TRAGEDY OF ST INEZ CREEK: High class encroachment of the long-suffering creek at Alcon Constructions site of ‘Estrela’ at Tonca, Caculo Mall side as well as across the creek. Is it a clear case of St Inez Creek grab for beautification or final kill? A stay order has already being served on Alcon to stop this encroachment after Taleigao Farmers Club raised objections
BY TARA NARAYAN
Chief ministers may come and chief ministers may go but the one and only natural drainage system of capital city Panaji — the St Inez Creek — continues to be encroached upon and murdered steadily. St Inez Creek now a rotten gutter struggling just to breathe and stay alive and we are a heartless people! With Panaji all set anew to become a high-rise slum city will this will this one time life-saving creek of running water…now a perfect picture of rotten governance both at State and Civil levels, breath its last? And what will be the long-term consequences of life in Panaji for its residents?
FINALLY, it’s happened. Although it’s been happening over some time now and I find it so funny that we have engineers who can build bridges but cannot restore dying creeks of water — even if they are part of the heritage history of a once gracious old-world town Panaji (it’s foundation laid by Portuguese civic town keepers). For some reason I’ve always perceived the St Inez Creek of Panaji as feminine… a lovely stream of water flowing with joi de vivre and offering the residents of Panaji a bit of rest and refreshment. But the saga of this long-suffering St Inez Creek in capital city Panaji is worth recounting if only to make a last ditch effort to rescue it from imminent death.
If you’re a resident of Panaji you cannot miss the St Inez Creek, look at it constantly and feel something for it. It is the one singular feature Ponjekars come across here and there while commuting to and fro. The St Inez Creek is Panaji’s crucial artery, natural drainage system with both history and heritage attached to it. Old-timers remember it as a thing of beauty and joy, a magical stream of running water for children, a watery sanctuary for all manner of wildlife to breed…the creek runs all the way from the foothills of the Altinho, through the flatlands of Taleigao’s paddy fields and on to Panaji to finally drain into the river Mandovi off Campal promenade where the Swimming Pool is located.
But look at the St Inez Creek today! Our modern-day town keepers have succeeded in breaking up the creek into bits and pieces like a broken chain of 24-carat gold! Years of post-Liberation lack of concern and indifferent maintenance at State and civic government level has relegated the creek to the non-existent mercy of the most retrogressive lobbies of so called urban development and progress. Not to mention the pile-up of migrants settled by the creek’s embankments cheek-by-jowl to conduct their small, petty businesses — because of the access to water in the creek (for personal as well as exploitative use).
It is no wonder that today’s St Inez Creek is a filthy cesspool of a dying drainage system which yet struggles to survive. Hell’s bells are ringing. Who would believe this St Inez Creek is actually the city’s only natural tidal drainage system and that seawater moves in and out regularly but increasingly with great difficulty for all the hop-scotch development along its length? Where is the St Inez Creek? You have to go hunt for it today!
It exists as a dirty, contaminated with sewage and all kinds of kinds of malingering kachrapati thriving on its embankments and in whatever residual waters which linger. Wherever one stops to look at it one sees patches of the creek struggling to stay alive but sluggishness has set in and yes, its death is imminent…the final nails on the coffin of the St Inez Creek are hovering over it, just waiting for some mercenary builder to hammer them in surreptitiously or defiantly!
It is a shame and disgrace that Panaji’s finest perennial water body is no longer a continuous clear stream of running water. My heart has bled with the St Inez Creek for over 18 years of life and times in Panaji as I’ve seen it giving way to use and abuse, ill-treatment and encroachment, all kinds of half-baked shenanigans … and yet how the creek gallantly kicks up here and there to announce “I’m still alive. Rescue me and let me dance with water-filled joy again!”
Alas, increasingly some local, some migrant, some big-time powerful builder comes along and says: Oh, this filthy gutter choking with garbage and shit is an eyesore, let’s cover it up or hide it from view!
THE latest story at Tonca-Peterbhat-Camarabhat is tin walls coming up to hide all the encroachments going on along stretches of the St Inez Creek and right into the creek itself, a veritable damming of this stretch of the creek. A visit out to all the activity going on in the Vintage Hospital – Caculo Mall – Kamat Grand development background presents an appalling picture of what’s left of the St Inez Creek here. Nobody wants to treat the seriously sick patches of creek water but everybody wants to pack it up with more kachrapati dumps and what do you know — bags full of rocks which are presumably more aesthetic!
The question arises. Is this stretch of the creek stealthily being converted into a pucca roadway for builders of high-rise constructions here (somebody mentioned guilty party, Alcon Developers, and from the sound of it the local Panchayat gave permission). But ask the people of Tonca, all those folk living behind the Caculo Mall, how they feel about their bit of St Inez Creek being put behind tin walls for further development of encroachment kind?
Who put up the obnoxious tall walls? Nobody quite knows. Could be the Corporation of the City of Panaji in collusion with some builder anxious to complete a high rise building and put it up for sale — of course, the buyers of all the come-lately concretised, suffocating, matchbox flats, may or may not worry about the kind of land on which the building has come up. On the graveyard of the St Inez Creek. The high tin walls serve the purpose of a double kill — hide what you don’t want people to see and quietly finish grabbing the last remnants of the “ganda nallah” by dumping garbage, litter, bags full of rocks, whatever it takes…till there is no trace left of the old creek turned into gutter lands. With the continuity of the creek already broken it’s easier to further make short work of it.
