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Water pollution threatens Goan villagers health

Water pollution threatens Goan villagers health

The villagers of Cuncolim, Goa, have come under the cloud of pollution. The Cuncolim industrial state has polluted the water resources of village. As a result, drinking water has become contaminated and the health of the villagers is under threat.

WHEN WE were young, we often heard our grandparents and parents telling us stories about the 12 embankments of the village and the various natural water resources that the Cuncolim village was blessed with. Sadly, a new generation is growing up drinking polluted water, contaminated by industries. The very water that our forefathers told us would give us an edge over others, is threatening the health of the new generation.

One such story, that went about is that the Cuncolkars, the residents of Cuncolim, a village in the Indian state of Goa, derived their warrior and intellectual insights from the water of the village.

Yes, Cuncolkars were gallant fighters on the battle field and stories of valour and gallantry of the villagers dated back to 1583, against the Portuguese colonial rule.

In Focus The Portuguese first conquered Goa in 1510. The Cuncolim revolt was the first uprising that the Portuguese had to face in Goa, apart from the organised armies and rulers, who fought different wars with them over a period of time. The villagers comprised mostly of Kshatriyas (a warrior caste). They served the armies of different rulers. These villagers fought the war over forceful conversions and the destruction and defiling of their temples and places of worship. Five Jesuits priests, who sought to convert the locals, died propagating the faith along with an equal number of laymen accompanying the priests. The five priests have since been canonised by the Roman Catholic Church as martyrs, but the laymen have not received the same treatment. In retaliation to the priests’ killing, 13 village heads were massacred in a cold-blooded murder by the Portuguese at the fort in Assolna, after inviting them for talks. Thereafter, they confiscated their lands and handed them to the Portuguese royals. The land ownership dispute still prevails as acres and acres of land is still being demarcated as court receiver in the survey records. The subsequent execution of the chieftains did not diminish the fighting qualities and valour of the villagers. After the Kshatriyas of Cuncolim failed to match the superior armed forces of the colonial rulers, who destroyed their orchards and unleashed other atrocities, the villagers continued the struggle through a non-cooperation movement by non-payment of taxes to the Portuguese. Centuries later, Mahatma Gandhi would launch a similar movement of not paying taxes to British rulers. Unlike other parts of India, however, Goa, a small state on the western coast, was ruled by the Portuguese till 1961. In comparison, the British rule ended in 1947. The villages of Cuncolim, Velim, Assolna, Ambleim and Veroda refused to pay taxes on the items generated from their fields and orchards. As a result, their lands were confiscated and entrusted to the Condado of the Marquis of Fronteira. Before the advent of Portuguese into Cuncolim in 1583, the village was a temple town and a booming market for traders from within and outside the state. However, the setting up of industries in the form of Cuncolim industrial estate in the early 90’s, has spelled a doom for the village. Today, the rivulets, which we grew up swimming or catching fish in the summer holidays, are not the same non-polluting one, which it was twenty years back. The fishes have become scarce and the water is not safe for drinking on account of the pollutants discharged by the polluting industries. Mothers are discouraging their children to swim in the polluted waters for danger of picking up skin diseases. The thrill of having a bath drawing water from the traditional drinking water well during summer holidays, was what I relished. But not any more. The well, from which I drew water through a coil rope and copper pot, has been shut down on account of pollution and sadly I cannot indulge in my fresh water bath from the well. That is not all. We, along with our friends and relatives, had feasted on the fresh water fish caught from numerous rivulets. But the fishes have become extinct since last five years and we no longer can go fishing in the rivultets. Residents from Guelacatto, Bhatiem, Sanvorcotto, Tankaband and other areas close to Cuncolim industrial estate have stopped using well water and instead, rely on tap water for their needs. The contamination of water resources, through discharge of hazardous waste by industries in Cuncolim, has rendered the wells unfit for consumption over a radius of five kilometers. The scientists have warned that more damage will be done in the coming monsoon season, with the effect likely to spread over a radius of 10 kilometres. Last year, tests conducted by the pollution control board in Guelacatto confirmed that the wells in the area are contaminated and the water unfit for human consumption. Eight years ago, the residents of Cuncolim, staying close to the industrial estate, woke up to see a large number of dead fishes floating in the nearby rivulet at Guelacotto. The dead fishes were taken for testing, but no action was initiated against the polluting industries nor were they identified. Yes this is the grim reality. Nicomet Industries, in Cuncolim village, is one of the two polluting industries, which had been ordered to be shut down by the Goa bench of the Mumbai High Court on pollution related issues. However, it has got a fresh reprieve with the Supreme Court lifting the ban. The unit, which has been accused of contaminating ground water resources of the entire village by disposing hazardous waste, is now constructing a land fill site to dump tonnes and tonnes of hazardous waste, which is presently lying inside the factory premises. Residents are up in arms against the land fill site as the pollution control board has approved the site without any public hearing. Goa does not have any hazardous waste fill site and the one at Dhanbadora in north Goa is yet to be completed. The hazardous waste from Nicomet industries has found its way into the Selaulim Irrigation Canal and effects of ground water pollution can also be seen in the fruit bearing trees. Residents like me are waiting with their fingers crossed on the damage we are likely to suffer in the long run, for allowing industries and a hazardous waste disposal site in Cuncolim.

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