River Sal flows quietly past Margao, with few of those who visit the town even noticing or realising it.
This is the one river that originates in Goa and also empties out in the Arabian Sea from Goa itself. In length it is a short river, just 40 kilometres, yet we can’t keep even that much of it clean. A study by the Central Pollution Control Board has found that it is one of 11 polluted rivers, and there is now a plan for its rejuvenation that will cost the exchequer Rs 47.44 crore. Imagine, this money could have been saved if the river had not been polluted in the first place.
In our Review section this Sunday, we present the findings of the study on the pollution in the river. The gist of the findings is that while dissolved oxygen and bio-chemical oxygen in the river water are within prescribed limits most of the year, the faecal coliform and total coliform count was found higher upstream. The reason for this is the discharge of untreated pollutants into the river. It is only downstream, closer to the Arabian Sea that the coliform count drops, but this is still not within the prescribed limits for bathing in the river. Sewage, washing of cattle, dumping of waste are the causes of the pollution, and these are all manmade.
The points of pollution identified by the study make interesting reading and reveal just how insensitive are those who live or run businesses along the banks of the river. There is untreated sewage mixed in the river water in Margao and other areas, there are domestic effluents discharged, there is effluent discharge from a slaughter house, there is solid waste disposed along the banks, there is flow diversion due to road and bridge construction at Navelim, there are dead and waste fish discharged at Mobor. Much of this happens not at one location but at various locations, making Sal among the most polluted of rivers.
Pollution of the Sal is not a new issue. Villagers have been pointing out to the pollution for years, for over a decade already, demanding that the river be saved. The demands have been heard, the rejuvenation plan being one of the outcomes of this, but the action on the ground, or rather in the river, has not been forthcoming. The waters continue polluted even as the Sal continues to flow past Margao and some of the most frequented of the villages of the Salcete coast and a little further inland. It has some resorts on its banks, and others not too far away, but who has bothered to check if the waters are blue or green?
In the past few months there has opposition to the river nationlisation project by the people who fear that this may take away the rights of the State over the rivers, whereby Goa would have to get Central permission for any activity on the river. The opposition is valid, but don’t we need to ourselves protect the rivers that flow through our State? In the case of the River Sal, the blames cannot be shifted on any other State, as the river originates in Goa. We have to in the first place to keep our rivers safe from pollution, so that we can justify the demands to retain the rights over the waters.
Goa is a State that is very environmentally conscious. There is awareness of pollution in the rivers, of saving the rivers. But the efforts in clearing up the pollution do not match the alertness of the people. For that matter, the awareness arises only after the pollution occurs. We seldom stop the pollution from taking place. This is where efforts must be made, for if after spending Rs 47 crore in rejuvenating the River Sal, what if the pollution continues again?