PANJIM: Nearly a decade ago, the Additional Director General Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), New Delhi, B R Manni had written to the Goa Chief Town Planner, State Town and Country Planning (TCP) Department that buffer zones be declared around heritage sites in Goa.
Heritage enthusiasts and conservation professionals have pointed out that the lack of such buffer zones, which would have restricted construction projects in that area, have already started to detrimentally affect the State’s heritage sites.
They referred to the condition of Safa Masjid in Ponda, a 16th century monument, where a protection wall had collapsed recently due to the heavy rainfall.
Safa Masjid Committee members at that time had blamed the vibration caused by the vehicles moving from the opposite bypass road that had weakened the lake wall.
Conservationists, however, pointed out that the vibration was caused by construction activity too, which has started to show its effects. They warned that this could be the fate of other heritage structures in the State if constructions are allowed to come up near protected monuments and point out that the solution is for the State to follow ASI’s directions and mark such buffer zones in the Regional Plan 2021 (RP 2021).
This is significant given the protests being carried out by locals, concerned citizens and the Save Old Goa Action Committee against a construction project that has come up in the close proximity of a protected monument in Old Goa – the Largo of St Cajetan, Viceroy’s Arch and St Cajetan Church.
In 2001, there were serious structural issues at the St Cajetan Church, which UNESCO took cognisance of and ASI repaired in 2003. Furthermore, conservationists point out that walls of heritage sites, including the famous Basilica of Bom Jesus, have already suffered from salinity in the air and if there are constructions allowed near these sites, the saline threat will only increase and cause further damage.
“The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR Act) was specifically amended in 2010 keeping in mind construction activities and urbanism around the heritage sites. The intention of keeping a buffer zone was to reduce any impact related to constructions, accidents, groundwater pollution or vibrations,” architect Tahir Noronha said.
The then ASI Additional Director had informed TCP about the amendment to the AMASR Act in 2010 which clearly mentions that no construction would be allowed in the “Prohibited Area” of a monument and any proposal for construction/reconstruction could be considered in the “Regulated Area” of a monument by the competent authority with the consent of the National Monument Authority.
The area of 100 metres around a protected area of a monument is a “Prohibited Area” and further beyond 200 metres from the “Prohibited Area” is the “Regulated Area”.
“But these limits of areas would be defined in each case and monument specific heritage bye-laws would give the suitable guidelines. A competent authority for making the heritage bye-laws is already notified in the Gazette of India and the model heritage bye-laws. With reference to RP 2021, I would request you not to allow any constructional activity or allotments of land around the monuments in Old Goa, which are also covered under the World Heritage List till the heritage bye-laws are framed,” Manni had said in January 2011.
Today, conservationists point out that neither has this happened, the red flags that were raised by the former ASI Goa Chief against the construction coming up in Old Goa were ignored.
At recent public meetings, not just in Old Goa but also protests held to guard the State’s protected ruins of the Convent and Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Chimbel, various architects and historians had urged the government to mark these mandatory buffer zones around heritage sites in Goa at the earliest.