of white marine shells is seen exposed.
This marine fossil bed is sandwitched between two layers of lateritic soil. The upper layer seems to have been formed recently. Similar fossils are found on the other side of the Zuari river at Siridao on the paddy fields, which are at almost the same level.
These marine fossil-beds are not only interesting, but could also tell us much more about ancient climate and sea-recession. The best of these deposits are exposed at Chicalim. SOUTH-GOA'S STRAIGHT COASTLINE
A look at the map of South Goa district with draw your attention to the peculiar liner shape of the district's coastline from Majorda to Betul. Such linearity represents uniform seaprecession and a young coastline.
As compared to the interior areas of Goa, this coastal stretch seems to have been formed recently (6,000-15,000 years ago). Majorda, Varca, Betalbatim, Colva... many famous beaches are located on this linear coastline -- a trekker's dream- stretch.
This linearity was a function of protective sand- dunes which are today getting demolished. Once the dunes disappear, this linear-wonder will become a zigzagging nightmare, due to change in the coastal geomorphology under tidal action. KERI-PERNEM'S MAJESTIC ROCK-ARCH
This writer noticed this striking feature while trekking the Pernem coastline from the Keri-beach to Morjim many years ago. There are two routes to reach Arambol beach from Kerim along the coastline. One is via the coast and the other via the hillside.
The rock-arch forms a cave-like shelter near the hillside. When you enter the cave-like structure you realise it to be a massive arch which allows you to cross to the other side of the beach in a few minutes, while your colleagues walking along the coastline may need half an hour.
On closer inspection, the arch was found to be architectured by wave action. It is perhaps the only such passage in North Goa, but still it is less- investigated. WELL-OF-THIEVES AT BAGA
An interesting, layered rock formation is projected in the sea, just below the famous Baga Retreat House, looked after by the Jesuit Fathers. A deep, well-like structure, fully surrounded by massive rock-walls, except for a small opening, is known as "Choram Baim" (or, the well of thieves).
Sea-water gushes in this hollow, emitting a peculiar, metallic sound, which is so haunting and transfixing that it glues one to the site instantly.
These rocks are very old and may be remnants of the continental drift, which separated Goa from Madagascar and Antarctica. According to one tradition, thieves used to hide valuable items in the hollows of the rocks near the well, and thus it came to be known as choram (thieves) baim (well).
My interpretation is that 'choram' means a deep ditch, and hence the local name indicates a ditch- like deep geological formation influenced by the sea. THE TWIN HISTORIC HILLOKCS OF PARODA
One of the interesting topographic features of South Goa is the centrally-located, strategically formed Chandranath hill. Actually, there are two hillocks, with almost uniform contour lines and a triangular majestic elevation.
One hillock is 300m and the other is 350m high.
Originally known as Parvat, Prithviparvat or Paroda hills, these two magnificient peaks command the massive, fertile plains of Salcete and Quepem talukas between Mulem to Ambaulim and Talavardem to Sarzora.
Molem hill(175m) on the north, Adnem hill(161m) on the south, and Cuncolim(100m) hillock at the south-east form a triangle around this plain.
A meteorite fell on Chandranath mountain during the pre-historic period. A temple was built at that place during the Sata-Vahana period. The Bhoja kings developed this temple when they were ruling from Chandrapura -- today's Chandor at the foot of Paroda hill.
These hills are unique central watersheds of the Paroda river. There are no comparable landmarks in South Goa. In terms of location, topography, antiquity and natural charm. 'Chandrashila', the iron-meteorite worshipped in the temple, further adds to the mystery of this place. PARTAGAL-CANACONA'S GIANT BANYAN TREE
Goa boasts of some huge banyan (Ficus) trees. The one at Parcem-Pernem spellbinds you due to its height. But the giant banyan tree near the Vaishnavite Partagali Math (religious centre) at Partagal-Canacona standing close to the Talpona river bank is a charming creation of nature's phytoarchitectural skills.
It is a horizontal foliar-wonder. This tree, believed to be at least 2000 years old, is spread over a vast area which can encompass about one thousand people in its shade. The site selection for the Math, a local religious centre of prominence, in the fifteenth century might have been influenced by the presence of this banyan tree, regarded as being holy. It is a tree not to be missed. THE SACRED GROVE OF MORPILA-QUEPEM
Sacred groves are ancient, untouched, virgin, protected forests. There are hundreds in Goa. Some are small -- comprising just one giant tree, mostly banyan. Some are huge, like the 'Nirakarachi Rai' near Valpoi. But the most interesting of all is the sacred grove of Morpila in Quepem taluka.
It protects the source of a mountain stream called 'Paikacho Vhal' (stream of the forest-spirit Paik). To reach it, one has to remove any leather sandals, climb a steep gradient, enter a long tunnel of bushes, walk on fours as the tunnel gets narrower and narrower and then come out to witness a cascading spring emerging out of the heart of a dense forest.
Not a leaf has been lifted from this area for thousands of years. This makes the grove a repository of ancient, untouched biodiversity.
During our last visit, Dr. Jairam Bhat found new species of aquatic fungi in this place, not known to science. The (tribal) Velip community has zealously tabooed and guarded this place for centuries. It is not a picnic spot, so visitors will be turned back. Morpila's sacred grove is a wonder of nature because of its pristine habitat and undisturbed biodiversity.

