Posted on January 12, 2021
MARGAO: It appears that the decks have been cleared for desilting the River Sal, which has been classified as most polluted river by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) with the work expected to complete within two months.
It is pertinent to note that a survey was conducted by officials of the Captain of Ports (CoP) along with locals including traditional fishermen of the River Sal stretch on Friday.
The NIO in its report had stated that the dissolved oxygen, which is supposed to be 6 mg per litre, is very low in River Sal. It had said that the water is not fit for bathing or commercial fishing and had also pointed out that fatal coliform is found in abundance in the river.
CoP officials opined that as the water is flowing freely, the sewage released in the river is stagnating, which has caused an increase in coliform in the river and warned that consuming fish from the river could be dangerous.
River Sal, where yachts from Mangalore used to arrive, carrying Mangalore tiles even in the 60s has depleted to this state is depressing and that is when the Captain of Ports decided to desilt the river to ensure the free flow of water.
Deputy Captain of Ports, Premlal Sirsaikar said they wanted to desilt only the middle portion of the river without interfering with the banks where mangroves exist and where the traditional fishermen have their fishing activities and had asked the villagers to appoint a person to monitor the work carried out by his department so that the locals are not affected.
Incidentally, the River Sal particularly in Assolna and downstream, is famous for clams and mollusks along with crabs and shrimps. A few years ago, the fisherwomen from Assolna used to sell clams in Margao as they were in demand.
In a letter to the local panchayats, the Captain of Ports sought permission to carry out desilting but most of them rejected the proposal on grounds that it would affect the ecology, destroy the riverine ecosystem and adversely affect the livelihood of traditional fishermen in these villages.
The Assolna panchayat had discussed the matter on March 20, 2019 and on October 22, 2019 and as it came to no conclusion, it rejected the permission sought by the Captain of Ports while the panchayats of Varca, Velim and Chinchinim Deussua outright rejected the permissions.
However, in the first week of December, the villagers noticed dredging machinery on the river banks and immediately informed the panchayat and hence all four panchayats wrote to the Captain of Ports to stop the dredging work immediately.
The Assolna panchayat pointed out that it had not issued NOC for the work, while Varca said the gram sabha had rejected the proposal to desilt River Sal as it had not given the NOC. Incidentally, Vaibhavi Dredging from Vasco has bagged the tender to desilt River Sal.
The Biodiversity Committee of Assolna in a letter mentioned how the dredging would affect the ecosystem in the village. The Public Biodiversity Report of Assolna noted that the river not only houses but also breeds crustaceans like crabs and shrimps which are much in demand besides having clams and mollusks.
The Biodiversity Committee pointed out that the mangroves on the banks are nesting places for bats and more importantly for the black headed Ibis and hence demanded that desilting should not be carried out until an Environment Impact Assessment study is undertaken.
The Chinchinim Deussua Biodiversity Committee also objected to the proposed desilting and via letters addressed to Member Secretary of Goa Biodiversity Board and Captain of Ports voiced their reservations to the proposal.
Faced with such a barrage of objections, the authorities following a meeting between the Minister for Ports, Michael Lobo and Minister for Fisheries, Filipe Neri Rodrigues decided to have a joint survey of the river along with the local fishermen which was conducted on Friday.
Six kms of the 18-km long River Sal, which needs to desilted, was inspected on Friday from Poriewado in Deussua Chinchinim to near the Chequers dance hall, Varca and the traditional fishermen agreed that desilting was required as the river had become very shallow at places.
Representatives of the traditional fishermen were part of the survey that was undertaken in three different vessels to accommodate the large number of people who wanted to participate. The Captain of Ports was happy with the public response and expected the work to start soon.
“However, while per se the traditional fishermen have no objection, they will discuss the matter with their general members on Sunday and following this meeting of the AVCC Traditional Fishermen Association, a final call will be taken,” disclosed Salvador Colaco of the Association.
“The desilting work was to be completed in three months. However, nearly one-and-half month is already wasted in getting the people to co-operate with the authorities and it will take at least two months from the date of commencement to complete the work,” opined Sirsaikar.
A traditional fisherman Remedios Crasto said the river was their lifeline, on which they survived, grew up and taught their children to equip them to work overseas now. “The government should save our river for us and that is all I want,” he said.