The foresight called ‘bondvoll’ of Calapur

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

It has been said that for the next generation to fly high and aim for the sky, they must fortify their roots of heritage, to take this leap. It has also been openly voiced that every developing land with a spread of concretisation must take stock to preserve and additionally generate the growth of greenery, especially in the cities. These pockets of greenery are rightly addressed as the “lungs of the city”. These clutches and gardens pockets, besides generating oxygen, are home to many bird and reptilian species. These are mini-pockets of biodiversity in urban areas. However, we in Goa at times are unaware about the existence of such life-saving pockets of nature, at a stone-throwing distance, from our own houses in cities and villages.

Such has been the case of a phenomenal piece of engineering called as Bondvoll in the village of Calapur, now known as Santa Cruz in Tiswadi. This water reservoir or artificial lake is much bigger than the famous Mayem Lake in the Bicholim taluka which is similarly created. It is surmised by the writer that the name ‘Bondvoll’ may have been coined by joining the two words ‘bond’ meaning ‘to stop’ and ‘voll’ meaning ‘to divert’ (volloup).

Many of us may not be aware, but it is said that the name ‘Calapur’ (or Kalapur) was identified with a person of the past era, one Kelappa Gowda, who was gifted these lands during the Kadamb era. It is from his name that it may have been named as ‘Kelappa-Pur’ or ‘village of Kelappa’, from which the name Kalapur may have generated. Later, after the Church of the Holy Cross was constructed in this village by the Portuguese evangelists, the identity of this village was changed to Santa Cruz or St Cruz.

To the south-west of the St Cruz village jurisdiction, and just below the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium on the Taleigao Plateau, we can see a huge water body at the base of this hill range. When seen aerially, it is graphically seen to be in the shape of a ‘dove in flight’. The lands of this rainwater catchment body is primarily owned by the Comunidade of Calapur. One part of it is further sub-divided into about 8,750 square metres as the retention wall and 12,600 square metres as the water holding area.

There is every possibility that the ingenuity of our ancestors has made them create a lake by initially using wooden planks to dam the waters, just as we observe at the traditional sluice gates in the Khazan lands. It was in 1830 AD that the Portuguese administration conceptualised a move to create a water body by creating a catchment area at the base of the Taleigao hills by erecting a mud dam or a high ‘bandh’ of appropriate height to increase the rainwater holding capacity. However, the actual wheels to create this magnificent structure started to move around 1880 AD when the Comunidade of Calapur in its meeting decided to approach the Portuguese Governor to seek his assistance – possibly technical and financial in creating this ‘Bondvoll Lake’. 

The basic objective to create this Bondvoll was to accumulate the fresh rainwater which ran to the saltwater river and put it to agrarian usage for which Calapur village was known for. It is said that an average of 750 cubic metres of rainwater would be retained and its usage could enhance approximately 60 per cent of the annual agricultural yields in fields, from its then present 30 per cent, not only in St Cruz but also parts of Taleigao. The project got a morale boost with a visit from the governor-general Jose Maria de Souza Horta e Costa and the secretary of state Antonio Felix Pereira who were satisfied in keeping all seasonal conditions as well as the intended enhancement of crops.

Finally work started in 1908, after the administrative committee of the Comunidade of Calapur upheld creating this bandh at its meeting on February 28, 1908; and work was completed in 1913. 

It is said that the construction of this Bondvoll received the expertise of engineers from England and France. We can find references to this project and others in Goa in the writings ‘Hydraulic Projects for Goa in the first half of the 20th century’ by Alice Santiago Faria. They also received technical support from engineer Jose Emilio Castello Branco who was assisted by engineer Pedro Besson Bastu, the deputy director of PWD in Portuguese Goa.

The area of this basin at the time of construction was estimated at eight hectares, with two lakh square metres as the catchment and water runway area. The depth of this Bondvoll is approximately about 18 – 20 metres high. The water exit is controlled by a manual water valve affixed toward the East end of the bandh. The rainwater held in the created catchment area dries up in the summertime and the lands were leased out in 1967 for an amount of `35 for the season to grow a few summer crops. However, a legal tangle arose in the following year 1968 when the Comunidade held the auction for the land and the auction went in favour of one Sebastiao Fernandes for `350 for the same area and it led to the doors of the honourable courts.

There is a saying in English, “Failure is an orphan; Success has many fathers”. As reported, on July 13, 1980, in a local daily, a few villagers petitioned the Goa Government to hand over the working and revenue rights to the Village Panchayat. However, this proposal was objected to by the Comunidade as they had paid the loans and held the liability and was not entertained by the PWD. Social activist Arturo D’Souza, who has been valiantly striving to protect this Bondvoll, says that “Conservation plays a major role in every village. Such catchment areas help to recharge our groundwater besides helping the agrarian community. It is a natural lung of the village and its buffer zone can be made available for school students to walk around and understand and study nature.” He is also of the opinion that a mini-Filtration Plant here could alleviate many water problems for the village.

It is heartening to note that the Goa Biodiversity Board has found it apt to declare the ‘Bondvoll’ and the surrounding areas as an important biodiversity thriving hotspot. The process of notifying is in the last stages of being notified after many legal hurdles having been overcome. The catchment area has been identified as having about 8,438 trees of which 146 are the Official State Trees – Terminalia tomentosa or the matti trees; 1000 are cotton trees or the Sanvor trees; 379 – bhillo maad or chandelier palms, 324 are huro trees and many other important trees, plants and shrubs. This mini-forest, at the base of the Taleigao plateau and the south-west end of Santa Cruz, is a natural home to many bird species that inhabit here since decades.

Water has been the source for the preservation of life, and civilisations have vanished due to water resources being depleted. Today, at a time when an increase in population and settlement by hordes is the reality, every area that can be used for water harvesting and preservation of biodiversity must be held on to from attempts by builders and other selfish individuals. Goans owe a debt to the various plants, birds, and animals as we have encroached on their lands.