Tuesday 15 Jun 2021

WAKE UP, IT IS TIME TO CLAIM AND SAVE YOUR DYING CITY

From the rotting St Inez creek to the hidden constructions, Panaji is up for grabs for those with their ill-gotten wealth

STEPHEN DIAS | JUNE 06, 2021, 12:31 AM IST

I feel like the boy with his finger in the dike. For those who don’t know the story, the short version is that a little boy sat with his finger in a hole to prevent it from getting bigger to save his whole town from getting flooded. Luckily for the little boy, someone saw him in time before he froze to death and they brought help and the town was saved. Here I am not alone. There are other individuals like me who are trying to alert the powers-that-be to take action from the looming threats against our beloved Panaji. But so far at least, it is a cold lonely night for all of us, with no support -- much less action -- from those in authority. And the waters that will destroy our way of life are looming higher and higher.

Much has been said about the sad state of the St Inez creek -- the pollution, the high-rise buildings, the untreated sewage, the lack of planning, the flooding and everything that has resulted in the cold-blooded murder of the main artery of our beautiful city. 

And yet, there is now a new threat that has the potential to dwarf all the other damage, coming up near the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). This STP is operated by the PWD. This plant is supposed to treat sewage and discharge it into the creek so it can run through the channel which is connected to the River Mandovi. Many sewage tankers can be seen here -- coming fully loaded from five-star hotels all over Goa. Importantly, sewage is collected from the casinos too -- either when they are docked at the Panaji jetty or perhaps the supply boats collect the sewage from the casinos in the middle of the river. During this operation of collection or even otherwise, nobody is allowed to see the loading operation and there are security guards around to strictly stop visitors in the area near the jetty and all fronts. These tankers once fully loaded hurry at all sorts of hours (on our terrible city roads) directly to the STP plant where a number of other tankers are lined up for unloading. Multiple allegations have been made (but not investigated) about the lack of proper treatment when the quantities are far beyond the plant’s capacity. Yet, now this location is going to be infamous for yet another reason.

At the side of this STP plant, there exists a huge area which in my younger days used to be a lovely spot near the creek to fish for ‘tigur’ and even to swim. Now, this seems to have been sold to the casino lobby and five huge buildings of around 13 floors are coming up. This building is exactly at the side of the STP plant where all sewage tankers are allowed to discharge into their reservoir. The building which is coming up is meant to house the casino lobby. The work is in progress on the front side, towards the St Inez main road. 

Construction work is in full swing despite the Covid ‘lockdown’. Whenever I pass that side on the road from Tonca to St Inez I see JCBs and high-rise cranes. 

This construction site doesn’t have any board displayed at the entrance which is generally mandatory (according to CCP rules). The board should display all the approvals from NGPDA, Health, CCP and other departments concerned. Even upon my inquiries with the security staff, they failed to show me the board.

The security doesn’t allow you to enter the premises but you can watch from near the entrance. I saw a huge crane of about 200 metres height and a number of JCBs fully engaged in construction work. The first location is in front. There is construction ongoing of around 35 columns having one metre diameter being cemented by the workers. Like this, there are apparently plans for another five nearby locations which will have about 13 floors each. And all this is for the benefit of the casino lobby which is multiplying like a virus, uncontrolled and destructive.

What plans have been made to treat the sewage that will be generated once these buildings are completed. Will there be a special sewage treatment plant? There is also the question of roads coming under strain after the massive influx of people. What plans are in place to deal with the expected parking and traffic congestion problems which will impact hospitals, educational institutes and other services and residential areas nearby? 

Since this is a larger construction/project what plans have the Panaji civic planners made for water and electricity supply for the project and what will be the consequences for the residents, especially those living in Tonca?

The work has been progressing despite the curfew imposed due to the Covid19 pandemic. The construction has been going on even though Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said all migrant workers have left and returned to their native places. He seems to be living in an alternate reality. I see them all around, hanging about where construction/building works are going on. These workers come from various places from across the Goan borders and even have ID voter cards and Aadhaar cards with Goan addresses which they manage to get with the influence and blessings of certain politicians. They are accommodated in different places mainly in Taleigao, St Inez, Bambolim, Merces, St Cruz etc wherever their votes will pay dividends. 

While the work is in progress, the construction building materials, which include cement, sand, rusty water, bricks, etc, are directed towards a specially-made drain channel hidden near the creek bridge (see photo) which empties into the creek. The discharge of black and yellow water is clearly seen polluting the waters of the creek near the Monteiro workshop near the bridge. Already the sewage polluted water which originated from high rise buildings and migrants housing was making the water black with foul smell of sewage. The whole St Inez Creek is thus contaminated with polluted water having not only sewage but all kinds of materials. Just pass by the bridge and you will smell the sewage and see all sorts of decomposing material, cardboard, branches of trees, etc. This polluted water flows slowly towards the river Mandovi having a devastating effect on natural flora and fauna.

The monsoon season is here and there is no hope for any remedy or salvage operation. Once again the public, especially the nearby residents of Tonca, will be severely affected by various illnesses such as malaria, dengue, and other ailments.

Hopefully, the city fathers, the newly appointed young Mayor Rohit Monserrate, along with his father, the MLA of Panaji, will be able to stop these illegalities coming up near the creek. I don’t dare to dream that they will make it their priority to bring back this creek to its original situation which I have seen 60 years back, but in my waking moments, with my finger in the dike, I can hope that they will at least stop further damage.

(The writer is a social activist)  


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