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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Bungalow construction in Old Goa heritage site triggers protests

While agitations have been held before against the construction, Sunday’s gathering was the largest so far. About 1,500 chairs set up at the protest venue were filled while hundreds of others stood in solidarity of conserving the heritage precinct.

By: Express News Service | Panaji |
Updated: November 22, 2021 7:43:32 am
Bungalow construction in Old Goa heritage site triggers protestsThe protest on Sunday outside St Cajetan Church in Old Goa against the construction of the bungalow at the heritage site. A part of the land on which the bungalow is being built was sold to Manish Munot, husband of BJP spokesperson Shaina NC, in 2015. (Express Photo)

An ongoing agitation against the allegedly illegal construction of a bungalow in a heritage precinct at Old Goa reached a new high on Sunday when thousands gathered outside the St Cajetan Church demanding that the structure be torn down.

While agitations have been held before against the construction, Sunday’s gathering was the largest so far. About 1,500 chairs set up at the protest venue were filled while hundreds of others stood in solidarity of conserving the heritage precinct. Several speakers – historians and architects among them – addressed the crowd. Among the listeners were residents of Old Goa, students, professionals and political leaders and workers from the Congress and the Trinamool Congress.

The Save Old Goa Action Committee (SOGCA) has already moved the Supreme Court over the permissions granted for the bungalow’s construction.

Historian Prajal Sakhardande, who was among those who addressed the crowd, said that while the state’s natural heritage was already at stake, the construction of the bungalow in a UNESCO world heritage precinct was an affront to Goa’s heritage structures as well.

“The construction of this bungalow violates all heritage norms. Even if they may have obtained permissions for it, these permissions were obtained by dubious means,” Sakhardande told the Indian Express.

“The Church was instrumental for the large turnout of people we saw today. The church gave a clarion call for all to turn up in support. There are seven world heritage churches in Old Goa and this movement is to protect our heritage and it is not at all political,” Sakhardande said.

The bungalow is being constructed in Ella village under Tiswadi taluka and a part of the land was sold to Mumbai-based developer Manish Munot, husband of BJP spokesperson Shaina NC, in 2015. The SOGCA, in its letter to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in September, said, “This is a case of gross misuse of power by the State Government to favour a powerful and influential party.”

Munot had said in September that he had pulled out of the project. It is learnt that repeated protests by local residents which the Goa Congress joined in July, ‘politicisation of the issue’ and Shaina’s name being associated with the matter was among the reasons for Munot to back out. Shaina had earlier said she had no part in the development of the property. She was not available for comment on Sunday.

Goa BJP president Sadanand Tanavde distanced the party from the matter. “We have nothing to do with this issue. I wish to say nothing about this. This is somebody’s personal issue, a local issue and not a state issue. It should be taken up locally. We have nothing to do with it, if tomorrow someone finds this is illegal, let them demolish it. This is not connected to the party in any way.”

Activists who were a part of the protest on Sunday however, said that even though Munot had pulled out of the project, the construction of the bungalow continued. “This construction will set a bad precedent. It will lead to more concrete structures in heritage precincts. It has to go. It has to be dismantled,” said Sakhardande.

The SOGCA, has stated in its petition before the Supreme Court that the bungalow was being constructed on land that was divided into two parts. By sale deeds executed on May 8, 2015, a 2,400 sq mt part of the land was sold to one Suvarna Lotlikar and another part of 9,500 sq mt was sold to Munot.

They have contended that while the Archeological Survey of India’s (ASI) Goa circle had found that Lotlikar had submitted photos of a structure in Pernem, North Goa while seeking an NOC to repair the structure in Old Goa, the ASI headquarters in Delhi granted permission for repair – before the Goa circle’s report was submitted – in February 2020 stating that repair should be carried out in consultation with the ASI Goa Circle.

Architect Tahir Noronha, who also addressed Sunday’s protest, administered a pledge to the crowd for conserving the state’s heritage. The pledge was to fight “businessmen and politicians” trying to destroy Goa’s heritage.

“I pledge that until the illegal structure at Old Goa is demolished, and the TCP [ Town and Country Planning] department draws the protected area, buffer zones on the regional plan at Old Goa, I will not vote for any candidate put forth by the ruling party governing our state and country,” it stated.

SOGAC had also met Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar last month to point out that the TCP department headed by him was among the departments that had disregarded the ASI’s findings while granting permission for the construction. TCP officials said Sunday that Kavlekar had promised to look into the matter. They said that two permissions were required prior to approaching the TCP and they were both in place. The matter is now before the Supreme Court and they were awaiting the apex court’s directions in the matter.

Goa Pradesh Congress Committee President Girish Chodankar, who also attended the protest on Sunday, said, “People of Goa have always respected and preserved the tradition, culture and heritage of Goa. The Goa Congress has always respected the sentiments and emotions of Goans. We are committed to stopping illegalities at Old Goa and will always remain with the people to protect the Holy Precinct.”

The protesters also held placards against ‘Nhaal’, Konkani for coconut – the symbol of the Goa Forward Party(GFP). They claimed that Lotlikar is the wife of former GFP treasurer Suraj Lotlikar. “After it was brought to my notice, I removed him from the position. He is no longer a member of our party even. We are now being targeted because the election is approaching,” said GFP president Vijai Sardesai.

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