Monday, May 9, 2011

Goa’s Dying Water Bodies-II

Goa’s Dying Water Bodies-II


RIVERS have sustained Goa’s major towns. Panaji was a major port of Asia for several centuries. The pre-liberation photographs of huge number of cargo ships and Arab dhows anchored in Mandovi River offer the testimony.
Panaji, Mapusa and Margao have several common topographic and hydrographic features. But all the three expanding towns have poor drainage plans as no attention was paid after liberation to understand the integrated nature of the natural drainage systems. What view one gets from the top of Mapusa’s Altinho hill, Panaji’s Alto de Guimares hillock or from Monte chapel hillock in Margao? It shows the landscapes extending to the lifeline waterbodies–Mandovi in Panaji, Mapusa River in Mapusa and Sal River in Margao.
Mapusa’s Paleochannels
Panaji is fringed by sprawling khazan wetlands and backwaters. Mapusa is girdled by Mapusa River which flows past the town and supports vast fertile khazan lands between Shirgao to Penha da franca. Since most of the Mapusa town lies at higher ground, the low lying fields at the foothill act as storm water reservoirs. The highest elevation of Mapusa hillock is 97 metres and it collects 100 to 120 billion litres of rainfall during the monsoon. This water then runs off the steep slopes via Khorlim on one side and Duler on the other.
The future of Mapusa market area depends on the health and integrity of the small creek which terminates behind the market. The land between the market and the thick Mangrove belt is sought to be reclaimed. That would spell environmental disaster for the area between Mapusa taxi stand to Milagres Church. Two rivulets, one each from Parra hillock and other from Khorlim watershed meet at right angle in the khazan field south of Bodgeshwar temple to form a single creek. This creek then crosses the Guirim-Mapusa road and follows a serpentine route to meet Mapusa River. Both these rivulets face extinction thus endangering the drainage of a vast area between Parra to Khorlim. No wonder during the monsoon last year this area was flooded for the first time in history. Parra and Khorlim rivulets are not artificial drains but paleochannels of the composite Arpora-Baga-Mapusa giant river system which was separated due to fall in the sea level about seven thousand years ago. Marine fossils found in this region clearly indicate the ancient sea level. Therefore it makes perfect sense to conserve and protect the existing natural rivulets in anticipation of rise in sea level and storm surges. But who looks into ecological history of our rivers?
Panaji’s Santa Inez Creek
Santa Inez creek has become a theatre of absurd 167 years after Panaji emerged as the capital city. Nobody has dared to go into the conspiracy which was aimed to stop tidal flow, reduce salinity, kill the aquatic life, eliminate the mangroves and remove all the evidence of a functional creek. A section of media, elected representatives, government officers and self-styled experts are still engrossed in technical jugglery of words, as if historical geography and natural hydrography can be altered by fresh government notifications.
The farmers and the Gavade tribals of Taleigao call Nagali rivulet-Santa Inez creek as a river even today. But nobody has approached them to learn their traditional ecogeographical knowledge with due humility. For that matter, not a single gazetted notification has been issued after the liberation of Goa to notify with correct pre-existing and universally recognised cartographic and hydrographic nomenclature, the 11 major rivers and their 42 prominent tributaries.
Margao’s River Sal
Another debate may soon begin in Margao over the status of Sal River and the numerous streams which begin from Margao’s three hillocks and three valleys. Margao is surrounded by low lying lands like Mapusa and Panaji. The topography of Comba to Khareband area shows that the Sal River had a larger and mightier flood plain a few thousand years ago. The Malbhat-Borda and Comba-Aquem quadrangular area encloses Margao’s three prominent hillocks and low valleys. This area receives 60 to 80 billion litres of rainwater during the monsoon.
As long as the natural drainage from Fatorda-Ravindra Bhavan, Old Market, Comba, Malbhat area remains active, Sal River would maintain the city. But the lifeline of Margao and coastal Salcete is dying. Government’s overall approach about rivers, creeks, islands and their systematic ecological conservation is disappointing.
Which is the last tributary of Sal River? I had asked this question to the learned engineers of water resources department ten years ago pointing to a toposheet. They agreed that the six kilometres rivulet had no name in their records. Let us call it–‘Fatorpa River’, I suggested. But nothing happened. There is total ignorance of countless smaller rivulets, streams and backwater channels which are so clear on survey of India toposheets and satellite images.
It is a shame, an indication of bad governance that the revenue officers from Tiswadi and Bardez are quarrelling for past 15 years over notification of new islands which have emerged in Mandovi estuary opposite Maddel Ribandar ferry wharf. The state government doesn’t maintain an island database. There are three types of islands-marine, estuarine and riverine. Why the government is hesitant to survey, demarcate, catalogue, notify the lesser known islands? Probably there are under pressure to protect the private property interests and ignore encroachments.
Reclamation and Encroachment
Alluvial islands have been illegally used in Valvonta, Bicholim, Madei, Talpona rivers for horticulture. In its’ 1964 techno economic survey of Goa, Daman and Diu, the NCAER had observed, “the small patches of land formed along the riverside were usurped by the landowners and added to their property. Desilting operations were rendered difficult owing to complicated property rights”. Still this practice continues along all the rivers of Goa. Between Ganjem to Ribandar in the Mandovi River there are hundreds of reclamations and encroachments.
Reference to any old nautical map would prove this. The government has also played with standard geographical and nautical nomenclature by designating Siridao and Marmagoa bay as ‘river’. Zuari estuary once it reaches the sea level ceases to be an estuary beyond St Jacinto Island. From a width of about one km near Cortalim it enlarges to five kms wide funnel to become a fully functional bay ecosystem between Sancoale to Marmagoa. Probably, the government wished to indicate to the world that rivers in Goa have powerful tides, create beaches littered with sea shells and yield marine fish catch. Despite repeatedly pointing out this strange and highly objectionable anomaly there is no public debate by Goa’s guardian NGOs. No wonder the entire pristine Tiswadi coastline is undergoing planned privatisation. The situation would not change much even if the flying squads of the government remain perpetually airborne (concluded).

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