Herald: Is Goan heritage losing its value?
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Is Goan heritage losing its value?

02 Dec 2017 06:10am IST

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02 Dec 2017 06:10am IST

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Goa’s heritage houses are slowly dying a natural death as the younger generation moves abroad, leaving the older members to look after the premises. KARSTEN MIRANDA goes around the Capital, talks to the owners for their opinion on preserving these ancestral houses built mostly during the Portuguese regime

Recently, a short film called ‘Gems of Fontainhas’ by Daniel Dsouza that covered the heritage and cultural aesthetics of the quaint residential area, struck a chord with Goans of all age groups and even among the Goan diaspora.

Time and time again, it takes these kind of videos, or plain old black and white photographs or even Mario Miranda-esque paintings that give a snapshot of a time gone by in Panjim.

As much as these moments take one on a trip down memory lane, beyond the nostalgia and reminiscing, there is one common underlying thread – the fear that the city’s rich legacy may be forgotten by the generations to come.

The renovation and restoration of a section of one of Panjim’s iconic institutes, Clube Nacional has been cited by many Ponjekars as an effort that needs to be emulated with regard to other heritage sites that need attention.

However, this is easier said than done. A conversation with members of families that reside at ancestral mansions or run age old establishments will tell you that these matters are costly and labour intensive and support from the administration is essential for maintaining and preserving these structures. They point that in many cases, there are instances of the younger generation migrating and the onus is left on the elderly to look after the upkeep and they just about manage with what the resources and revenue streams available. Currently, the only leverage is the influx of tourists to the city and the type that come down for research or heritage tours add more, something that needs to be encouraged according to these proprietors.

“There are many things that can be done to preserve old Goan houses. For one, encouragement should be given to the homes to open restaurants, cafes, wedding and party venues etc, with complete ease in getting permissions to do so. Better still, a blanket approval to do the same. Most owners of these homes are elderly people, and they get completely flummoxed with the corrupt system that exists in various government departments,” said Armando Gonsalves, founder and chairman of Goa ForGiving Trust.

“Also, owners of these homes can be given a flying FSI which can be encashed elsewhere. The scheme will have to be worked carefully so that the money that is received through this, is not misused. Another sop could be the abolishing of House Tax and other Municipal Taxes, reduction of power and water bills, all of which will help in diverting the funds saved into the upkeep of the homes. Various other taxes can be reduced including GST, thus enabling the home owner to get maximum benefit from tourism as well,” added Armando.

Former CCP deputy mayor Kabir Pinto Makhija, who lives in what is considered to be heritage part of the city, Campal, also felt that the need for government support could go a long way in easing the burden faced by these owners.

“As heritage houses add to the character of a city, the government should come up with incentives and schemes that will help the house owners to preserve and restore such houses. Heritage house owners can also maintain and sustain their homes by converting them into homestays or art galleries, “said Kabir while giving the example of the heritage establishment – Saligao Stories.

Locals also felt that besides providing assistance to heritage houses, a lot more should be done with regard to preserving the heritage look and values of the entire city of Panjim as a whole and all the elements within, be it the creek, the trees or even matters like parking facilities in these areas.

“Years ago in the late 90s the NGPDA organised a Seminar on ‘Panjim City- a search for an identity’ with participation from eminent local architects, planners and people from the City and around. A suggestion came forth to develop Panjim as a “Heritage City” because of its distinctive landscape and architecture and things seemed to be moving that way. Sadly years later we saw Panjim suddenly turn into a "Casino City", said activist Patricia Pinto.

“Now it is supposed to become a “Smart City”... meaning? Overnight we see statues erected and gardens spruced up. The promenade balustrade, stairways and bridge railings are being painted in garish colours. A lot of money is being spent no doubt, but nobody knows in which direction the city is moving. Are any ‘local’ architects, planners, heritage conservationists and designers involved or is Panjim going to lose its heritage character altogether and turn into just ‘another’ City? I dread to think that we are heading that way,” added Patricia.

It is to be noted that as per the Smart City Mission plan, in the proposal, the authorities concerned had identified two square kilometres city core reflecting heritage and culture of Panjim for retrofitting through various thematic interventions including conserving and showcasing the heritage and culture to enhance the image of the city.

While the mayor of Panjim Surendra Furtado feels the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) should be taken into confidence with regard to state or central government schemes to conserve heritage, he feels that festivals such as the Fontainhas art festivals need to be revived.

Prajal Sakhardande of Goa Heritage Action Group concurred and felt such festivals would provide the right impetus and attention to a common aim to promote and preserve Panjim’s heritage.

“Of course, attempts should be made to revive the Fontainhas Festival which should encompass more heritage areas such as Sao Tome and Campal too. The Fontainhas Festival should be rechristened the Panjim Heritage Festival so that a wider area is brought into these festivities, thus making it much grander, which in turn will make it a more successful one which can encompass the wide range of art, culture, food, music, heritage and all things good!, added Armando.

Panjim locals feel that along with Fontainhas, areas like Mala, San Tome, Boca da Vaca, Altinho, Campal, Ribandar, M G road among others need to be identified and marked as heritage zones.
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