Construction of bungalows at Old Goa heritage site sparks protests

An ongoing unrest over the allegedly illegal construction of a bungalow in a heritage area of ​​Old Goa reached a new high on Sunday when thousands of people gathered outside St Cajetan’s Church to demand that the structure be demolished.

While unrest has already taken place against construction, Sunday’s rally was the largest yet. Around 1,500 chairs installed at the venue have been filled, while hundreds of others have shown solidarity with the conservation of the heritage site. Several speakers, including historians and architects, addressed the crowd. Among the listeners were residents of Old Goa, students, professionals, political leaders, and congressional and congressional workers from Trinamool.

The Old Goa Safeguarding Action Committee (SOGCA) has already appealed to the Supreme Court for authorizations granted for the construction of the bungalow.

Historian Prajal Sakhardande, who was among those who addressed the crowd, said that while the state’s natural heritage was already at stake, building the bungalow in a UNESCO World Heritage compound was also an affront to the heritage structures of Goa.

“The construction of this bungalow violates all heritage standards. Even though they got clearances for it, those clearances were obtained by questionable means, ”Sakhardande told Indian Express.

“The Church has played a pivotal role in the large number of people we have seen today. The church has issued a bugle call for all to come forward in support. There are seven World Heritage churches in Old Goa and this movement aims to protect our heritage and that is not political at all, ”said Sakhardande.

The bungalow is under construction in Ella village under Tiswadi taluka and part of the land was sold to Mumbai-based developer Manish Munot, husband of BJP spokesperson Shaina NC, in 2015. SOGCA, in his letter to Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in September said: “This is a blatant abuse of power by the state government to favor a powerful and influential party. “

Munot said in September that he had pulled out of the project. It is learned that repeated protests from local residents who the Goa Congress joined in July, the “politicization of the issue” and Shaina’s name associated with the case were among the reasons Munot withdrew. Shaina had said earlier that she had no part in the development of the property. She was not available for comment on Sunday.

Goa BJP chairman Sadanand Tanavde has distanced himself from the party. “We have nothing to do with this problem. I don’t want to say anything about it. It is someone’s personal problem, a local problem, not a state problem. It must be supported locally. We have nothing to do with it, if tomorrow somebody finds it illegal, they’ll tear it down. It has no connection with the party.

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

SOGCA said in its Supreme Court application that the bungalow was built on land divided into two parts. By deed of sale signed on May 8, 2015, part of 2,400 m² of land was sold to a Suvarna Lotlikar and another part of 9,500 m² was sold to Munot.

They argued that while the Goa Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) found that Lotlikar had submitted photos of a structure in Pernem, North Goa while seeking an NOC to repair the structure in Old Goa, ASI Headquarters in Delhi granted repair authorization – before the Goa Circle report was submitted – in February 2020, indicating that the repair should be carried out in consultation with ASI Goa Circle.

Architect Tahir Noronha, who also spoke at Sunday’s protest, handed over a crowd pledge for state heritage conservation. The pledge was to fight “businessmen and politicians” trying to destroy Goa’s heritage.

“I promise that until the illegal structure in Old Goa is demolished and the TCP [ Town and Country Planning] department designs the protected area, the regionally buffer zones in Old Goa, I will not vote for any candidate presented by the ruling party that governs our state and our country, ”he said.

SOGAC also met with Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar last month to point out that the TCP department he headed was among the departments that had disregarded ASI’s findings while granting permission for construction. TCP officials said on Sunday that Kavlekar had promised to look into the matter. They said two clearances were needed before approaching the TCP and that they were both in place. The case is now before the Supreme Court and they were awaiting instructions from the Supreme Court on the matter.

Goa Pradesh Congress Committee Chairman Girish Chodankar, who also attended the protest on Sunday, said: “The people of Goa have always respected and preserved the tradition, culture and heritage of Goa. The Goa Congress has always respected the feelings and emotions of Goa. We are committed to ending the illegalities in Old Goa and will always stay with the people to protect the sacred precinct. “

Protesters also held up 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 came to my attention, I removed him from his post. He is no longer even a member of our party. We are now being targeted because the elections are approaching, ”said GFP chairman Vijai Sardesai.

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