Nandkumar M Kamat
There has been no river called “Baga” draining the watershed of Asagao, Vagator, Anjuna and Calangute. It is actually a freshwater rivulet of Asagao which begins in the thick green valley behind Ganeshpuri, flows as a narrow stream in the fields, reaches at the bottom of the thick valley in front of Saint Cajetan Church and then meanders through the fields of Asagao and Vagator before it widens and become known as “Baga” river discharging the flow in Arabian Sea near ‘Choram Baim’ or the ‘Well of the Pirates’ below the Jesuit retreat house atop the sea facing cliff.
The Baga sea cliff has a unique geological history because it was once part of the east coast of the island of Madagascar which has drifted more than 6000 kilometres southwest in the past 90 million years. Those who are destroying this cliff, its ecology, ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna are totally ignorant about these facts. If a world-famous religious order has been systematically doing it as can be seen from the satellite images available from 2003 to create its own real estate then it is a very serious matter because direct evidence of putting deliberate fire to destroy the unique sea cliff vegetation has been found in Google satellite images. Under UNEP, IUCN norms and convention on biodiversity sea cliffs need to be conserved, preserved and protected.
The Baga sea cliff is a culmination of a series of small undulating hillocks-a range of small hills from Assagao to Baga, about two kilometres long and a maximum a kilometre wide. The Assagao-Baga hill range runs perpendicular to the coastal plains of Bardez and divides the eco sensitive beaches, sand dunes and low lying khazan lands of Asagao, Vagator and Anjuna from Baga ,Calangute and Arpora.
The broadly triangular Baga sea cliff faces heavy winds impregnated with sea salts which causes the growth of specific wind tolerant complex cliff vegetation, similar to rare “vertical forests” which scientists study in other parts of the world. Trees which in the absence of strong wind attain their normal height get dwarfed on such cliffs. Instead of taking care of this priceless endowment of nature the cliff vegetation was subjected to systematic slash and burn method and then road construction activity began from 2003. Last year, huge patches of the cliff at an altitude of 32 to 40 metres were cleared and the soil was exposed to powerful wind-based and rainfall-based erosive forces. The soil erosion from these steep slopes would choke up the normal channel of the Baga river during the 2019 monsoon and a situation like floods in Canacona in 2009 is likely to develop in the hinterland areas of Arpora, Calangute and Saligao. The local elected representatives only see the real estate value of such watersheds, sea side cliffs, and in the name of development encourage their destruction. But what nature has gifted 90 million years ago cannot be brought back by a few constructions or artificial landscaping.
The Baga seaside cliff area is also geologically unstable and undergoes frequent slope instabilities and the occupants of the majestic Jesuit retreat house frequently complain about the danger to their buildings. The work undertaken by the government to stabilise the base of the hill below the retreat may not be adequate as the erosive action of waves during the monsoon is on the rise. All along the Baga-Anjuna coastline the sea has been mercilessly attacking the beaches and rocky intertidal stretches. In view of such threats, causing further destruction of the seaside cliffs is thoughtless idea, because besides loss of precious wildlife habitats, plant species, flora, fauna and biodiversity and leading to massive soil erosion during the monsoon, new constructions on this cliff would throw the rest of the two kilometre long hill for frantic development.
The entire sediment budget of Assagao rivulet, Baga estuary would then change causing heavy siltation, pollution and progressive eutrophication of this ecosensitive water body already under attack from tourism industry. A change in the normal river regime would have serious secondary adverse effects transmitted upto Guirim and Saligao. For the developers burning the cliff vegetation and constructing roads to make plots these issues don’t seem to be important because of their complete ignorance of the genesis, geology, geological history, ecological history of the Baga sea cliff and Baga-Asagao hill range which had the position of a long hilly island at least 20 thousand years ago when the coastal plains of Bardez had not formed. The landscape that we see today around the Baga sea cliff was created by the engineers of Khazan lands, the first founders of the communidades of Asagao, Anjuna, Vagator and Calangute. The very fragile course of Asagao rivulet and Baga estuary shows us how its hydrography is ecologically integrated in the landscape mosaic from southern river bank of Chapora to coast of Calangute.
The full Baga-Asagao hill range, the unique Baga sea cliff needs to be declared as protected, conserved zones of exceptional geological and natural heritage. Impacted very heavily and almost irreversibly by negative impacts of unsustainable mass tourism, it is sad to see Bardez taluka now finishing the last few citadels of nature’s endowment to invite wrath of nature under complex and unpredictable climate change. However right-thinking citizens in the area would certainly see what they stand to lose if they permit such mindless destruction of the unique Baga sea cliff.