Eco-vandalism at Santo Estevam island: a tale from today's Goa

Eco-vandalism at Santo Estevam island: a tale from today's Goa

Dr Nandkumar Kamat
nkamat at

JUA, Zuvem, Santo estevam (Saint Stephan) is a breathtakingly beautiful and scenic estuarine island at the confluence of Mandovi with Narve, Valvota tributaries and Cumbarjua canal.

Spread over 827 hectares, the only high ground in the island is the strategically located hillock. During the reign of Dom Afonso VI, when the count of St Vincente was in charge of the eastern empire, a fort was built in September 1668 on the hillock. It was named as fort of St Francis Xavier.

The fort commanded a great view of the surrounding region, stretching from Bicholim to Old Goa. On November 24, 1683, the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Sambhaji attacked the fort at night and captured it. It was the closest the Maratha army could come to threaten the city of old Goa.

The Portuguese had understood the strategic military importance of the island and the hillock. In 1560 they had massacred the Adilshahi army on the island. With heaps of the slaughtered bodies strewn around, the Portuguese had named the island "illha de mortos" (island of the dead).

          This island is surrounded by fertile Khazan  (low-lying, reclaimed) land and creeks. The
          ecological security of the island depends on the hillock. It is the only watershed on the island
          which captures the rainfall and replenishes the island's groundwater. Any damage to the historic
          hillock means an interference in the centuries old ecological balance and threat to the very existence
          of the island. But for the past two months, heavy earth moving machinery undid what the nature had
          created for centuries.

More than two hectares of land in a private plot on the slope and near the foot of the hillock was excavated. It had lush green, thick, dense, tree cover. More than 500 trees were cut down.

As one looks down from the ruins of the fort, the ugly transformation numbs the mind. In the history of the island, this is the first major ecological shock.

St. Estevam village has a population of more than 5000, with a predominance of females. The village panchayat (elected council) has seven members; but it was shocking that they could plead absolute ignorance about the excavation. By road, there is only a single narrow entrance and exit to the island. So how could these elected members be unaware about the traffic of earth moving machinery and the trucks?

The village panchayat failed to issue a notice to the developer under Section 109 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act. The ruins of the fort have been declared as protected monument under the Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act, 1978 and the Rules 1980.

Under Section 28 no mining or construction can be done near such a monument without a permission. But the understaffed and resource-starved Archives and Archaeology Ddepartment had no information of this illegal activity till the agitated villagers alerted it.

It appears that several truckloads of laterite stones and earth had been lifted from the site of excavation but the directorate of mines was unaware of the violation of Section 3 of the Goa Minor Minerals Concession Rrules, 1985. The directorate promised action only after the quarrying was completed.

Cutting of the hillocks without permission from the Chief Town Planner is banned under the amended Section 17 of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974. But Santo Estevam hillock bore testimony to the failure of the Town and Country Planning Department which did not smell anything for two months when the hill cutting and bulldozing activity was in full swing.

