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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Explained: Citizens’ movement for Old Goa heritage, backed by Church, parties

🔴 In poll-bound Goa, the Archbishop of Goa and Daman's statement comes in the backdrop of an ongoing citizens' movement against an allegedly illegal bungalow in a precinct that is home to several heritage monuments, including the popular Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: December 4, 2021 9:02:14 am
The citizens’ movement against an allegedly illegal bungalow. (Express Photo: Mayura Janwalkar)

The Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Filipe Neri Ferrao, said on Thursday that the Church stood in solidarity with those protesting the “obnoxious activities” in Old Goa. “I strongly appeal to all those in authority to refrain from any acts and decisions which are illegal and detrimental to the preservation of the religious and heritage sanctity of Old Goa,” he said. In poll-bound Goa, his statement comes in the backdrop of an ongoing citizens’ movement against an allegedly illegal bungalow in a precinct that is home to several heritage monuments, including the popular Basilica of Bom Jesus.

What is the agitation about?

The Save Old Goa Action Committee (SOGAC), a collective of residents, activists, and professionals, had filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against permissions granted for construction of the bungalow. The state Congress joined the agitation in July, alleging that the ruling BJP had facilitated illegal permission since one of the two buyers was Manish Munot, husband of Mumbai-based BJP spokesperson Shaina N C. Both Shaina and Munot had said they have nothing to do with the alleged illegal construction. Subsequently Munot pulled out of the project.

However, the construction continued, and a ground-plus-one spacious villa with tiled roofs stands between scaffoldings at present. On November 21, at least 3,000 people showed up at the St Cajetan Church, behind which the allegedly illegal structure stands, in solidarity with the protesting activists. Days later, they announced a ‘satyagraha’ to fast until the structure was demolished.

The Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Filipe Neri Ferrao

What are the illegalities alleged?

In September, the SOGAC had written to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant alleging that the permissions granted by the state’s Town and Country Planning (TCP) were faulty. “This is a case of gross misuse of power by the State Government to favour a powerful and influential party,” the SOGAC wrote. It said the bungalow was being built on land that was divided into two parts, both owned by one Jose Maria De Gouveia Pinto. By Sale Deeds of May 8, 2015, 2400 sq m of the land was sold to Suvarna Lotlikar, wife of former Goa Forward Party treasurer Suraj Lotlikar, and another 9,500 sq m was sold Munot.

It said that even after the sale, permissions were sought in the name of erstwhile owner Pinto. It said documents availed under RTI revealed that an application for repair was made by Pinto to Director General, ASI in Delhi but the Goa Circle of the ASI said in its inspection report that Suvarna Lotlikar had sought an NOC for repair and submitted a photograph of a ground plus one structure. Officers of the ASI in Goa, however, found that the structure in the photos submitted by Lotlikar in fact existed in Pernem in northern Goa, and not at the Old Goa site. The SOGAC said the photographs were ‘false’ and Lotlikar’s claim of the house existing on the plot prior to 1992 was “fake”.

The SOGAC stated the ASI in Delhi granted the 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. It urged the CM to stop the construction since it falls in the heritage precincts that houses monuments protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 including the Chapel of St Cajetan, Arch of Viceroy and Largo of St. Cajetan. It said the ASI had granted permissions only for repair, not reconstruction.

What is the Goa government doing about it?

As more and more people joined the protest and hunger strike or extended support to the protesters, the government reopened its files and examined the permissions granted. On November 27, the CM said if the structure was found illegal, it should be demolished. The TCP department on Tuesday issued a revocation order, taking back a technical clearance granted to Pinto on October 18, 2016 and ordered that construction on the plot in Ella village be stopped.

The same day, the village panchayat of Se Old Goa  issued a stop work order, addressed to Pinto, Lotlikar, and  Sumerlal Jain of Corus Urban Infrastructure, a Mumbai-based real estate company, that has now bought the property.

On Thursday, the TCP department asked the panchayat to initiate action against the construction under the Village Panchayat Raj Act since its technical clearance had been revoked. The panchayat on Thursday issued a show cause notice to Pinto, the original owner of the land, and others, asking why their reconstruction and renewal licence should not be revoked. “Our TCP department has already issued an order, the panchayat has also initiated action. They have stayed it (construction of the bungalow), they have withdrawn (clearance) and whatever is the next step under the law, we will take it,” Sawant said on Thursday.

What positions have various political parties taken?

After the Congress in July, the Trinamool Congress threw its weight behind the protesters last month. Luizinho Faleiro, Rajya Sabha MP, brought the issue up in Rajya Sabha earlier this week. The party’s Goa state-in-charge, MP Mohua Moitra, visited the protest site.

AAP state convener Rahul Mhambre also visited the protesters earlier this week. AAP leader Amit Palekar fasted for the last five day, calling off his fast after the TCP’s direction to the panchayat.

Goa’s Environment and Ports Minister Michael Lobo supported the demand for demolition of the structure.

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