Heritage lovers cringe at plan to reshape Old Goa


The PWD's pilot project for a four-lane corridor through the buffer zone near the Bom Jesus Basilica has set off alarm bells among heritage lovers as they fear it could worsen the fragmentation of the world heritage site.
The ambitious project at a cost of 126 crore also envisages the laying of a cycle track and CCTVs along the one-km route from the junction of the Old Goa-Panaji bypass. From the Pillory south east of the Basilica, it will run parallel to the bypass and connect to the higher end near the Kadamba plateau.The route passes through a green carpet forming a lush buffer on the southern side of the old city. The survey has been carried out and bushes cleared. "The trees have been marked for felling," a local resident said.
Heritage lovers and conservationists are worried about the disastrous impact of the project on the old city's historic character. "Old Goa will be bisected if this project goes ahead and its fragmentation will be very severe," Ketak Nachinolkar, a conservation architect, said.
The former capital has a total of 22 protected monuments, and many unlisted ones, too. The archaeological survey of India (ASI) has 14 on its list and the state archives and archaeology department maintains the other eight monuments. The Unesco world heritage complex only comprises churches and convents in the core area.
"These monuments are scattered all over the area of the heritage site and located individually, but they definitely share the same historical context of the old city," Nachinolkar explained.
Conservationists agree about a need to smoothen the flow of traffic, but call for a more transparent and coordinated process to work out solutions. "This is ad hoc planning again, and one has to look at it holistically and all departments need to work together," Poonam Verma Mascarenhas," a heritage participant and general secretary of the Goa heritage action Group (GHAG), said.
The present alignment of the bypass along the slope has a few bottlenecks. "The one-km route will help correct the gradient," PWD principal chief engineer, J S Rego said. A consultant will be shortly appointed to design the corridor.
But heritage lovers are raising a concern about the fall out of the ribbon development. The four-lane corridor across the site is likely to trigger more construction activity and facilities to cater to truckers and increased flow of motorists. Haphazard planning and development has already impacted the aesthetic character of the old city.
"A four-lane road in the close vicinity of world heritage monuments like Basilica has to properly discussed before it becomes a reality," Fr Valerian Vaz, financial administrator of archdiocese of Goa and Daman said.
Agreed Fr Bismarque Dias, a social activist, "This development at the cost of natural and man-made resources is aimed at helping the builders lobby when even basic amenities are neglected," he said.
The Old Goa monuments are shown in the Regional Plan 2021. NGOs and activists had suggested that they be shown with their footprints instead of dots on the plans. "Neither the master plan for Old Goa has been drawn up nor RP 2021 is finalized, though these constitute the main frameworks for planning and development," Nachinolkar said.  An official from the state archives and archaeology department agreed to look into the matter. "It cannot go ahead without a proper consultation," the official said.
The Goa government has recently appointed an agency to draw up plans for Panaji and Old Goa. "The agency should be allowed to formulate the plan and PWD can take it forward from there," Mascarenhas said. [TOI]