Mummy, why is it so dirty?” I turned my head and saw a little child staring at the still waters of the St Inez Creek. I didn’t hear what the mother answered but I doubt she could answer anything, considering we have been asking the government the same question for years and not getting any answer.
It’s taken years for the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to come down heavily on the Goa government for ignoring the reality of the St Inez Creek, which is degraded and in festering condition for the past several decades. Now that the NGT has finally spoken, reviving this creek is the need of the hour. But, is the government listening?
During the erstwhile Portuguese regime catamarans and small boats, many of which used to even come from Bombay, docked right into the creek. As a child I could look into the creek and see the bottom. I caught fish there. Sadly, we have consigned this living artery of Goa to the dustbin of history. This needs to change.
As a scientist, I clearly remember Dr (Mrs) Sangeeta Sonak, an alumni of our Goa University, who completed a well-researched project on the biodiversity of St Inez creek and submitted her research findings to the then Chairman Jose Manuel Noronha of Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB).
During her presentation she vividly explained the importance of improving conditions around the creek as there was plenty of flora and other fauna which needed to be preserved. Today, our creek is polluted with sewage waters released by the STP plant in Tonca and sewage tankers mostly coming from casinos docked in the river Mandovi. The creek is also polluted by sewage from high-rise buildings as well as slums on its periphery.
The Government of Goa, together with those in authority at the GSPCB, would do well to make the research findings of Dr Sonak public so that the Goans in particular are aware of the rich genetic biodiversity of our creeks, and take appropriate steps to preserve the St Inez Creek for posterity.
The St Inez creek is a special natural ecosystem wherein regular tidal flushing takes place. During the high tide there is sea water ingresses into the city, bringing home a rich genetic biodiversity from the estuarine Mandovi river and during the low tide the inland waters. Due to tidal variations and the flow of water during inter-tidal periods, there is variety of fish like tigur and other estuarine species contributing to the food chain as well as livelihoods of those harnessing the bounties of mother nature. The creek extends from the Nagali hills of Taleigao plateau to the Old GMC Inox complex of today.
On July 17, 2015, at the Goa International Centre the builders’ lobby and GSPCB along with the then MLA of Panaji, Sidharth Kuncalienker, arranged a workshop to declare that the St Inez creek was not a creek but a storm-water drain. In one swoop Sidharth insulted our memories and scientific facts by classifying the creek as a nullah. It was clear that the builders’ lobby was hell bent on classifying the creek as a storm-water drain so that they could continue to build houses and commercial structures. If the creek was a nullah setbacks would not have to be maintained.
However if the waters of St Inez were assigned the status of a creek then all the structures around the creek would have to be demolished and a setback of the width of the creek would have to be kept so that biodiversity around it could bloom and blossom.
Although it was depressing, Dr Joe D’Souza and myself besides others brought to the notice of organisers of the seminar that the report prepared by GSPCB should be accepted and our dissent to the classification of St Inez creek as a nullah recorded. We strongly supported the wonderful work done by Sangeeta Sonak in her research project about the deteriorating conditions around the creek. We asked the GSPCB to revive the creek and make it into a tourist attraction.
We must be thankful to Jose Manuel Noronha who managed to get corporate social responsibility funding from M/s Cipla, a pharmaceutical company in Goa, for rejuvenation of the creek. The responsibility of rejuvenating the creek was given to one Captain Lobo who was entrusted with the task of installing aerators.
I, myself, with Dr Joe as witness, was very much involved in monitoring the aeration process. Our efforts were shunned by the strong builders’ lobby who were bent on reclaiming the St Inez creek and convert it into a real-estate bonanza for themselves and the then political heavy weights of Panaji.
Now that the NGT has redefined the status of the creek, people of Goa and especially Panjimites, should wake up from their slumber and impress upon the current MLA of Panaji Babush Monserrate to work hard to beautify the gift given to us by the tribunal. This would be a real slap on the face of the opportunistic real estate lobby who along with the successive government authorities in the past have allowed St Inez creek to degrade and deteriorate into a cesspool, disseminating pestilence and disease.
Long live the St Inez creek to usher in health and prosperity for the residents of Panaji. I hope someday soon I will hear a small child say, “Mummy, isn’t it beautiful?”