          The talathis (village official) and the panchayat
          secretaries are supposed to be the eyes and the
          ears of the government regarding land related
          matters. The rules made under the Land Revenue Code
          prescribe elaborate duties of the revenue inspectors.

But the revenue administration is a failure in Goa and the Santo Estevam case was a clear pointer to the total erosion of governance in Tiswadi taluka (sub-district). For two months, hundreds of trees were being cut and the timber was being stacked and transported but the Forest Department took notice only after the press reports.

Almost every law was broken by the developer on the rampage. The anger of the god-fearing villagers of St. Estevam can be understood. Their local panchayat had failed them. The hillock has a picturesque, 83 years old neo-gothic chapel with an exquisitely carved statue of Christ the King in Italian marble.

          The courtyard in front of the chapel offers a
          panoramic view of the estuarine landscape. There
          are very few such spots on earth. On a clear,
          cloudless evening one can get profound aesthetic
          and spiritual experience from this location -- such
          is the quality of the peace and tranquility on the
          island. But after the excavation of the hillock,
          the foundation of the chapel is under threat.

The ill-maintained ruins of the fort have a bleak future because the loose boulders overhanging the cliff may come tumbling down. The hillock would face landslides owing to slope instabilities during heavy rains. The eroded soil would cause massive mud flows which may enter the village and clog the old drainage system. The low lying parts of the island are prone to flooding. The removal of tree cover and the laterite cap means a drastic reduction of the aquifer. The wells would go dry during the coming summer.

The government is insensitive to this environmental crime. The wheels are grinding agonizingly slow. Not a single FIR (first information report) has been booked by the Directorate of Archives, Archaeology, Forest, Mines, Revenue, Town and Country Planning Department. The most shocking role has been played by the village panchayat which has lost the moral right to rule. It has buried the spirit of 73rd constitutional amendment and the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi on the island by being blind to the lawlessness.

The government needs to come down heavily against the offenders. As a long term measure, the private land around the hillock needs to be acquired. The unstable hill slope would have to be stabilized. Terraced plantations of local tree species would have to be created. Landscaping to blend with the original ambience of the hillock would have to be done. A heritage park could be designed. The beautification of the hillock, the chapel precincts and the 17th century fort ruins would make this island an attractive global place for cultural and ecotourism.

The Save St. Estevam front has already given a representation to the Chief Secretary of Goa. The local  MLA, Transport Minister Pandurang Madkaikar, is supportive and sympathetic to their concerns. The government should spare no efforts to give social, cultural, ecological and environmental justice to the neglected villagers of historic St. Estevam island.

Dr Nandkumar Kamat is a prominent former student activist, microbiologist, environmentalist and man of many roles. He is known for taking up a number of contemporary issues in today's Goa. This article was earlier published in The Navhind Times, Monday, October 23, 2006 and is being circulated with the permission of the author.

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Saude, Goa: Fifty years of Independence

Dr Nandakumar declared Goan of the Year for 2002

Dr Nandakumar declared Goan of the Year for 2002

Noted scientists and environmentalist, Dr Nandakumar Kamat was declared Goan of the Year for 2002 by Gulab, a monthly magazine.

Dr Kamat was conferred this honour for his path breaking work in science and environmental issues last year. Topping the list was his stellar work in conducting the public hearings over the proposed privitisation of Miramar beach management, and his hard hitting report, says a press note.

