Monday, May 9, 2011

Goa’s Dying Water Bodies-I

Goa’s Dying Water Bodies-I


I KNOW that it doesn’t take rocket science to restore the smooth tidal flow and oxygenation in the Santa Inez creek. But over three years, 1998-2001, all attempts have failed. The State Pollution Control Board washed off its hands by saying that it is only concerned about industrial water pollution.
As a result the full water table in Tonca area was contaminated. The Collector expressed helplessness when reclamation of the creek by a private garage owner was brought to his attention. We had stayed in an apartment overlooking the dead end of the Santa Inez creek at Kamrabhat, Tonca for three years.
Early morning during the winter a flock of black cormorants would descend in the water and frolic playfully. During summer the water would raise stink. We could smell ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. The stench was unbearable. The residents used to lock themselves in. To my horror, I investigated and found out that the tidal flushing of the creek was deliberately blocked at Campal leading to stagnation of water at Kamrabhat. The conditions worsened with time.
These days, when I stand on the small culvert at Kamrabhat to view the death of the creek overgrown with thick carpet of aquatic weeds, I feel like weeping. What have we done to this city’s water bodies? I ask myself. I am just a small, dispensable pawn on the complex eco-political power chessboard of a rich city. Since residents have not seen any tangible benefit in existence of the creek, really nobody is interested whether it flows, stagnates or dies. But, yes, everyone is for beautification–whatever it may mean.
A Forgotten Creek
This script has the same tones as Mumbai’s Mithi River which people had forgotten before the 2005 floods. I am told that an investment of rupees ten thousand crore in construction and service sector would be at stake in Panaji and Taleigao catchment areas if by some engineering means the sixty million years old, the composite and integrated, upstream Nagali freshwater rivulet-downstream Santa Inez saline tidal creek ecosystem, is not converted into a laterite brick lined and bottom cemented drain or transformed into a beautified artificial canal. The final detailed project report (FDPR) of WAPCOS submitted to CCP in January 2010 is specifically aimed to build a beautified canal.
Actually very little remains to be done to obliterate the remnants of the mauled age-old ecosystem which is counting its final tragic days. Discrete orders had been issued between 1996-2005 to strangulate the tidal flow in the creek by raising the bed level and blocking the normal, natural ingress and outflow of water from Mandovi. Further, by systematically attacking one stretch at a time, the Nagali rivulet, the Auxilium High School to Kamrabhat, Tonca branch, the fire brigade to indoor stadium arm and different sections near sewage treatment plant, Tonca, tambdi mati, Military hospital have been manipulated to change the age old natural hydraulics.
Economic trade off has always won in Panaji over genuine long term ecological convictions. India’s 50th richest city, Panaji has per capita rupees three million in bank deposits. But when it rains and the streets get flooded this affluence doesn’t come handy. The affluent Mumbai also woke after the flooding in July 2005. Hopefully when disaster strikes and the reality stares it in the face, Panaji would also slowly wake up. But anyway, who really reads and cares for urban historical geography?
Threat to Cities
Citizens and their elected representatives always welcome business as usual scenarios and take their towns for granted. What is common between Panaji, Margao, Mapusa, Bicholim, Quepem, Ponda, Sanquelim, Sanvordem-Curchorem? All these towns were settled and have evolved on ancient trade routes close to lotic (flowing) water bodies-rivers or estuaries. None of these towns were randomly settled. Their affluence is owed to a careful understanding of locating economic activities within the terrains eco-hydrological matrix.
The Portuguese developed Sanquelim as a naval station to safeguard their economic interests related to the commodity trade across the Western Ghats with the Deccan markets. Margao owes its ecological security and prosperity to river Sal. Quepem would be erased from the map if the scenic Paroda or Kushavati River is endangered. Sanvordem owes its affluence to Zuari River. The Khadapabandh rivulet is Pondas drainage lifeline. Mapusa was a thriving port for Roman voyagers, thanks to once deep backwaters of Mapusa estuary–a tributary of Mandovi River. But the once thriving inland port town of Mapusa faces the danger of flooding owing to the neglect of the Mapusa estuary. Would Panaji be able to create wealth and boost healthy economic activities without the residents, businesses and visitors having a guarantee of their health and ecological security? Would Panaji progress without a functional drainage system?
As a modern Indo-European style town, Panaji exists for more then 200 years. The deeper you go into the Portuguese designs about town planning– we notice that, although totally unfamiliar to the demanding and deteriorating conditions and challenges in a tropical, humid and corrosive environment–their first consideration was to carefully survey and conserve beneficial local natural assets and integrate man made structures within the local eco-hydrological matrix.
The best example is the design, architecture and engineering of the 375 years old Ponte de Linhares causeway which links Panaji to Ribandar traversing a vast low lying flood plain of Mandovi estuary. The Portuguese could have built a simple road over a solid, raised, fortified embankment. Why then they didn’t build it and instead opted for a design appropriate to local hydrography? Why did the Portuguese provide 42 Roman arches to support the causeway? Each arch was built to permit cross drainage during the tides and the monsoons. Only half the arches now permit the drainage as the rest have been silted or got buried under urban development. That explains the incessant flooding of the area around Panaji’s Kadamba bus terminus.
The Portuguese also improved both the ancient natural fountains in the city and even built an underground drain to discharge the water from Boca da Vaca fountain to Mandovi River. While laying Campo de Manuel, today identified by D B Bandodkar Road, the Portuguese engineers came across a rivulet passing through sand dunes. Instead of reclaming it, they built a culvert over it. It stands near Bal Bhavan today over a fully concretised and artificially dried tidal counter flow arm of Santa Inez creek. People have not forgotten that another arm of the creek stretched as far as the present building of Directorate of Education. The Campal Parade Ground has been built by sacrificing the backwaters of Santa Inez creek. As a consequence the whole area gets flooded during the monsoon and has become a health hazard for the residents .

(to be continued).

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