In defence of a public heritage site

In defence of a public heritage site

20 Apr 2017 No comment 25 hits

Bondvoll lake is a legacy, not only for the villagers of St Cruz, but also for nearby locales. The Portuguese government wisely invested a huge amount in its construction, realizing the economic value of such infrastructure.

They sanctioned it as a public utility project to promote agriculture in the vast tract of land from Madlak to Bandar and from Almacho Khuris to Four Pillars, covering paddy fields of Korgut, Ounent-Chuiant and other parcels. Taken up more than a hundred years ago, this feat of engineering harvested rain water on the slope of the green hillock. The water was sufficient to irrigate the rabi (vaingonn) paddy crop.

Till a few years ago, when the lake's sluice gate (manos) was still sealed, it helped preserve the groundwater table in and around the Vhoddlem Bhatt, Corte Real, Bandar, St Agostinho and Primeiro Bairo wards of St Cruz. Its waters not only helped recharge wells in the village, but also those on the Bambolim plateau and beyond. Three other lakes are dependent on it and together, these lakes were used for pisciculture.

Even though a controversy has arisen over ownership, the importance of the lake should not be ignored as it is declared a public utility project. The lake would stay submerged for almost the entire year and only one crop, the rabi crop would be cultivated when the water was released totally from it. The lake's main purpose was to store rain water right from the end of monsoon till mid-January.

The rain water harvesting process in this public utility has been jeopardized due to mismanagement of the flow of water ever since a tenant created a dispute. This tenant, if there is one, may have right only to cultivate a single crop, as traditionally determined, between mid-January and mid-May. But, as it is declared a public utility area, the tenancy declaration has hardly any validity and leaves a question mark.

Also, this was a government project, managed by the Calapor comunidade, and on that count, too, the tenancy issue will not arise.

The villagers need to unite, and they have already shown resolve to do so, to protect this heritage asset for posterity. The sluice gate has been broken and huge quantities of water that could be stored, are being wasted. It is high time that the Bondvoll lake is restored to its erstwhile utility, as was done in 1908 by the Portuguese government, which subsequently handed over the management of the lake to the Calapor comunidade to regulate the irrigation of vast tracts of land.

It is the tenants' association that manages the flow of water to irrigate vaingonn cultivation and prevent inflow of saline water through the sluice gate in the khazan land. As such, the government should either acquire the Bondvoll lake or constitute a tenants' association in a bid to revive agriculture.

The villagers of St Cruz have already launched a campaign to preserve the lake, its ecologically fragile area, and its biodiversity by resolving unanimously to stop all development on its periphery, including its buffer zone.

And, it is only fitting that the villagers not slacken in their effort to restore St Cruz to its pristine status as one of the granaries of Tiswadi.

(The writer is a diocesan priest, who is also a practising lawyer and takes up social issues)

Source: In defence of a public heritage site