Water harvesting – The lesser known Goa inheritance

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

This being the 200th article in this series of ‘Unexplored Goa’ in The Navhind Times, the writer dedicates this article to the people of this beautiful land and seeks their intervention in preserving the rich heritage of Goa.

The concept of water-harvesting was woven into the cultural fabric of the Goan land, centuries ago by our ancestors, though it is a much- touted concept and a need of the hour in present times. In this first part of this article, the writer takes liberty to lay a foundation and brief the readers about the imminent dangers, seen ominously lurking around the corner in Goa, due to changes in the environment, as well as due to shoddy land planning and wasteful usage of natural resources by its populace. It is plainly observed that the massive greed displayed by the planning authorities to possibly satisfy their administrative bosses and the arbitrary utopia of the exodus of moneyed people from other parts of the country and the globe, is taking a massive negative toll on the natural resources of the land and may in all probability lead to massive fatalities.

Uncontrolled and over-usage of resources has led to many an advanced civilisation becoming extinct. These include Inca, Maya, Aztec, the Egyptian, and other civilisations, which have left definitive traces of advanced technologies. We, too, in Goa are not foreign to this shift of the civilisation, due to diminishing or disappearance of vital natural resources. It is said that our present settlement in this beautiful land has been due to migration from the Saraswati basin in the North of India, after the River Saraswati – the provider of life to the people, disappeared as per Indian mythology or changed its route due to natural tectonic movement.

Water is the provider of life and lack of respect towards this vital parameter of life can have devastating effects for its dependents. Goa is now displaying very strong signs of heading towards a manmade disaster, due to deliberate gluttony by its administrators, coupled with incompetent, and possibly corrupt, land planners who have scant respect for the survival of the people of the land and prioritise their own greed. Goa had a very harmonious administrative system known as ‘gaunkari’, where the people of a particular village traditionally administered their lands themselves, by preserving the natural resources such as water sources, development of lands and preservation of trees, so as to keep foremost the prime interest of the lands vis-a-vis its people, so that this wealth may be preserved, added to and carried forward to their future generations.

However, the visible deficiencies in obligatory and mandatory interventions by the surprisingly highly educated public technocrats, are inefficiently portraying a sorry figure, when it comes to preservation of lands and natural resources. They can be openly accused of betrayal of their moral duties when it comes to strict enforcement of preservation of life-saving natural resources – especially water and garbage management! However, their selective action against few minor defaulters is a stark confirmation of possibly them being puppets, for many reasons!

Lack of potable water has been one of the prime reasons for extinction of many world civilisations; followed by mishandling of garbage disposal and sewage management. In Goa, the reason why people  fled from the healthy settlement of Old Goa, once known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ and ‘Rome of the East’, and settle in Panaji and other places, was bad sanitation. The lessons of the past are being amateurishly or deliberately overlooked. The results could be and will be devastating. One of the most important areas, where the ominous signs are blatantly seen rising in Goa, is preservation and conservation of the diminishing reserves of potable water.

Goa is a land with the mighty Arabian Sea sharing its 105 kilometres of the western border and the world’s natural hotspot, the Western Ghats, making their massive presence felt at the Eastern border. Both these children of Mother Nature are maintaining a healthy balance of water resources, helping to achieve a range of occupations and in turn livelihood for its inhabitants. However, the beneficial usage and planning with a positive foresight is the need of the hour, to maintain a fine balance between these priceless natural endowments.

While our ancestors, with their limited knowledge managed their natural resources and superbly enhanced their availability with traditional methods, it is seen that the modern educated technocrats and elected representatives are allowing rampant excursions in rivers leading to dangerous diversions in age-old water routes and massive erosions; huge sky scrapping construction are allowed to mushroom on steep hill sides, without providing solace from the sudden tectonic movements and changing world topography in mind. The northward movement of the Indian plate always creates landslides and earthquakes. The fatalities at the holy site of Kedarnath though due to rapid melting of ice, and the very recent glacier burst and flooding of the Dhauliganga River at Chamoli in Uttarkhand with huge loss of lives, does not seem to faze the authorised planners.

Toying with nature can be dangerous, and it can hit back without notice, with irreversible damage and loss of lives. Goa and Goans are presently embroiled with the fight to preserve the flow of fresh water in the River Mhadei, due to diversionary tactics by our neighbouring state. Any reduction in the flow of these naturally supplied fresh waters, over the Western Ghats since time immemorial, will lead to incursion of salty sea waters into the hinterlands affecting the salinity of the waters, and leading to reduction in farming activities. In turn the livelihood and supply in the food chain shall be affected.

We are already made aware through the media, about the shortage of potable water in Goa. Due to shoddy planning authorities and an arbitrary attitude by local bodies, with no suggested alternatives, many of the natural water sources – village wells, natural lakes, etc are found to be increasing getting contaminated. In the forthcoming articles, let us peruse the various areas – from Raj Bhavan and Aguada to Rachol, from Mayem Lake to Bondvoll, Selaulim to Arvalem and also the various temple reservoirs in Goa, wherein our wise ancestors introduced various methods of water harvesting, by tapping the God-given heavy monsoons!