We are not being carried away by the once upon a time beauty of a running fresh water creek here! Far more serious questions arise vis-à-vis the practical implications of finishing off the creek and where will all the area’s groundwater go if its natural right of way is blocked here and there? If the St Inez Creek is allowed to die along with it will also die the last open spaces of a town in a hurry to become a high-rise vertical slum city. Do the powers-that-be (probably living in various fat pockets of a crass bunch of builders) care?
WHY don’t we ever think about it individually, collectively? That if the air we breathe is not worth breathing, the water we drink not worth drinking, the food we eat not worth eating — if we are not happy — life itself will be full of sickness and not worth living? The enlightened world over today the real challenge is not your religion or mine, your caste or mine, your colour or mine, your money or my money — but how to revive primeval forests of trees, rivers and creeks of water running through them…bring back birdsong in the air! Not just for khaas aadmi but also for aam aadmi.
Bring back to earth oxygen-rich air worth breathing, pure water worth drinking, organically cultivated crops so that we may stay fighting fit and happy. So many folk are engaged in restoring a sublime happiness quotient to the womb and bosom of Mother Earth — but not in India. Not in Goa! We obviously don’t want to be happy and naturally our governments and civic corporations of the day don’t want us to live happily ever after either. We thrive on one another’s unhappiness by reducing the quality of one another’s life so that we may all die equally of hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, and the inevitable cancers.
Is small capital town Panaji in a hurry to become a high-rise slum city? Nowhere is this reflected as vividly as it is in the story of chicanery and graft of the St Inez Creek. Governments have come and governments have gone — but not even the late Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who left his home village of Parra and nearby Mapusa, for a qualitatively better life in capital city Panaji, did anything about it on a priority basis. The engineer in him was far more obsessed by building bridges then taking stock of the tragedies happening to the rivers and creeks of Goa drying up one by one. What will we do with bridges when they become redundant with no water left below?
Surely the drainage of waterways, sewage and dry and wet garbage disposal infrastructure must come first, before any green signals are given to any builder in a hurry to complete yet another high rise to sell to the rest of India and the world — all anxious to come and breathe the salt-laden air of Goa! When will our rich folk and poor folk realize that freshness of life-giving air and water is dependent upon open green spaces, giving right of way to natural water drainage systems like the St Inez Creek first? There is something called first rights of the land on which you live and want to be happy.
Don’t we know what happens when natural low-lying waterways of any kind are killed with intentional constructions and encroachment all around? What are the long-term consequences of life on earth without fresh, oxygenated air, potable water, green gardens full of flowers, fruit, butterflies and birds? How long will life be worth living in Goa?
The St Inez Creek of Panaji is dying, dying, dying, giving up its last ghosts of what life used to be like in Panaji when there was good governance! Of course lots of money has been assigned for the maintenance and restoration of the creek but perhaps today’s crass political mindset is to put personal pockets of graft first before investing in say rescuing a crucial drainage system from scratch…from being murdered by developers high class and low class.
What happened to the `19.5 crore released by the Union Urban Development Ministry for the rejuvenation of the St Inez Creek sometime in 2014? Who frittered it away on happy adventures and misadventures, conducting impressive surveys and reports (LKS consultancy), holding press conferences, giving well-meaning NGOs awards? For what? Brilliance on paper only listing all the problems but not the solutions?
At ground level in real life time the St Inez Creek continues to give up its ghosts of the past and present. We, the people, educated or not, are equally culpable as the government of the day. We continue to dump our garbage wet and dry and litter biodegradable and non-biodegradable (mountains of plastics) into the creek till it has turned into a toxic sludge squeezing the very life breath of the creek. Ideal conditions for squatters to continue to squat, builders to continue weaving their diabolical plans to hasten the demise of the creek.
Havens of mosquitoes and other vermin take a toll of the working class labour living along the embankments of the creek, gifting them with seasonal malarial outbreaks and infections galore around the year. Needless to say the race is on — a last scramble to fill it all up, encroach on it, steal whatever is left here and there of the St Inez Creek. If all the low lying areas of Panaji and its suburbs owing allegiance to the flow of the St Inez Creek turn into solid encroachments, it is anyone’s guess what will happen monsoon time….remember past tragedies in south Goa, or the tragedies in Mumbai, Chennai? Can it happen in Panaji? Want to wait and see?
Always the irony is that while khaas aadmi living in high rise flats won’t pay the price so much for the death of the St Inez Creek, but the aam aadmi living in the lowlands of the vicinity will continue to do so. Increasingly they will suffer the growing terror of dirty gutter waters seeping, creeping, flooding their humble homes for days on end to further worsen their nightmarish existence.
Politicians of various hue may want to turn Panaji into a cramped vertical slum city to fill their pockets — but are they not also a part of the growing canvass of emptiness, vanishing open spaces, green spaces, water abundant spaces, more and more concretization? In the wake of a dead St Inez Creek in toto by how much will the temperature of Panaji rise, what will be the cost of potable water and food to live in reasonable comfort – and last but not least of all death from constant ill-health courtesy environmental degradation?
Where will we keep running away? Ponjekars please make the restoration of the St Inez Creek your first priority when you cast your vote this coming elections!