Shocked at the sight of a dried Bondvol lake, Arturo D’Souza, a former English and History teacher, decided to act and save the heritage lake. He has been a key member of the ‘Save Bondvol Lake’ people’s movement. Through social activism and legal processes, the lake is now protected and will be soon notified as a wetland. Illustration by Deepti for Mongabay.

A case-study for other wetlands

Citizens in various other parts of Goa, inspired by D’Souza’s journey, reached out to get his guidance with respect to issues in their villages too. “There had been other passionate people before me who had stepped into the ring and tried to make a change but till this day I don’t understand what made them back down,” said D’Souza, wondering aloud.

Along with the Bondvol lake in Santa Cruz, was the issue of the Chimbel lake in the village of Chimbel, another water body that figured in the Portuguese documents as well. In the earlier days, it was used for supplying fresh water to the city of Panjim. Now, like many other wetlands across the state, it faces extinction by encroachment. There have been protests in recent years against a proposed IT park project near the lake.

D’Souza’s support helped the citizens get this lake evaluated as well. “Currently the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) has been allotted Chimbel lake and a number of other wetlands to fully understand if they fit the guidelines laid down by the MoEFCC – they look at the PH levels, varieties of phytoplankton, microflora, hydrogeological and other technical aspects”, Pradip Sarmokadam, Goa State Biodiversity Board, elaborates.

After having won the battle at Bondvol, avid kitchen gardener, D’Souza is spending his time growing vegetables when he’s not actively attending rallies and meetings for other causes.

“There is a marina planned to come up in Nauxi which is part of the fishing village belt that starts at Cortalim and continues until Bambolim. If this marina is allowed to be built, it will badly affect the lives of the Rapunkars (fishermen) whose livelihood depends on fishing. Around 296 species of fish breed here and have been traced by the NIO.” A go-ahead on a project like this will be a huge blow to marine life here.

Bondvol lake is officially owned by a local comunidade, an ancient village land-owning institution in charge of common village lands. Photo by Arturo D'Souza.
Bondvol lake is officially owned by a local comunidade, an ancient village land-owning institution in charge of common village lands. Photo by Arturo D’Souza.

Uniting against unsustainable development

When D’Souza first started off as a social activist in 2015, among the land being usurped for infrastructure, were also Khazan lands, a key estuarine feature in the state. The Goan word Khazan is similar to the Konkani word ‘Kharshan’ which means salty, explains Nandkumar Kamat, who also played a substantial role in D’Souza’s journey.

Tallulah D’Silva, a well-known architect adds, while reminiscing her childhood, “The Khazans are lands reclaimed from the marshes by building little ‘bunds’ out of mud, creating agriculture, aquaculture and salt panning systems that helped sustain rice farmers as well as fisherfolk. Built around 3500 years ago, these are one of the best examples of climate resilient ecosystems. I spent a lot of time walking around these and the mangroves when I was young.”

Over the past decade, and more specifically in the last five years, these unique features of Goa, the land of sunshine, with its beaches and biodiversity, are disappearing with urbanisation.

There are people’s movements emerging against various issues all around. The ‘Save Mollem’ movement is a united stand by citizens across Goa and beyond, to protect the Mollem National Park and the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife sanctuary from severe deforestation and fragmentation on account of four laning of a highway and double tracking of a railway line. Anticipating the damage to marine life by an upcoming marina, concerned people from the coastal villages around Bambolim village, have coalesced to oppose these plans.

With reference to Goa’s youth standing up for their forests and resources, D’Souza is excited about the possibilities youth involvement present. He says, “I had tried to provoke the youth a few years ago but it didn’t work then so I’m really thrilled to see youth involved now. The positive side of the pandemic is that these Covid times have brought the youth forward since their schools and colleges are not taking up all their time now.”

Illustration by Deepti, an animator and illustrator, based in Goa. Her work ranges from conservation communication, art around mental health to monster music videos and illustrations that capture the randomness of human experience.

Article published by Aditi Tandon

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