Anger over adoption plan for ancient Goa religious sites

BJP-run government move to allow private companies to maintain monuments sparks privatization fears.

Church leaders in Goa are upset over a federal government plan to offer ancient religious sites to private companies for maintenance under its new “Adopt a Heritage” tourism project.

The project launched last September by the government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), plans to entrust heritage sites across India to private firms for the development of tourist amenities.

Six heritage sites in former Portuguese colony Goa, including the Basilica of Bom Jesus that holds the remains of St. Francis Xavier, have been listed for adoption but the state government was not consulted, local media reported.

The state government, which is also run by the BJP, has been kept completely in the dark about the plan, state Archives Minister Vijai Sardesai said.

Sites in Old Goa, the 16th century Portuguese capital, are assets of the state, and the church has to be taken into confidence, he said.

Church leaders are equally upset after learning about the plan from the media.

“It pains me to know that our religious monuments are in danger of being privatized, reducing significantly their universal ownership,” said Father Victor Ferrao, professor of philosophy at Rachol Major Seminary.

“I can’t think of the possibility that entry into holy spaces would be priced.”

The move will “reduce the sanctity of churches,” according to Alex Reginaldo Lourenco, a Catholic member of the state legislative assembly.

Pradeep Padgaonkar of the Aam Aadmi Party Aam (common man’s party) told ucanews.com that the move shows that BJP governments “cannot protect our monuments and want to sell them to outsiders. They cannot protect our land, our rivers and our rights.”

Last month, the Ministry of Tourism signed a memorandum of understanding with the Dalmia Bharat Group to adopt New Delhi’s iconic Red Fort and Gandikota Fort in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh under the project.

However, tourism expert Francisco de Bragança told ucanews.com that it is international practice for governments to seek corporate help but “adequate safeguards” need to be incorporated, especially in selecting the agency.

“There is a need to tread carefully as regards religious monuments and to adopt a consultative approach,” he said.

In recent years, the state government has allowed two forts to be removed from state administration. The Reis Magos Fort off Mandovi estuary has had a dramatic facelift after it was handed over to the U.K.-based Helen Hamlyn Trust. Tiracol Fort on the northern edge of Goa has been entrusted with a hotelier.

Savio Messais, a tourism enthusiast, welcomed the move, saying maintenance of heritage sites “cannot be left to the inefficiencies of the government. Left with government, they will be maintained like government offices where even toilets are not well kept.”

However, Messias said the project should be subject to local sensibilities and restrictions.

Goa has several ancient church buildings but the Archeological Survey of India, which is authorized to maintain ancient sites, has declared some as “dead monuments” where religious services are not permitted despite protests from local Catholics over a decade ago.

Source: UCAN

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