The state government's plan to build 12 new bridges to link pockets of insular areas has worried discerning citizens, as they view the projects from a larger context of their economic and environmental impacts.
The cost-intensive development raises serious implications to ecology and infrastructure requirements. "Instead of looking at the immediate costs, the government must also think of the long-term ones," Anthony Simoes, a cost engineer said. Agreed Abhijit Prabhudesai, an environmentalist, "The infrastructure must match our needs as we don't think of basic requirements," he said.
The bridges will connect inaccessible areas in a state with a complex riverine system, but many advised a cautious approach, as several bridges have developed problems prematurely and a few rivers have too many links. Keeping aside a sizeable allocation for upkeep of old bridges is inevitable.
The pre-stressed concrete used for bridges is hostile to salinity levels in the local setting.
"The cost is often understated when the project is announced and the benefits are overstated. The people who pay the costs are different from the people who derive the benefits," Simoes said.
Most bridges in the state have been built within the eco fragile CRZ stretches of rivers. "We must take stock of impact on resources and sustainable economy," Prabhudesai explained. From a state of abundance of fish resources to feed local populations and even fertile fields, the growing famine is considered worrisome.
This is not the time to build new infrastructure without taking stock of impact on resources and other matters," Prabhudesai said.
Simoes agreed that Goan estuarine environment is different with a lot of fertility and marine life. The selection of the site is critical in the context of the damage. "Putting viaducts for approach roads like the KRC has, may cost more, but millions of cubic metres of earth for embankments are saved," he said.
The bridge-building activity has to be carried out through preservation as each region has its own ecosystem. "The people's livelihoods are impacted when fields are buried with huge embankments and they don't know to do anything else," Simoes explained.
The issue of bridges is not simple and cannot be weighed by populist considerations, others say. "We cannot justify a bridge for a small settlement," said Kit Heredia, an activist. After a bridge is built, a network of bypasses and link roads on both sides follow. "One has to ensure that the peaceful fabric of a village is not destroyed with such development," Heredia said.
A GSIDC official conceded that the cost-benefit ratio has not been worked out. "But the links will boost development on both sides and this cannot be measured," he said. The official stressed that most new projects are important to cut distances and save fuel for motorists.
But others point out that loss of more agricultural land should stop. "When you protect fields, it is not just the rice that is produced there, but a whole way of life for our local people, and what we call Goan identity," Simoes said. Creation of more bridge infrastructure will lead to massive land-use change. "The loss of biodiversity and ecology functions of rivers will be tremendous and cannot be underestimated," Prabhudesai said. "When we destroy our river, we destroy our priceless food and water source, as our rice and curry will be devoid of fish," Simoes concluded. [H]