26 Nov 2021  |   05:27am IST

It’s a victory for the people

It’s a victory  for the people

Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant (Babu) Kavalekar has stated that he has instructed Town and Country Planning Department to revoke the licence of the controversial construction in the heritage zone at Old Goa. His statement comes just a day after Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant had feigned ignorance of the project, when he had been questioned on it. The Chief Minister had counter questioned where this illegal project was situated, and what was illegal about it. On being told it was in Old Goa, the Chief Minister hinted that he does not think there is anything illegal about it, but stopped short of saying this. The only other statement he made was that he would have to see if there any illegalities.

What then made the Deputy Chief Minister take the sudden decision to revoke the licence? Such an action indicates that the construction is illegal and so is a victory for the people, who for the past few months have been protesting the structure in the heritage area. Why then did the Chief Minister a day earlier give such a guarded reply to questions posed to him by the media? This was displaying complete unconcern to the issues of the people and the protests. The least that had been expected from the Chief Minister was an acknowledgement of the issue and the firm assurance to take an immediate look at the files and act on it. Attempting to ignore it is not a characteristic of good governance.

Currently, a group of concerned citizens are seated on hunger strike outside the Se Cathedral and on November 21, thousands of people had gathered at Old Goa to register their protest over the construction. The meeting was largely covered by the media for the sheer number of people that were present on that day. It was not expected that there would be such a large turnout. This is a construction in a heritage area next to monuments that are designated as world heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It is an important issue and cannot be ignored by the government. The protest, however, is far from over as those who have taken up the fight have decided to wait and see that the government acts on this, and it is not merely a placatory statement. 

The issue of the construction in the heritage area of Old Goa has to come to a finality and it can happen if the Town and Country Planning Department does revoke the construction licence. It needs to be done quickly as prolonging it will only keep the issue burning for longer. The group that has been protesting is firm that they will not change their stand until they see action. In effect, what they are saying is that they do not want to rely on mere statements, but want the solutions to it. The Deputy Chief Minister should now give a deadline by which the department will act on his instructions and keep that date. 

This protest needs to be taken as a precedent to stop construction in all heritage areas. It may have been one construction that was the focus, but the heritage area of Old Goa requires a plan for its restoration and conservation. The Archaeological Survey of India is maintaining the monuments, but the area around it also needs to be established as a buffer zone to keep them safe. The State has to formulate a holistic plan for the entire heritage area, the buffer zone and the village. Constructions cannot be allowed to be permitted in Old Goa on decisions of bureaucrats or politicians. But, unless there is a plan that can be followed, this will happen. It has to be avoided.