Digambar - a Politician with a Difference

Digambar - a Politician with a Difference
By Nandkumar Kamat

The most interesting development after the election is the formation of a Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and independents alliance government led by a new face, Margao’s popular MLA, Mr Digambar Kamat.
I know him as a politician since 1994. My first impression of him as a cultured, mature, people-friendly, god-fearing politician, has lasted till date, despite his 2005 homecoming.  The Bharatiya Janata Party had entered the Goa assembly in 1994 with just four MLAs. I was voluntarily guiding the then independent, newly elected MLA from Santa Cruz, Ms Victoria Fernandes in her assembly work and had to often interact with all the MLAs. But there was a special equation between the opposition BJP and MGP MLAs. The ex-CM of Goa and at present, the Leader of Opposition, Mr Parrikar was learning his political ropes. He was at his dynamic best in the assembly and had become the darling of the press. Mr Digambar Kamat also came fully prepared for the Assembly sessions, carrying his usual briefcase. He actively participated in the business and in his unique oratorical style used to emphasize his points well, impressing the treasury benches.
The then CM, Mr Rane was full of praise for him and the MGP MLA from Pali, Professor Sadanand Malik. Mr Rane, with his long experience in politics and social sphere, has an excellent yardstick to judge people and politicians. Therefore, I was not surprised that those who supported Mr Rane for another term after the recent elections, threw their lot in favour of Mr Kamat, when consensus over local Congress chief, Ponda MLA Mr Ravi Naik could not materialize.
Contrary to the picture projected by a section of the press, Mr Kamat and Mr Ravi Naik enjoy an excellent personal relationship and I have no doubt in my mind that if the political situation so demands in future, Mr Kamat would be willing to vacate the chair for Mr Naik without any grudge or bitterness. Mr Kamat and Mr Naik share many common things-both are down-to-earth politicians. Both are ex-sportspersons. Both have been excellent grass roots level organizers. Both have risen from municipal level politics. Both are avowedly secular and enjoy the full trust and confidence of the minorities. Both mix easily among the common people and both do not carry any ideological baggage.  Most important-both do not engage into politics of hatred against their opponents or use uncivilized language unbecoming of a cultured personality. Mr Kamat did not lobby for the chief minister’s post. He was the obvious choice because many MLAs trust him and have faith in him, in his aptitude and abilities.  Since 1999, Mr Kamat has done full justice to whichever portfolio he had handled. He created history in India by transforming Goa’s power sector. And given a few more years under his stewardship Goa may attain self-reliance in the power sector. A chief minister needs good leadership qualities. Mr Kamat has proved himself on this front. As a caring minister for art and culture, he planned innovative schemes for neglected artists and today Goa’s art and culture department has won national praise from the Planning Commission of the Union government. Goa is the first and the only state in the country to have its’ own cultural policy.
Mr Kamat, unlike many self-righteous and egoistic politicians, is a thoroughbred democrat. He believes in listening to the people, the professionals, the experts, the NGOs before making decisions. His remarkable quality is that he is not touchy or hypersensitive to criticism. I have been carefully monitoring the hatred campaign launched against him after he left BJP. It reached its’ peak after the notorious Sanvordem riots. It crossed all levels of civility during the recent election campaign. The vicious campaign may be intensified again because of petty and childish political jealousies. There would be deliberate attempts to drive a wedge of mistrust between him and Mr Ravi Naik and foment trouble. If everything fails then the issue of caste and casteism could be conveniently raked up.
Mr Kamat would have probably stagnated at number two position in BJP. Destiny has rewarded him now with a number one position. It does not matter how long he rules as long as he can deliver. Mr Kamat has his own mind and does not need prompting from anyone. Nobody labelled Mr Francisco Sardinha as a ‘dummy’ chief minister despite knowing that he was remote controlled by the BJP. But people’s memory is short. In past 13 years I have not seen any change in the working style of Mr Digambar Kamat. Power did not go to his head. He had been always approachable and accessible. Once I had woken him up at midnight to complain about a power cut at the Goa University. He personally visited the campus with engineers and a long-term plan was drawn up to improve the power supply. His approach is ‘solution oriented’ and if he does not become victim of petty jealousies and crab mentality, Goa would see much better governance under his chief ministership.
However, his growing popularity and a down to earth approach may create enemies for him within and outside the alliance government as time passes. If his cabinet colleagues fail to work as team and those who fail to become ministers try new permutations to get to power then with, without and inspite of BJP’s positive or negative intervention, Goa would be compelled to face a midterm poll. History has brought worst of political foes Mr Ravi Naik and Mr Dhavalikar together in Mr Kamat’s cabinet. Despite his abilities, Mr Luizinho Faleiro could not get even a year to prove himself as chief minister. He was victim of the dissent. Politicians never learn from the past mistakes and then they blame themselves once out of power. People of Goa have certain expectations from the secular-alliance government. It needs to have a common minimum programme and a co-ordination committee of supporting parties and the independents. Mr Kamat has the ability to take the people with him. If he steers clear from potentially controversial issues and focuses on toning up the day-to-day administration, then automatically people of Goa would stand solidly behind him. All the power flows from the will of the common people. Mr Kamat in his first meeting with the civil servants has already made his intentions clear. He needs to make the CM’s office an effective and receptive, people-friendly communication centre. History has given him a chance to lead from the front. Undeterred by uncharitable criticism, he should finally prove himself as Goa’s finest statesman.

