NANDKUMAR M KAMAT
THE spilling waters of an artificially choked overflowing ‘estuaries de Santa Ignes (1888)’ or Santa Inez creek teeming with pollutants and pathogens, flooded parts of Bhatulem, Tamdi Mati, Camrabhat area in Panaji once again last week and my mind raced back to a meeting which we had held as members under the now scrapped JNNURM state-level steering committee (SLSC) in the chamber of the then chairman of our subcommittee on Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) scheme and other projects, the then leader of the opposition and present Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in his official chamber on January 4, 2010 in the presence of Carolina Po, the then mayor of CCP, Dr Joe D’Souza, Wachasudar- PCE, PWD, Elvis Gomes- the then commissioner- CCP, Prakash Chandra- OSD ME- (JNNURM), CCP, consultants of projects and the minutes were recorded by member secretary Sandesh Sail- liaison officer (SLNA), whom I found as a very efficient government officer.
The agenda had consideration of technical report submitted by Chandigarh-based hydro consultants WAPCOS on restoration of Santa Inez creek but they didn’t send their representative to make a presentation. I need to quote excerpts from the January 4, 2010 meeting so that people know how much importance the then and present governments have given to suggestions made on basis of primary knowledge as a local person and studies done independently.
After reading any news item on Santa Inez creek these excerpts come before my eyes as a bad dream. The flooding of the above areas was expected and there are more floods in waiting next two months. Government’s hands may be tied by powerful commercial interests, hotels, residential and business establishments and hundreds of encroachments along the entire 4 kms long tidal stretch of Santa Inez creek. It goes to credit of Manohar Parrikar that he approved the minutes after understanding the issue, but it was unfortunate that nothing substantial on the lines of the suggestions made in the meeting happened after foreign consultants hijacked the full discourse after 2013.
Now there is more talk of “beautification” and “navigation”, instead of ecologically important restoration of the full original tidal channel from Camrabhat, Tonca to Bhagwan Mahavir Children’s Park, Campal not to forget the secondary arm from fire brigade to indoor stadium and removal of the sand bar and shoal at Campal outfall.
Here are excerpts of minutes on agenda point 2. Water Body Preservation- a) Development of St Inez Nullah / Creek – “once again the subcommittee regretted the fact that despite prior intimation, the consultant WAPCOS was not present for the meeting. Dr Nandkumar Kamat, member circulated his four-part articles (nine pages) published in ‘The Navhind Times’ in March 2009 regarding the dire mismanagement of St Inez creek and opposed the consultants’ report on eco-hydrological grounds. He said that since similar creeks with normal channel and tidal flow, fringing mangroves and active benthos exist at Ourem and Chimbel, it would be destructive to concretise the St Inez creek. He also drew attention to the mindless concretisation and dry bed and dry channel of already concretised fire brigade to indoor stadium arm of the St Inez creek. He submitted that for integrated drainage of Panaji as a low-lying and ecologically-vulnerable city, Chimbel, Ourem and Santa Inez catchments and creeks need to be taken up together on basis of total precipitation and run-off, sea level and natural contours under worst case scenarios keeping in view lessons learnt from the deluge witnessed in July 2005 and the findings about Mithi river in South Mumbai. He cautioned that the full watershed of St Inez creek is 4-7 metres above sea level and the present channel capacity is 300 million litres per day. He passed on to the members an article on impact of sea level rise on Mumbai.
Since Panaji, located on similar lines as Mumbai, is extremely vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise and, hence, subjected to irreversible flooding in future, the lifeline drainage of Santa Inez creek needs to be maintained on the same lines as Ourem creek. He said that a proper water balance study, run-off, seepage, percolation, evaporation, tidal circulation study needs to be done for the full St Inez catchment otherwise despite beautification of the banks of the St Inez creek the concretised channel itself after restoration may turn into a stinking municipal drain or sewer due to progressive anaerobic conditions. He also proposed integrated and environmentally benign eco-restoration of the entire channel of the creek, including the freshwater or oligohaline portion outside CCP area beginning from Camrabhat-Tonca from the sluice gate upstream so that Taleigao drainage is also taken care of while retaining and restoring the pre-existing hydrography.
He also objected to WAPCOS listing mangroves along St Inez creek as weeds. The chairman suggested that experts at NIO specifically from geological and physical oceanography division, such as Dr Antonio Mascarenhas could be engaged to investigate ecohydrological concerns, tidal regime etc. Dr Kamat also drew attention to the bottlenecks obstructing smooth tidal flow at the Old GMC mouth of St Inez creek which was noticed during the inspection carried out in presence of the mayor. He said as requested to mayor- that pending the work on St Inez creek eco-restoration under JNNURM, these hurdles need to be removed before next monsoon (June 2010).
The CCP needs to submit all the hydrographic and hydrological details about the creek alongside the maps including the rainfall run-off data, tidal circulation data, reasons for bottlenecks and reasons for dry bed at fire brigade arm and shoal development at Old GMC mouth etc. It was then decided that a joint meeting of the subcommittee with NIO experts could be organised before the presentation by WAPCOS to specifically address all the ecological, hydrological and environmental concerns under all possible future scenarios.
Dr Kamat also mentioned and recommended Dr Antonio Mascarenhas from NIO as an expert familiar with such issues. “A lot of water has flown under three bridges on Mandovi river since the above meeting, but the strong political and economic interests in Panaji and Taleigao assembly constituencies have taken care to maintain the status quo so that they can see the creek transform into an urban sewer, a gutter to be popularised as Santa Inez “nullah”. Who cares for simple, logical, legal, technical solutions?”