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Panaji The New Venice Of Asiatic Monsoon

Before we all heave a sigh of relief various waterborne diseases are likely to hit Panaji residents soon due to mixing of pathogen carrying estuarine floodwaters and sewage in the drinking water mains

Nandkumar M Kamat

It is not only bad planning but the well cultivated ego, vicious self-righteousness, beautiful arrogance, calculated ignorance and an air of invincibility and revengeful attitude of those in the power which has been systematically destroying Goa. I have wept alone several times in past 40 years when governments in power rejected my solutions to the save Panaji city. I wept silently because I felt totally helpless and powerless, disarmed, foolish and useless in this democracy. A senior minister consoled me- “government is not used to free advice. But continue to write articles and research papers.” For him all solutions were paid solutions.

Facts, figures, surveys, maps, satellite images, toposheets, statistics, calculations, in depth studies, research, identification of best global practices, traditional wisdom, appropriate technologies all that I presented to government free, were shown the dust bin. So it was weird, absurd but wonderful to see estuarine flood waters of river Mandovi regaining their ancient wide flood plain by entering into the city at high tide on August 3. There are still more monsoon fireworks to follow.

Before we all heave a sigh of relief various waterborne diseases are likely to hit Panaji residents soon due to mixing of pathogen carrying estuarine floodwaters and sewage in the drinking water mains. Nature seems to have  identified Panaji city for very severe punishment. It is just beginning this year and in future Panaji could be hammered mercilessly thus making property prices fall to zero value. The city would then become a waterlogged tourist attraction. Converting Panaji into Venice was allegedly part of Manohar Parrikar’s pet project (2000-2018) guided by an expensive Spanish consultancy. His government staunchly supported the idea of ‘beautification” in the name of infrastructure development by giving wholesale permissions, a free hand to create huge water soaking, pervious areas all over Goa into totally impervious areas. You will never meet a politician in Goa who understands anything about hydrology, hydrography, importance of pervious water soaking areas and traditional natural drainage systems. It was comic to see the new WRD minister innocently agreeing during the ongoing assembly session to a common sense suggestion from Santa Cruz MLA Anthony (Tony) Fernandes to create pervious bed for all roadside drains instead of pouring impervious concrete at bottom. So how much money was wasted in creating thousands of linear km of impervious drains in past fifty years?

 Millions of tiles and thousands of tons of cement was poured since 1995 to cover pervious, water soaking areas- setback areas near roads, open grounds, temples, churches, schools, markets, office premises, by lanes. Not a single exposed piece of red soil was left in Panaji for the rainwater to get naturally soaked in. The present secretary finance who was Chief Commissioner of CCP for some time would remember my frantic calls to him when I noticed that private shops in Santa Inez and Bhatulem were converting pervious open spaces, the parking areas in front of their premises into impervious areas.

 “Havaldar please stop this activity otherwise the city would not be left with any pervious area for soaking of the rainwater”. I had pleaded with him more than a decade ago. But perhaps he felt powerless before various business interests in the city. Panaji is enjoyable only during dry, rainless season. A flooded capital city, the new Venice in Asia is allegedly the real legacy of Manohar Parrikar for us born in the city having seen almost everything the politicians with immense power have done to its fabric.

On Saturday August 3, there was a radical hydrological transition of the 176 years old Indo-Mediterranean tropical city of Panaji located on world’s most ecologically fragile estuarine island with paleobeaches, marine shell beds, a young coastline and a mosaic of emergent and submergent landscapes. We saw beautiful glimpses of the potential of the low lying capital city to turn into Venice of Asia during the Asiatic monsoon. One of my students was stranded on the footpath on Saturday afternoon in front of State Central library built in thoughtlessly reclaimed low lying EDC Pato Plaza. She sent me a real time photograph of the situation. When I forwarded it and inquired with the PA of revenue minister about availability of a kayak to enjoy the new navigable rivulet formed in front of state central library in good humour, he advised me to contact ‘Goa Yachting Club’.

Manohar Parrikar rejected every solution I sent to him since he became MLA and depended on an army of his half-baked advisers, sycophants, hired loyal architects and engineers and paid consultants. For them we were real enemies of the government and nursed some ‘hidden agenda’. Although he is not here to defend now, I cannot forgive him for the mess he created all over the city by not understanding its topography and hydrography. He rejected all my technical suggestions to clear the twin mouths of Santa Inez creek and restore the natural tidal circulation. Those who enjoyed power over CCP saw extinction of about one thousand drains and hundred channels of Portuguese period efficiently connecting higher ground to the low-lying river floodplain.

The capacitance to hold flood water before discharging to the river existing at Bhatulem, was destroyed and the agitated locals were gifted with a shrine of a popular Hindu deity. It is absurd now to watch devotees flocking through flooded dirty street to this shrine built next to an ancient reclaimed natural lake, the original ‘dhobighat’ of the city. Piece by piece systematically Panaji was made impervious. People complained only during the monsoon and once it got over, they forgot the hardships. From this season the radical hydrological transition would slowly convert the low lying city into Venice of Asia.

Many old and weak buildings on sandy alluvial strata in Panaji are going to collapse in coming days. Architects, engineers, town planners, builders, real estate developers need to celebrate this transition because there is potential to convert the present problems into lucrative business opportunities. Consultants would jump into the fray like vultures offering expensive paid ‘solutions. Not a single engineering solution would save Panaji. The Portuguese panicked when sea had transgressed in Caranzalem. The anti sea erosion wall built then has vanished. Satellite images and ground signs of past 50 years show that Mandovi is shifting its course past Ribander till Aguada. The new wider channel would engulf Panaji city. Enjoy this process for next two months.

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