A new battle for Goa: To save its ‘Sea of Milk’ waterfalls
It almost featured in a James Bond movie. Now, the very existence of Dudhsagar, Goa's grandest waterfall and a major tourism attraction, is in peril due to a series of dams neighbouring Karnataka plans to construct and Goa is desperate to ensure this doesn't happen.
Literally translating into "Sea of Milk", Dudhsagar almost featured as a backdrop to an early action sequence in the 23rd Bond film, "Skyfall", where the British spy, engaged in a fist-fest atop a train compartment, gets accidentally shot and falls into the raging torrent below.
Dudhsagar (or Sea of Milk) waterfall is located about 90 km from Panaji
While the waterfall, located about 90 km from Panaji, was shortlisted for the sequence, logistical issues forced the film's makers to move to an alternate location in South Africa.
Missing out on a Bond film was a setback alright, but the threat of a waterfall that has been pounding the basin below for thousands of years and supplying several villages downstream with water all-year round drying up is something else altogether.
All this because the Karnataka government has planned a complex network of dams and diversionary canals over the Mhadei river that feeds the waterfall. Water Resources Minister Dayanand Mandrekar said Goa will oppose this tooth and nail.
"Goa has strongly objected to the diversion of the Mhadei river in its statement of claims, rejoinders and also replies to the claims of Karnataka," the minister added.
The dispute between the two states is already being heard by the central government-appointed Mhadei Water Disputes Tribunal (MWDT) headed by Justice J. M. Panchal (retd), but the proposed construction of at least six other dams at Palna, Katla, Diggi-Bondeli and Diggi-Mara in Karnataka pose a much bigger challenge.
Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has dared Goa's green activists to challenge the dam network before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), instead of the state government itself.
"The government has some limitations in approaching the NGT on its own. But if an NGO or an individual is willing to take Goa's case before the NGT, we can work out a mechanism to pay the fees of counsel," Parrikar said, adding that some of his friends would be willing to shell out money to an NGO willing to take up the case.
Irrespective of the shadow games between Parrikar and the green lobby, which has repeatedly accused the chief minister of being close to the mining lobby, the significance of Dudhsagar going barren has ecological and cultural ramifications.
The waterfall itself is regarded as "Rakhno Dev" (protector God) and even spitting in the water flowing from the Dudhsagar is considered taboo.
"The Dudhsagar is a guardian spirit for the villagers of Collem. People worship it in awe. You are not supposed to spit when you are near the waterfall or throw non-vegetarian food into the water or shout and scream loudly. All these things are taboo at the waterfall site," historian Prajal Sakhardande said.
Every year, villagers in the waterfall's immediate downstream slaughter roosters as a mark of obeisance to "Dudhsagar dev", seeking his protection against evil.
"The waterfall, because of its sheer size and because of the fact that it provides them with water all year round, is a deity whom the villagers worship and treat with awe," said sociologist Bernadette Gomes.
The Mhadei river originates in Karnataka and meets the Arabian Sea off Panaji in Goa, where it is referred to as the Mandovi. While the river travels 28.8 km in Karnataka, it is 81.2 km in length in Goa. - IANS