For a long time, the backbone of the Goan economy had been buttressed by the Tourism and Mining industries. However, the halt of mining owing to its detrimental impacts on Goan ecology has stripped many Goans of their livelihoods. Most sought resort in their little plots and tracts of land to sustain themselves through agriculture but alas, the prolonged exploitation through indiscriminate mining had by then rendered their lands parched, and all the groundwater reserves shrivelled.
This is where the story of Pissurlem village comes into the picture. Situated in the eastern mining belt of the state, it comes under the Sattari taluka in the North Goa district. What once used to be a water-rich area brimming with springs, streams, and wells is now one of the most scorched, being the worst hit by exploitative mining practices. The village is now dependent on a very erratic water supply system with massive disparities in access, distribution, and storage even within the village, among the various wards.
But what has Mining got to do with water supply?
Goa has two aquifer systems that are the source of its groundwater: the top laterite layer and the powder ore. The laterite layer forms an unconfined aquifer, or the water table, with a continuous surface. It is permeable and gets recharged immediately after rains. Generally, this aquifer is tapped into through dug wells for both domestic and agricultural purposes. The second being the iron ore itself, consisting of blue dust including chert, manganiferous gravel, and sand. In other words, the source of the mineral is the source of the storage of water. The porous rock and the ore are like little vessels that hold water. When the rock and the ore are removed, the capacity to hold water is removed.
Rainwater replenishes the groundwater tables. This water later oozes out of the rock bed and joins the river, much like surface run-offs, thereby maintaining a base flow. However, when a hill is dug out to form a mine, it is like a bowl being dug deep under the rock bed. This intercepts the groundwater reserves and changes the direction of seepage. The water trapped in the aquifers then percolates through the porous layers and collects in the mines, instead of joining the river or even maintaining the aquifer. This is effectively draining the aquifer into the mine, rendering the water more inaccessible, and also polluted and unfit for use without treatment.
What once used to be a water-rich area brimming with springs, streams, and wells is now one of the most scorched, being the worst hit by exploitative mining practices. The village is now dependent on a very erratic water supply system with massive disparities in access, distribution, and storage even within the village, among the various wards
For nearly 15 years now, the Pissurlem village has been pining for a proper water supply but their woes seem to go unheard. The mining companies around have been mandated to provide water to certain wards every day. And through these sponsored tankers, is how the villagers are currently managing their water needs. Huge 200-liter capacity drums sit outside the houses which are filled with water from tankers each day, to meet the villagers’ need for bathing and ablutions. A separate tanker brings to the water for drinking and cooking needs. This is the struggle and toils the residents have to undergo each day; the onus of carrying the water from the tankers to their homes, sometimes making several trips a day, being on the women of the house.
This too does not serve as a permanent solution. The system is mismanaged, uncoordinated, and has rendered the village residents helpless before the whims of the mining companies which is why there is no surety of the tanker arriving every day, as promised. Years before, after much rallying by the ailing community, the PWD had set up pipelines throughout the village, in its various wards and sub-wards. These are however as useless as most of the silted agricultural lands in these parts, as villagers allege that there is hardly ever any water in the pipelines. Many wards have reported going weeks together with not a drop of water from the government lain channels. Residents of the Dhatwada district, in particular, have claimed that the pipelines have been running dry for almost 2 years now! Such is the apathy.
What are the reasons for the dysfunctional public works system?
The piped water to all 7 wards and 9 wadas of the village comes from mainly two sources- one being a water treatment plant in Padoshe, a small town 7 km away. And the other source is a big tank constructed outside the village and in turn fed by the same water treatment plant. Now as per officials, there are several technical reasons why the supply of water is not continuous and adequate.
As per Mongabay-India’s (non-profit environmental science news platform) interview with an official of the PWD, “Water travels under gravity, so obviously the first consumers will have more pressure and get more water. The more withdrawals there are, the more the pressure gets redistributed, and the last people will receive less water”. The department seems to be making efforts to resolve this issue by constructing separate pipelines for the different wards and wadas. However, the initiative and progress on the project are painfully slow, to say the least.
In December 2020, a group of vexed village residents approached the PWD office to have their water crisis addressed. Appalled and enraged by the indifference of the government to their repeated pleas, villagers have been rallying for a water purification project to be initiated in their area, in the hope that it will make them self-sufficient to some extent.
Exacerbating the plight of this 1,940 strong village is the diversion of funds set aside for their relief, towards Covid relief, to the tune of about 38 crores. In June 2015, through an amendment in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 2015- District Mineral Funds (DMF) were introduced in all districts in the country which are facing the ramifications of mining operations.
According to Mongabay-India, an analysis of the documents reveals that the DMF funds utilized for Covid-19 have gone into purchasing thermal imaging, cameras, Quattro machines, test kits, personal protective equipment, micro PCR systems — most of the equipment meant to be utilized in Covid hospitals of major cities of Goa – Panjim, Vasco, Ponda, and Margao. And a mere 4 crores of the fund went into providing water to the mining-affected villages, providing transportation facility for school children, pumping water out of the mining pits of a few villages, and desilting agricultural land for the village of Shirgao in north Goa. This utilization, lawyers and activists say, has come only after being slapped by court orders.
The apathy of authorities, the indifference of the government, a history of environmental exploitation, and piling predicaments of the day, have all left the villagers of Pissurlem helpless and indignant. This is but the story of one such village, there are many others in the state suffering a similar quandary. This crisis is enerving in how it impedes the daily lives and functioning of the people. But think about the far-reaching repercussions this will have on the agriculture potential and livelihoods of Goans, and it is downright scary.