6000-tonne Gold mines in North Goa: Dr. Nandkumar Kamat

6000-tonne Gold mines in North Goa:

Dr Nandkumar

Goa's leading scientist Dr Nandkumar Kamat today claimed that there are deposits of gold scattered across the rock formation covering almost 15 per cent area of the state.

"In the area of one lakh hectare, there will be area of 20,000 to 40,000 ha which is gold bearing," Assistant Professor in Goa University's Botany Department Dr Nandkumar Kamat said.

He said the gold deposits are located somewhere 65 metres down the earth on 'Savordem rock formation' which runs from Northern taluka of Pernem and crosses capital city of Panaji and extends upto Salcette taluka.

Kamat said this is first such discovery in Asia and he has already submitted a confidential report to Goa Chief Minister Digamber Kamat seeking to have moratorium on excavations in North Goa below 60 metres depth or below sea level.

Claiming to have enough evidence, Kamat said the gold deposits in the state are estimated to be between minimum of 3,000 tonnes and maximum of 6000 tonnes worth Rs. 600 billion to Rs. 1200 billion.

He said Goa has a huge laterite stone presence, which is very significant from the point of view of gold.

The researcher has also not ruled out possibility of finding zirconium, hafnium, uranium and thorium deposits in Panaji.

In his letter to the Chief Minister on December 30, Kamat has insisted that a technical committee be formed for carrying out systematic geo prospecting and geochemical studies.

"No mining (of gold) should be permitted till full geochemical prospecting is over," Kamat added.

