Tuesday , 12 November 2019
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How Politicians Finished Goa’s Coast- II


IN the early 1980s I had to run from pillar to the post to stop excavation of titanium rich black monazite sand from beach behind the indoor stadium, Campal, Panaji. Tempos and bullock carts were being used to excavate and transport the sand leading to massive erosion. The thick belt of casuarina trees planted in 1965, once extending from light house near Kala Academy to Youth hostel, was uprooted, collapsed and vanished after the beach erosion.

Titanium rich black sand from Campal was getting shipped from MPT to unknown destinations under category of “ship ballast”. An entire one-km long and hundred metres in width urban beach, where we played as school kids in 1970s vanished permanently before our eyes by 1985. For politicians of Goa, active after liberation, coast is just another commodity, available free to be mined, milked, utilised, traded, auctioned. The coastal sand excavation mafia of Goa was shamelessly supported by parties till 1979. What they left behind was finished by starred hotels and beach shack operators in next two decades. Without litigation from anti-beach sand mining activists like engineer Urban Lobo and ramponkar leader Matanhy Saldanha, the silica sand mining from beaches of Goa would not have been stopped. The judiciary had to step in because the government was promoting the plundering of the sand resources.

The old Mandovi bridge corroded and collapsed because salty beach sand was used for adulteration in concrete mix. How the Portuguese, world’s best cartographers, navigators and hydrographers, managed the coasts in old conquest talukas for 451 years and in Pernem, Quepem and Canacona for 173 years? They simply followed the coastal dynamics and marked the high tide line (HTL) on their coastal maps-automatically prohibiting any development, any construction towards the sea. And when they decided to build something close to sea, they did it to last for centuries- like the Dona Paula jetty and the beautiful Pergola on a rocky outcrop. HTL which oscillates as per vagaries of ocean is an inviolable “Laxman rekha” for coastal management. The plants on sand dunes respect and retreat away from it. But no politician in Goa likes HTL pre-existing from Portuguese period. They have constantly played with its nomenclature, definition and marking and would continue these games till the sea finally engulfs the coast and nothing remains to be auctioned.

William Forster Lloyd, the British economist who coined the term “tragedy of commons” would have laughed aloud at the current discourse on Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) because here in Goa it becomes “comedy of commons” considering the hilarious statements from all the stakeholders. Are coasts of Goa sterile entities or time capsules of Earth’s evolutionary history?  What a fungus found in primary sand dunes in Morjim, Pernem  has to do with CZMP? Especially when it happens to be only second such species in the whole world? And when you consider that the first one was found in sand dunes of Poland 6500 kms away? For global biological community this is great evolutionary mystery linking cold Baltic areas in northern hemisphere to remote southern warm tropical Asian biome. So who would take care of these sand dunes? In his late sixties, Andrew Eversfield Willis from Coventry, UK fell in love with coasts of Goa and did his research work at Goa University for a PhD from Coventry University, UK in 2013. His death due to cancer some weeks ago in UK left a message for us in Goa- here was a Britisher, a senior citizen, a proud grandfather who really loved Goa and showed us the importance of biological wealth of sand dunes by discovering a novel fungal species named ‘Sacculospora felinovii’ to put Morjim on world biodiversity map. He always stood for protection of such ecosystems having priceless biological and genetic resources for the mankind. Coasts are like living, vibrant personalities changing their looks before and after the monsoon. Coasts have a fundamental structural character giving rise to multifarious ecosystem functions. Coasts have untapped biological wealth beneficial to mankind.

A resident of coastal village of Keri-Pernem Felicia D’Souza found unique Actinobacteria in the beach sand. She concluded that sea level rise would impact her village. Swati Naik from Vasco found powerful oil degrading microbes on beaches of Goa. She was worried too about the future of these coastal resources. Hundreds of scientists find themselves helpless before the politicians who fail to understand what coastal biological wealth means. Coasts do not begin and end abruptly. Coasts are sea facing integrated units of the river basins-in Goa from north to south we encounter- the 71 sq kms  Tiracol river basin, 255 sq kms Chapora river basin,  the 50 sq kms Baga river basin, 1550 sq kms Mandovi river basin, 973 sq kms Zuari river basin, 301 sq kms of Sal river basin, 149 sq kms of Agonda and Canacona river basins, 223 sq kms of Talpona river basin and 81 sq kms of Galjibaga and Loliem river basins.

Coastal dynamics depends on these river basins. You just cannot detach the coast from these landward drainage basins in any CZMP. On seawards side where the river basin ends, we have the beginning of land gently submerging under the sea – the highly productive continental shelf. All parties involved in coastal zone management discourse have poor knowledge of historical geography of coasts of Goa and for all those who talk of “development” coasts are merely scenic, “underdeveloped” sandy linear stretches and not living ecosystems. There are fundamental errors associated with the government’s approach to CZMP. The most fundamental error is failure to acknowledge, demarcate and notify the continental shelf of Goa which is 105 kms long and 556 kms (200 nautical miles) wide. For western India it is 310 thousand square kms. Goa’s continental shelf is 58380 sq kms or almost 16 times larger than state geographical area. So what is the state policy for this vast, mineral rich, biologically active and productive continental shelf? Goa’s reserved fishing zone of 5 kms doesn’t exceed a depth of 20 m. Management of coastal resources have a direct bearing on its health. Once teeming with 200 species of marine fish, now we don’t see that diversity in the reported catches. Sustainable fisheries resources management is directly related to sustainable coastal resources management. But what is ground reality from north to south- that we shall see in next article. (To be continued)

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