Govt reaches out to save heritage

In the spotlight: Heritage policy to safeguard monuments on private properties

From ancient temples to colonial-era churches, Goa is dotted with historic sites that offer a glimpse into its diverse heritage. Amidst the lush landscapes and sandy beaches, Goa’s rich history and cultural heritage stand as testaments to its vibrant past. One of the most prominent historic sites in Goa is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fine example of baroque architecture. Built in the late 16th century, this church holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a revered figure in Christian history. Pilgrims and tourists flock to this site throughout the year to marvel at its intricate design and pay homage to the saint. Another iconic landmark is the Fort Aguada, strategically located overlooking the Arabian Sea. Constructed by the Portuguese in the 17th century, this fort served as a crucial defense outpost against invasions. Today, it stands as a popular tourist attraction, offering panoramic views of the coastline and housing a lighthouse that still guides ships safely to shore. Venturing further inland, one encounters the rich architectural heritage of Old Goa, a former capital of Portuguese India. Here, imposing structures like the Se Cathedral and the Church of St. Cajetan showcase the grandeur of Portugal’s colonial legacy. The streets of Old Goa resonate with tales of conquest and religious fervour, drawing visitors into a bygone era. Beyond the colonial footprint, Goa’s heritage also encompasses pre-historic rock art sites, such as those found in the remote village of Usgalimal. These ancient petroglyphs, dating back thousands of years, offer insights into Goa’s early inhabitants and their way of life.


Subhash Phal Dessai

Subhash Phal Dessai, Minister for Social Welfare, Archives, and Archaeology-Goa, recently unveiled the state government’s proactive efforts in formulating a comprehensive heritage policy. This policy aims to address challenges associated with the preservation of historic monuments located on private properties


However, alongside the allure of these historic sites lies the challenge of preservation and conservation. Goa’s burgeoning development and tourism industry pose threats to its heritage, with unchecked construction and encroachment endangering many ancient structures. In response, the government has taken steps to safeguard these monuments, as evidenced by the recent unveiling of a comprehensive heritage policy.

In a significant development for heritage preservation, Subhash Phal Dessai, the Minister for Social Welfare, Archives, and Archaeology in Goa, recently unveiled the state government’s proactive efforts in formulating a comprehensive heritage policy. This policy aims to address challenges associated with the preservation of historic monuments located on private properties. During the launch of the Department of Archaeology’s official website at the Mantralaya, Minister Phal Dessai underscored the government’s commitment to safeguarding these monuments while also exploring avenues to generate revenue. One key aspect of the proposed heritage policy is to engage private property owners in the maintenance of historic sites, with the government offering financial support to encourage their participation. Moreover, Phal Dessai floated the idea of implementing entrance fees for visitors to historic monuments, contingent on the development of necessary infrastructure. This approach not only contributes to government revenue but also ensures that private property owners receive financial assistance for the upkeep of these historical treasures.

Environmental activist Jack Ajit Sukhija, when asked about his perspective, emphasised the need to take inspiration from Mumbai’s heritage regulations from the ‘90s. Sukhija proposed a graded classification for heritage properties, suggesting that private property owners should be incentivised to maintain Grade 1 and Grade 2 monuments, allowing adaptive reuse. For Grade 2A and Grade 3, he advocated for sensitive alterations.

Sukhija stressed the importance of balancing private property rights with heritage preservation, asserting that monuments act as a link to our past and should be restored for adaptive reuse. Regarding challenges, Sukhija highlighted potential encroachments on private property rights and difficulties in identifying monuments. He firmly asserted that community involvement is critical, stating that policies cannot be forced upon communities. However, critics remain skeptical of the government’s record in implementing such policies and strongly believe that building castles in the air won’t stand. One such environmental activist criticised the government’s track record in implementing such policies. She expressed skepticism, questioning the tangible outcomes of proposed policies and highlighting a perceived gap between rhetoric and action. The activist pointed out the need for effective implementation rather than mere lip service.

As Goa charts its course in heritage preservation, the success of its heritage policy hinges not only on engaging private property owners; but also on overcoming practical challenges and ensuring genuine implementation. The delicate balance between private property rights and preserving historical heritage remains at the forefront of this endeavour.

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