Around 5,000 people live across the seven wards of the twin villages under the jurisdiction of Sirlim-Dramapur panchayat. Its eco-sensitive fertile land, spread over 100 hectares, have farmers crying foul that they cannot cultivate their paddy fields due to water contamination.
The locals have taken up the issue and raised it at gram sabhas. They point out to multiple factors that are behind the farmers having to deal with such a hapless predicament and they rue the lack of proper attention and infrastructure to deal with their grievances.
"Migrants use the river banks as toilets. It is a case of human waste polluting the rivulets as much as people dumping garbage-filled plastic bags and bottles into our water bodies," said Delano da Costa, a local resident. "During the high tide you can see the garbage and sewage waste floating in the water and during the low tide it gets collected sometimes near the mangroves. It is also destroying the local fish and plants," said another farmer.
Many of the farmers have abandoned or are forced to stop cultivation due to the contamination of the field by the sewage waters from Margao.
"We all know that raw sewage from Margao is being dumped into the lake for many years and numerous complaints and agitations have not yielded the desired results. The sewage dumped at Khareband and through Navelim has affected the farmers due to this pollution. Many farmers were infected with diseases and had to stop cultivation," added Delano.
Recognizing it as an eco-sensitive area and that the government could not control the present sewage flowing into River Sal, the villagers have been opposing multi-housing projects. Even during the regional plan agitation, they opposed it as settlement zones had been shown in low-lying paddy fields between the Dramapur lake and the River Sal. In addition, they point out that in the case of of Jakniband, a water tributary that flows into the backwater river, the use of dynamite for fishing has caused considerable damage to the traditional bundhs which caused salt water to seep into the paddy fields as well, thus further contaminating the crops. The villagers feel that no proper garbage disposal system and the fact that no one restricts the migrants from using the river banks will only worsen the situation.
"The farmers are very badly affected by the highly-polluted sewage which enters from the River Sal and into their fields and they are scared of getting infection. So much so that they cannot even put their legs in the fields," said Rosy D'Sa, a resident. "Many years ago, the water from the river could be used for medical purposes and for washing of clothes but now it is highly dangerous to do so as its polluted," she added.
A villager, Dominic Noronha, pointed out that the river is so polluted that some of the people had to seek treatment outside Goa and said that even the sarpanch of the village is one such victim. "People have even stopped going with their fishing nets to swim out of fear of picking up an infection," he added.
The sarpanch, being a fisherman, said he suffered from a skin infection after going to catch fish in the River Sal. "I faced problems with my skin due to the highly-polluted sewage water. I had to undergo medical treatment for more than six months and even a skin sample has been sent for testing to a lab in Mumbai. I am still suffering," said the sarpanch.
The panchayat officials, however, claim that they are aware of the issue and that the matter had even reached chief minister Manohar Parrikar who had promised to clean up the River Sal and take up the dredging work of the entire river upto Betul. They further said that they had taken up the matter of repairing the bundh with the agriculture department who will be taking necessary action so as to boost cultivation in that area.
The gram sabha had also passed a resolution earlier this month that the walls of water bodies should not be constructed with concrete, but should be constructed with natural laterite stones and mud. They point out how they had protested when the excavation of natural mud took place in Mandopa-Navelim, on both sides of the rivulet. The consequences of it, they claim, caused springs to dry up and prevent birds who used to visit Sirlim-Dramapur for nesting purposes.
Inquires have revealed that the Goa state pollution control board, in August, 2012, had written a letter to the Central pollution control board to conduct a study and prepare water quality management for River Sal. So far, there's been no response from the CPCB to the request, with the GSPCB sending a reminder to take up the study at the earliest. A study conducted by BITS Pilani's Goa campus had revealed rampant pollution of the River Sal by sewage disposal at different points. Sources in the PWD department says that studies alone will not solve problems plaguing River Sal unless the government pledges dedicated funds for completion of Margao's underground sewerage line. There are proposals to expand the sewerage treatment plant at Sinquetim-Navelim as well as a stopgap measure to construct a sewerage chamber to collect sewage from the gutters to prevent any further contamination of the river. [TOI]