Heritage activists advice caution during St. Xavier’s’ exposition

 

The plan envisages improvement and creating new links to the existing road network at a total cost of over 160 million.

Panaji: 
Conservationists and heritage activists have advised caution during the St. Xavier’s’ exposition in Goa as it may lead to irreversible loss of its archaeological heritage even though the state government has unveiled an infrastructure-oriented plan for the upcoming event.

A government-appointed high powered co-ordination committee has finalized a slew of projects after several rounds of discussions with church authorities.

The plan envisages improvement and creating new links to the existing road network at a total cost of over 160 million.

It also has the plan to provide over 130 million for related works in and around the world heritage church complex.

The major proposals include widening of national highway bypass, also referred to as Old Goa bypass, though as a separate project, at an estimated cost of 121.59 crore. The work of laying a new 700m alignment, as part of this work, barely 200m south of the Basilica’s fence has already started.

Other proposals comprise rerouting Ponda-bound traffic on a new road to be built from Dempo Shipyard along the river front to Old Goa jetty and Dauji.

Passing through the properties of Bakhia, Buddhashet and Menezes families, barely 150m from the St Catherine’s chapel, it will serve as a convenient link on the periphery of the complex.

Another one-km long new bypass branching off from Old Goa bypass towards St Augustine’s tower on an existing road also seeks to carry Panaji-bound traffic away from the core area to Bainguinim and Ribandar.

“After the Exposition, the heritage complex will be converted totally into a no-traffic zone, as the road through it via Gandhi circle is causing a few problems,” a committee official said.

A few citizens under Save Old Goa committee and some priests in the former capital had earlier opposed the four-lane road. The activists are now silent, while the church appears to have softened its stance.

“I am not aware about the background,” Fr Alfred Vaz, convenor of St Francis Xavier Exposition committee and parish priest of Se Cathedral said.

The local church authorities view the development on the positive side, stating that new links and widening them will help divert traffic out of the core area.

“These roads will dispel traffic chaos and be useful for the people in future,” Vaz said. Most facilities, except roads, toilets and a few other things are temporary.

Archaeological survey of India (ASI) officials, who were not part of the planning, are tightlipped over the whole issue. Ambiguity prevails over the issue of approvals for the projects. But conservation experts point out that a thorough archaeological impact assessment (AIS) is necessary for any development proposal in Old Goa.

“Any plan for the former city has to be done through a larger vision for it as an archaeological heritage site. This was also mentioned in the draft regional plan,” Ketak Nachinolkar, a conservation architect, said.

Old Goa, a city with a population of 200,000 and scores of heritage buildings, was often compared to other cities in Europe. More than 50 churches and convents, an arsenal, dockyard, prison and other edifices dotted its landscape.

“We know Old Goa as an important city for almost four centuries and its various quarters are decipherable, based on available old historical maps, sketches and writings. All these archaeological remains and sites, whether identified or not, are an integral backdrop of the surviving monuments which are of world heritage importance, as designated by UNESCO,” Nachinolkar explained.

The proposed roads run through the ruins of the former city’s important landmarks, though they are hardly preserved beyond the church complex in the core area. “The AIS is necessary and if need be, even excavations with test pits have to be carried out,” Nachinolkar said.

Accesses and circulation paths can be developed in maintaining the historical context of the site, as the old city’s major thoroughfares are known. Rua de Direita which leads from Gandhi circle to Divar ferry was one of the thoroughfares of the old city.

Concurring with his viewpoint, Gurudas Kamat, president of environment, culture and heritage organization (Echo) Goa, an NGO, said that as it is a major planning exercise, the plan should be examined by heritage experts.

“It should be put in the public domain, as the planning pertains to a world heritage complex with some historical and archaeological sites,” he said.

The Bainguinim garbage plant kicked off a storm, but the four-lane proposal through the archaeologically sensitive area has hardly evoked any protest, he pointed out.

Source: Times of India

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