While Chennai, Bengaluru and other metro cities continue their ruthless exploitation of their water bodies, especially the lakes, Goa’s citizens (from Santa Cruz) have been struggling to preserve their crown jewel, the century old Bondvol lake.
Built by the Portuguese 110 years back, the lake has been not just a water source but also the pride of Goans. The Indian government post 1961, had ruled out the system of comunidade land ownership systems in Goa where only male descendents of the supposed founders of the village (mostly upper caste) collectively controlled the land. Though this decision was taken in the right spirit, it has given rise to some unforeseeable events.
A Planned Murder
The lack of a strong collective grip coupled with the inaccessible geographical location of the lake has left it at the mercy of the local mafia and land grabbers. Slowly but slowly, since 2009, the mafia has succeeded in the destruction of the lake. The spillway of the lake and the sluice valve, built in 1910 by the Portuguese, were damaged to ensure drying up of the lake.
In fact, the embankment was under constant distress as the stones from there were being removed.
In 2016, the “Save Bondvol Lake” was launched in full force with around 6,100 household villages involved.
Apart from filing complaints with and against local authorities, they have undertaken numerous ways of protest such as bike rallies, mass meetings with citizens, awareness trips for children, documenting the lake exploitation and looked into historical archives for any material to help their case. Despite approaching local panchayats, politicians and state government, they could not get enough support.
Bondvol’s journey to full recovery
This is when they tried to move the High Court in 2017. The court asked the Water Resources Department to fix the broken sluice valve, set up a task force to ensure increase of green cover near the lake and also stated that no development (building and construction) zone of 200 metres around the water body.
Apparently, these steps were not enough to keep greedy intruders away.
People have been trying to bend the tenancy laws. A single tenant who had obtained a four month lease from the comunidade on the dried slops of the lake for a cropping season has been trying to usurp that land through ex parte hearings at the approval of the local court.
However, the 2018 Task Force set up by the High Court has decided to get the lake converted and declared as wetland ecosystem by the Wetland Authority Board as this might add additional environmental protection. Under this approach, not just the lake but also the trees and wildlife will be away from greedy prying hands.
In fact, this is a clever approach to create a buffer area around the lake where the holistic perception of the lake as an ecosystem will help reduce damage to both the lake and the greenery around it.
Is it not high time that we take a leaf of their book to do something about our lakes too?
This story is a reminder of the common man’s power.
As we move dangerously closer to the biggest water crisis that we have ever faced in Indian past, where more than 450,000 citizens have petitioned the Central government to declare climate urgency, we need to come together to alleviate the situation.
You can help too.
Join us on our journey Wake the Lake project where we set out to revive the dying lakes of Bengaluru. Make your own mark by volunteering for our lake events and drives and help bring our water bodies to the forefront.