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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monumental cheek!

I think that is why activists are called activists. They cannot afford to relax for a single minute. There’s the whole Regional Plan mess, where the RP21 was supposed to be up and running but is not. In the meanwhile the cutting of hills and filling of fields continues. Activists have to be in ten different places at one time. This is woefully inadequate, because a hundred different places in this state are under attack at any one time.

Activists have to keep their eyes peeled. One eye on the builders, and another eye on the government, and somewhere in their peripheral vision they have to keep tabs on us the people of the state too, who are happily digging holes in the base of the boat we are all sailing in.

The latest danger the state faces is the Amendment to the Monuments Act of 1978. Today it is formally known as the Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (amendment) Act, 2010. The Bill had received the Governor’s assent and it was passed in the last Assembly Session.

It would be interesting to know how, when and why Governor S S Sidhu signed it; whether he had his spectacles on; or if he was in a hurry to go off on one of his many cultural tours of the state where he speaks glowingly about how we should protect our heritage and our unique culture.

The amended Act has cunningly changed one word in the old Act and replaced it with two. The old Act had this main clause that the State would maintain the monuments, and see to their preservation and conservation. The Amendment has changed the word “maintain” and has substituted it with many words including these: “re-construction and re-erection” of the monuments.

And get this the Act comes into retrospective effect from March 1 2007. Any fiddling around with monuments like the Tiracol Fort or the Cabo da Rama will be A-okay with the Government now. Not only can they put bright yellow tiles on the ramparts of the fort, they can also break it down and rebuild it to include a swimming pool, spa and casino.

Another clause authorizes the government to permit “any other agency” to put any protected monument to re-adaptive use. Which means you can turn all of the forts into hotels, build structures on the hallowed sites of ancient temples and turn churches into music halls and entertainment centres. Heritage buildings like the old GMC hospital which is used for the IFFI can be given over to any Thapar or Varma or Sharma to build a mall.

The most interesting clause is the highly unconstitutional one which bars courts from taking cognizance of an offence punishable under this Act. This means if they turn the Chapel with the Growing Cross into a musical entertainment centre, you and I will be laughed out of court if we file a suit.

I could not find the Act on the official Goverment of Goa website, but did manage to get this elsewhere. Here’s the link you can check for yourself: http://www.goaprintingpress.gov.in/downloads/1011/1011-22-SI-EOG-2.pdf .

It’s a page of the Official Gazette dated 1 September 2010. It is ironically headlined “EXTRAORDINARY Number-2” any school going child knows what “number 2” means. Scroll down to the third page The Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Act, 2010. Here’s the excerpt about how we cannot approach the court unless the government allows it.

“32A. Cognizance and trial of offence.—

(1) No prosecution for an offence punishable
under this Act shall be instituted except by
or with the previous sanction of the Government.


(2) No Court shall take cognizance of an
offence punishable under this Act, except
upon a complaint in writing made by an
officer generally or specially authorized in
this behalf by the Government.”


So how will it affect Goa? Who needs dilapidated old forts and churches no one prays at anymore? This is what will happen, said an activist. The fort in your area will be turned into a five-star hotel, your quiet village will quickly morph into a rabbit warren of taxi and rickshaw stands, handicrafts and readymade garment stalls, bars, cafes, cybercafés, sleazy lodges, many houses will be built to house the staff and merchants who set up shop around the area, the poor will erect huts on vacant fields and it will be Calangute repeated in 51 different places in the years to come. That is the worst case scenario.

The best case scenario would be … that the Act is re-amended to the 1978 Act where it is recognized that the monuments are the property of the people of the State, but given to the Archeological Department to look after, maintain, preserve and conserve. And also, that the Governor will get his eyes checked at any of the excellent ophthalmologists we have in the state, so he can read the blatantly unconstitutional amendments he puts his signature to.

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