Ten Years of Human Genome Mapping

Ten Years of Human Genome Mapping

By Dr Nandkumar Kamat

The international science journal ‘Nature’ has come out with a special issue ‘The Human Genome at Ten’ on April 1, to celebrate the occasion of completion of a decade of publication of the first ‘rough draft’ of the human genome.
Actually only about 93 per cent of the genome can be mapped owing to difficulties of repetitive parts found at centromeres and telomeres. But the mapped region has almost all the 24000 functional genes.
Considering the complexity of the human body and the intelligence of our species this appears as a relatively small number. Only less than two per cent of human genome codes for functional proteins. The main articles from the special issue are accessible to students and teachers at
Earlier ‘Nature’ had come out with another special issue –‘The Human Genome’ on February 15, 2001 immediately after the first draft map of the human genome was published. They had mailed me a copy with a detail map of the sequenced genome. It was the biggest science news as we entered the 21st century. Slowly with the march of molecular biology and bioinformatics the initial excitement died down. What has been accomplished in the past 10 years? What would we have in the next 10 years? Personal medicine, cure for cancers and promise of long, healthy life? Would we get our smart cards based on our bar coded genome maps?
Since no two human genomes would be exactly identical –genometry would replace biometry. Scientists are analysing the human body like a complex biological machine. The design of this machine is found in the genome so they focused on mapping it. Since functions or malfunctions are related to original design, answers to many of the fundamental questions on health, diseases, genetic abnormalities, youth and ageing, longevity and death, beauty and ugliness, intelligence and creativity, onset of cancers and tumours are likely to be obtained from understanding of the structure and function of the human genome.
The human body is a fascinating piece of biological hardware created and maintained by genetic software called Genome – a 825 megabytes program written with just four alphabets-the nucleotide bases-A, T, G and C which make the DNA. Nucleotide A pairs with T and G pairs with C - thus creating three billion base pairs in the DNA bundled as human genome. This software comes up packaged in 23 pairs of chromosomes. Of these two are sex determining. Females have two of the same kind of sex chromosomes (XX), while males have two distinct sex chromosomes (XY). The sex of the child is determined by the chromosome contributed by the father and not the mother.
End-to-end the human genome would stretch for almost 260 cms. How massive is the data in our genome? If the information coming out of the human genome sequencing were to be typed and be stored in books and if each page contains 1000 letters and each book contains 1000 pages, then 3300 such books would be needed to store it. A rough draft of human genome was finished in 2000. The full sequencing was completed in April 2003. In May 2006 the atlas of the last chromosome was published. The original project started in 1990 was supposed to take 15 years.
The international effort was sponsored by the United States Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, and had participation from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, China, and India. Over the past 10 years the sequencing costs have come down. Over 3,800 organisms (including around 200 humans) have had their entire genomes sequenced, while sequence information on more than 200,000 species has been obtained. It cost three billion dollars to sequence the human genome. But in 2009 a single company Complete Genomics Inc USA ( has sequenced and analysed 14 complete human genome sequences and would offer a sequencing package for just 5000 dollars. Another company Knome from the USA ( has come out with a package- KnomeDISCOVERY –a first fully integrated human genome and exome sequencing and analysis service for biomedical researchers.
Stephen Quake, an American engineer invented a powerful sequencing machine Heliscope Single Molecule Sequencer. His website claims- “The HeliScope Single Molecule Sequencer images billions of single molecules per run and produces over one gigabase of usable sequence data per day – a throughput performance almost 100X greater than Sanger methods, and faster than any of the “next-generation” methodologies.” Stephen sequenced his own genome using Heliscope and even published the results in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Now human genome can be mapped in less than 10 days with such powerful machines. On June 26, 2000 declaring the rough draft of human genome open - the then US president Bill Clinton had said, “We are here to celebrate the completion of the first survey of the entire human genome … With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense, new power to heal. Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives — and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionise the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.”
The director of the genome mapping project Francis Collins feels that - The decade from 2000 to 2010 was characterised by breathtaking acceleration in genome science. Thanks to advances in DNA sequencing technology that dropped the cost approximately 14,000-fold between 1999 and 2009, finished sequences are now available for 14 mammals, and draft or complete sequences have been done for many other vertebrates, invertebrates, fungi, plants and micro-organisms. The 1000 Genomes Project, launched in January 2008, is an international research effort to establish by far the most detailed catalogue of human genetic variation. Scientists plan to sequence the genomes of at least one thousand anonymous participants from a number of different ethnic groups by 2011, using newly developed technologies which are faster and less expensive. There are attempts to get more information from the mapped genome.
Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project was started in pilot form in 2003 and may be completed by 2011. The Roadmap Epigenomics Program started in 2008 would continue till 2013 to define the ‘parts list’ of the human genome. Cancer Genome Atlas, is a project aimed at carrying out the equivalent of 20,000 genome projects on matched tumour and blood DNA samples from 20 common types of cancer. The data would lead to better cures for cancers. By 2015 in India for less than Rs 50,000 you would have the full sequence of your genome.

