Knowledge is power and democratisation of knowledge means the ultimate power. That’s why governments get worked up about Google Earth (GE). It makes you a vigilant citizen.
You get hard evidence pictured from space – and these images never lie. It is evidence admissible in courts. Google Earth in a corrupt country like India is a democratic force multiplier. Combined with the power of RTI, it can force good governance.
Google Earth underwent a radical change by replacing its five-year-old satellite image database with images dated April 22, 2010. One has to read these images carefully because the salinity during summer has made all the coastal and estuarine water-bodies appear white. Only the freshwater parts are shaded blue.
The government of India is not ready to offer such latest images free to citizens. ISRO’s Bhuvan project – a crude imitation of GE with foreign plug-in – fizzled out due to poor imagery, slow downloads and low resolution. GE helps any citizen to compare any location at two different times – past and present – so the transformation can be easily seen. It has a function called ‘Historical imagery’ (click on seventh button on the main Menu bar from right) which gives a synoptic view of the transformation of the landscape from November 4, 2002 to April 22, 2010.
Having used GE regularly for the past five years, it was just difficult to believe that Goa’s landscape has transformed so much when I compared the older set of images of the same locations. If seeing is believing then take a look at the four-month-old high resolution satellite images of Goa’s traumatised landscape. If you have never practiced with Google Earth, just download the free version . In minutes you can install and begin using it. It is a bit slow on a Dial Up connection but impressive with broadband.
What is this landscape transformation?
It is surface development – authorised and unauthorised, legal and illegal, in both the private and public sectors. The green cover everywhere is seen much more fragmented. Panaji appears like a city waiting to be clean shaven-in a haste to get rid of its famous tree cover. The city did not look so ugly five years back when I wrote about it on June 15, 2006.
All over Goa, settlements are eating into forests and areas with high tree cover. Townships are coming up close to natural lakes and reservoirs. Roads – legal or illegal are seen proliferating indicating systematic work to open new and inaccessible areas for real estate development. The huge private hotel project coming up within just 40 metres of Siridao bay (not a river as notified under CRZ) girdling the Bambolim beach appears as a distinct eyesore. But the CZMA would not be convinced even after measuring the distance using the ruler provided by GE.
There is very little scope left in the eco-sensitive island of Tiswadi for spatial planning. The latest images show the pressure of urbanisation. Tiswadi is slowly reaching the point of no return – the maximum carrying capacity. And is it any wonder that in this island not a single place can be identified for sanitary landfill? Development around Bainguinim shows that these people would never tolerate a landfill in their backyard as property values may fall. So, highly urbanised Tiswadi is in danger of sinking under a pile of untreated solid waste. Even areas which were once thought out of reach and difficult to access are not getting spared.
The uniformly green semicircular Curca-Santana-Gouli-Moula watershed is being engulfed by the outgrowth from the rapidly developing Kadamba plateau. The entire stretch of one of the finest urban beaches in the world – semicircular Caranzalem-Miramar beach has been vertically fragmented at 40 locations. This has endangered its last remaining sand dunes. Heavy siltation in the Mandovi is causing formation of mudflats.
A new triangular mudflat has developed parallel to the Ribander causeway -almost one km long and 200 metres in width. This would block the land to river crossflow. This mudflat was just 380 metres long in December 2003. So it is elongating in the direction of Panaji at the rate of 90 metres per year.
The satellite images tell a tragic story of destruction of mangroves, creeks, rivulets and khazan paddy fields. Most of the mangroves in the Merces village panchayat area have been removed to create land plots and scrapyards.
The Panaji-Ribander by-pass was constructed without any environmental impact assessment. It has nearly finished the fully navigable creek of Chimbel. But the by-pass has come as a boon to the people who’ve transformed the landscape between Morombim and Chimbel.
The landscape has changed beyond recognition, especially around major towns and in developed talukas. The satellite images are a concrete and disturbing proof of the onslaught on Goa’s natural heritage. Tiswadi is leading in this onslaught with the hills of Bambolim, Nagali, Curca, Old Goa in the lead.
Calapur comunidades’ century old Bondval Lake is surrounded by roads which even the government may not be aware – so the constructions would finish the lake. The lush green hillock from Verem to Britonna which gives Panaji and the Mandovi waterfront its’ unique aesthetic character is now getting converted into a chain of eyesore constructions which clearly violate elevation controls.
From Malim hills to Verem hills the green cover has thinned out. At this rate within two years the hills facing Panaji’s waterfront would appear barren.
A very interesting scenario emerges close to location of River Princess near Candolim beach. The images indicate that the ship has drifted 40 metres closer to the beach in seven years. But is there any real beach erosion? I checked the images of February 5, 2003 and April 22, 2010. Width of the strip of beach close to the nearest vegetation, perpendicular to front side of the ship was 70 metres in 2003 and 102 metres in 2010.
Has Candolim beach gained or lost sand? The geotubes and geotextiles seem to have some effect. But then how come the mouth of the Nerul River got reduced from 90 metres in 2003 to 65 metres in 2010? Without nourishment from the Baga and Nerul River – the sediment budget of Candolim, Calangute beaches would be deficient.
Hundreds of such simple, easy to understand transformations can be seen – so empower yourself with Google Earth and discover the truth. Students can do mini projects on transformation of Goa’s landscape and waterscape using GE. They would enjoy it.
This article previously published in Navhind Times.