PANAJI: Goa Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão has called on the state authorities to preserve the Old Goa heritage precinct lest it loses its world heritage status granted by UNESCO amid continuing protests by civil society groups who want a structure built with dubious permissions, which were recently revoked, to be demolished.
At a gathering on the occasion of the feast of St Francis Xavier, revered in Goa as Goencho Saib (lord of Goa), the Archbishop, the much-respected head of the Christian community in Goa, called on the Goa government to “refrain from any acts and decisions which are illegal and detrimental to the preservation of the religious and heritage sanctity of Old Goa.”
“We well know that this site is not only a holy site but also a historical and a prominent site of global cultural heritage. Being that as it is, it is our responsibility as well as the law to give this place the respect it deserves,” the Archbishop said.
“We should know that any undue or offensive interventions even by legitimate stakeholders in and around these monuments can have grave consequences and even attract the derecognition of their world heritage status which would be a tremendous and severe loss to Goa,” he said.
The Archbishop also expressed solidarity with the civil society protests including an ongoing hunger strike being undertaken by the Save Old Goa Action Committee demanding the demolition of a structure built in violation of heritage norms.
A two-storeyed structure being built barely metres from the protected monuments within the UNESCO recognised heritage precinct of Old Goa being built by Manish Munot, the husband of BJP national spokesperson Shaina NC and a local collaborator — Suvarna Lotlikar, the wife of Goa Cricket Association chief Suraj Lotlikar — has snowballed into a major political controversy.
The project proponents applied for licence of repair and reconstruction claiming that there was a damaged structure.
While there did exist a small ‘shed’ known as loja in Portuguese – it was used to store coconuts at the site – the project representatives submitted a photograph of an old palatial house that was claimed to be the existing structure.
The Goa Town and Country Planning Department has since revoked the permissions granted to the site citing false representation while applying for a licence including incorrect ownership documents, building a structure taller and wider than the original structure they were seeking to ‘repair’ among other illegalities.
The Town and Country Planning Department has further written to the local panchayat to “initiate necessary action” on the structure since the permissions have been revoked.
Once the capital of the expansive Portuguese maritime empire, much of Old Goa now lies in ruins except for a few churches and other structures that are now being preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India and are also considered sacred from a religious point of view.