Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s announcement that he would invite suggestions on drafting a policy on removal of illegal religious structures in public places is appropriate, especially in view of the public nuisance these structures pose. The issue is not new, and was first taken up by the Congress government, following the apex court directive to all states. It has been also rigorously implemented by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation years ago with a firm hand.
What is rather positive, as far as government is concerned, is its decision to invite all stakeholders to provide inputs on the matter. This becomes important because people are touchy on matters of religious structures. This, despite the fact that the Church in Goa has in the past backed moves by the State government to demolish roadside crosses and other illegal religious structures, provided such an action is not targeted at certain groups. The Goa Archdiocesan Synod in February 2002 recommended that erection of roadside crosses at busy junctions and highways be discouraged.
The 3,702-sqkm state has some 4,000 roadside crosses, makeshift mosques and Hindu religious structures along its 4,999 kilometers of paved roads. While it is true that many have historical and artistic value that must be preserved at all cost – even by relocating them if required -- the government ought to come up with a clear policy on wayside religious structures.
It is ridiculous to build crosses at virtually every curve. It is also unacceptable that gumtis are erected by the road, often obstructing vehicular traffic. A classic case is the structure along the Mira Mar-Fire Department road junction near Bal Bhavan, where traffic congestion is a regular occurence. Similar structures slowly end up turning into open air chapels and full-fledged temples.
While the Church has officially discouraged these roadside crosses, it has even gone a step further debarring priests from celebrating the Holy Mass at these wayside crosses. Canon law specifies that the Eucharistic celebration ought to be held in a “sacred” or “befitting” place.
Many roadside religious structures have often been erected in accident-prone areas, in the belief that they can ward off evil. Vested business interests however often deliberately erect these structures in a bid to usurp property especially common open space, collect money, or prevent new construction activity in the vicinity, perhaps to avoid narrowing down of access. Shops which encroach on roads and face the risk of demolition are common culprits who employ such a ploy. Those having shops by the roadside often encourage erection of religious structures with public support, hoping to foil road widening or development plan in the area,, because they believe authorities will hesitate to demolish a religious structure because of its sensitive nature. Some structures are erected to make money as a means of livelihood. Taxi, rickshaw operators often erect shrines with the hope that their business prospers. Another existing structure, for instance, is at the KTC bus stand which is erected in public property.
There are also heritage structures with a legacy of faith, evoking strong individual and collective emotional response. But some of these structures do not hinder locals. It is the bounden duty of the government therefore to discuss the issue with the local church authorities before attempting any demolition exercise.
Religion is a matter of personal belief, and as educated individuals we have to keep it to that domain and out of public places. Spirituality is between the individual and the Creator. We have to understand that God cannot be brought down to the wayside to fit into our superstitions, and let the government authorities do their job without fear or favour.
The Cortalim saga
Somehow the knack of attributing the sudden turn of events that has come to characterize the BJP rule of just over two months in the State to its charismatic leader, sometimes reeks of the schizophrenic tendencies of party members who would go to any lengths to portray Manohar Parrikar as the ‘miracle man of the century’.
If it is the grand electoral coup which saw the emergence of BJP’s Alina Saldanha as the unopposed winner in Cortalim constituency that Parrikar needs to be congratulated for, let us get it over and done with. Nevertheless, one cannot but opine that there is more to it than meets the eye vis-à-vis the Cortalim by-polls. Amidst the exuberance over Parrikar’s master stroke, and the clamour over Raymond’s treachery and Borkar’s maverick ways, one wonders why no one thought of the most obvious!
The way the drama has unfolded from day one, it had all the trappings of a sensational story. After the sad demise of her husband, it was decided that Alina Saldanha would don the mantle of leadership and the BJP, preferring to capitalize on the sympathy wave generated, was more than willing to nominate her for the vacated seat of Cortalim.
Within a month of Matanhy being interred, there were grand elocutions on political aphorisms and very soon it was being emphasized upon that sentiments had no place in politics; which meant that the race for the Cortalim assembly seat was wide open and there would be a contest!
By stitching up an alliance, Micky Pacheco and his GVP was ‘compromised’ by the ‘brilliant’ tactics of Parrikar.
The pretence of animosity between the two hasn’t had the desired effect and that as the third candidate, Amidst allegations, accusations, justifications and expulsion of Raymond from the party, one is suddenly struck by the atrociousness of the whole situation. No, this definitely was not a ploy to facilitate a smooth passage for Alina Saldanha to the state assembly alone; there were a lot of devious minds at work to ensure a far secure outcome, a result that would guarantee the termination of a political vermin, the scourge of all the political parties in the state.