A heated argument earlier this month between Benaulim MLA Venzy Viegas and PWD Minister Nilesh Cabral over the discharge of raw sewage from the Margao sewerage treatment plant into the rival Sal has triggered a much wider debate on the reasons behind the deteriorating health of the river.
Venzy’s offensive against Cabral may have earned him some brownie points, and some brickbats as well, but the ground realities which are far more appalling lay buried. Sewage discharge at the Sirvodem plant is one part of the problem, but there is a gamut of connected issues that are being ignored. The river Sal contamination and sewage discharge are interlinked in so many ways and given the complexities there can't be a quick fix for a problem that has been in existence for over a decade.
Firstly, there are around seven to eight points where raw sewage is being diverted to the river Sal via the rainwater nullahs, and this is no secret.
Secondly, the age-old underground sewerage line is under constant repairs. Currently, work is in progress to fix the line at Fatorda. The affected citizens have been letting the flow through nullahs because there is no access to the sewerage line. Thirdly, there are major leakages in the sewerage line because the two treatment plants at Sirvodem which run below half capacity during the normal course are running at full capacity in monsoons indicating that rainwater is seeping into the line. Fourthly, there are very few takers to the sewage line. The reason: Majority of the people don’t want to pay.
The pollution and contamination levels in River Sal have more than doubled, and in some places even tripled since early 2020, stated a recent study by the Mumbai-based think tank Centre for Promoting Indian Economy. The study attributed the condition mainly due to the discharge of untreated sewage and other waste into the river at various points. The water was tested and found to be highly contaminated.
A one-off spat with the PWD minister cannot resolve such a mammoth issue. The need of the hour is to look at the River Sal pollution holistically. MLAs should work towards a solution and not be part of the problem. Fixing an issue at the treatment plant is needed, but what is paramount is to see the larger picture.
MLAs need to find answers to why people are not availing of connections to the sewage line. Sewage connections have to be made mandatory, otherwise, the entire purpose of having a system in place is defeated. The government has spent nearly Rs 12 crore in cleaning up the river, but nothing much has been achieved because the source of the problem has not been addressed.
It’s time to shun the politics over River Sal contamination and refrain from one-upmanship. Plugging the flow of sewage into the river and ensuring complete connectivity to the sewerage line has to be the priority over vote-bank politics. Get to the root of the problem instead of playing to the galleries.