Blunder on Land Revenue Income

Blunder on Land Revenue Income


IT is a decision which has gone without much notice and analysis probably because very few people have time and priority to scrutinise the budget papers in depth. There was no political will to take up this issue but the government was concerned about mounting public debt, audit objections and juridical intervention.
Goa despite being a miniscule state has moved agonisingly slowly on land reforms. Not even a hundredth part of the voluminous Land Revenue Code, 1968 has been implemented by the revenue department. Goa is the only state in India which doesn’t collect land revenue. This has emboldened people to neglect their fertile lands. Farmers are expecting windfall income from land conversion.
Fortunately all this would change from April 1, 2010. People who own land would have to pay the land revenue every year. Since ancient times, land revenue has been the main source of income for the state in India.
In my note submitted to the government in February 2008, I had mentioned, “The collection of land revenue and the existence of the institutions of the state have been co-terminus. A historical analysis of ancient Indian policy suggests that tax on land played a pivotal part in the evolution and maintenance of the systems of governance.
In ancient times, land revenue was possibly the only source from which the entire income of the government was derived.
Further, its incidence was on a large section of the population as a major proportion of the people relied on land for their livelihood and existence. Thus, tax on land proved to be the primary source of the state’s wealth. The revenue collected varied from region to region and also depended upon the regimes. Broadly speaking it was a share of the produce paid in kind or cash.”
Again on July 27 and August 3 2009, I wrote two articles in this column– “Goa-the only state to forego land revenue income.” But there was no response from the government. How this administrative lethargy and indifference can be explained?
Loss of Revenue
It took the state government a record 20 years after enacting Land Revenue Code, 1968 to fix the rates under Assessment and Settlement of Land Revenue of Agricultural Lands Rules, 1969 notified in March 1971. The lands are divided in zones and groups. Non-collection of land revenue left a huge gap in government income and the public debt increased to Rs 5623 crore at the end of March 2009. Suddenly this year, the government woke up on this issue and its’ newly found wisdom is reflected in the budget. But it has come with a price, a very heavy price.
Sometimes, the government becomes overgenerous to mask its’ own administrative lethargy and failure. Sometimes people get boons and booties without actually asking for them. Only in Goa such miracles can happen. The largest package of unproductive subsidy in history of Goa, benefiting thousands of land holders who owe something to the government as land revenue was recently announced by the Chief Minister who also holds the finance portfolio. In just one stroke the finance minister waived off arrears of land revenue since 1988. The amount is estimated at Rs 1000 crore. This is 18 per cent of Goa’s public debt.
No investigation has been launched in the reasons for failure of the government to collect the land revenue since 1988. Then how suddenly government discovered this route of revenue collection under the tax proposals?
In the budget speech the finance minister said, “One of the important areas of concern for the state has been the non-compliance of land revenue despite the legislation in place. The state has been losing substantial revenue of approximately Rs 40 to 50 crore, every year on this count. It has also resulted in the fall of share of agricultural output to the total output of the state.
Bad Finance Management
In order to revive agriculture activities in the state, I propose strict implementation of the Land Revenue Code and collection of the land revenue. I also propose to waive the arrears on this account up to March 31, 2010 and increase the existing rate by 100 per cent with effect from April 1.” Further the budget speech says, “I propose to levy a higher rate of land revenue on all such agricultural lands which are not being tilled and kept fallow. The rate shall be 200 per cent higher than the present for land revenue.” This is soft governance.
Actually section 36 of the Agricultural Tenancy Act has clearly stipulated the process for assuming the management by the government of all uncultivated agricultural lands. But each and every political party which has ruled Goa, and all the previous agriculture and revenue ministers had taken the care to suppress this clause and maintain ‘status quo’ thereby encouraging gross indiscipline and chaos in agricultural sector. The CM has surrendered Rs 1000 crore of arrears of land revenue. Indirectly, he has acknowledged, without fixing any responsibilities, that this is nothing but a clear example of bad governance and bad public finance management.
Since 1996, I have been drawing attention of the government to this massive loss of revenue. I did not meet a single serious revenue officer who could take initiative to brief their political masters. Even the civil service officers who otherwise would promptly handle the cases of revenue arrears in their postings in other states were not interested in pursuing this matter in Goa.
This issue has been also figuring in the legislative assembly since 1995-6. Estimates of receipts for the year 2010-11 shows that Collectorate, North Goa under budget subhead 0029-101-01, Land Revenue Tax, would collect only a token Rs 5 lakhs during 2010-11.
Under the same subhead the South Goa Collectorate would collect only Rs two lakhs. The collectors themselves have forgotten that the original meaning of the word-collector is to ‘collect the land revenue’. The finance minister estimates income of Rs 40 to 50 crore every year. By surrendering land revenue income, our politicians and revenue officers have encouraged people to neglect their fertile and productive lands.
Land is now at premium price in Goa. Land speculation has been abnormally increasing the quantum of bank deposits in Goa. The rate of growth of bank deposits is not proportional to growth of GSDP and the economy. The government would not be able to collect any land revenue till April 2011 because of the waiver. This is loss of another Rs 50 crore. But that’s the way governments in Goa have functioned. Waiving off Rs 1000 crore in arrears of land revenue is a Himalayan blunder. Considering Goa’s mounting public debt, isn’t it necessary that civil society, business and industry have a serious public debate on this whole issue?