Goa govt decides to ‘re-examine’ permission for repair of bungalow co-owned by Shaina NC’s husband

Activists say pictures from elsewhere passed off as old structure to obtain permission for the repairs
BJP’s Shaina NC (Yogen Shah)
BJP’s Shaina NC (Yogen Shah)
Updated on Nov 29, 2021 05:04 PM IST
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ByGerard de Souza

The Goa government has decided to re-examine the permission to construct a bungalow reportedly by Manish Munot, husband of BJP national spokesperson Shaina NC and a local collaborator named Suvarna Lotlikar, wife of Goa Cricket Association chief Suraj Lotlikar, following controversy over the construction, officials said. Opposition parties and activists have raised questions over the way permission was granted.

Shaina NC, however, said some people were “needlessly” trying to create controversy and added that the high court has validated the permission granted. “I have absolutely nothing to do with it. Some people are needlessly trying to create controversy,” she said.

The High Court in September 2020 ruled in favour of the builders.

“The petitioner has obtained permission from every single authority by disclosing the factual position at the site… There are approved plans placed on record which have not been disputed (by the respondents before the court),” the High Court said in its order.

Suvarna Lotlikar moved the court in June 2020 against the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) order to cancel permission for construction.

The controversy emerged as the new bungalow was reportedly being constructed barely metres away from the UNESCO recognized heritage precinct of Old Goa claiming that an old dilapidated structure was being repaired.

Located squarely within the protected heritage area and sharing a boundary with the St Cajetan’s Church and a few hundred metres away from the Sé Cathedral at Old Goa, the two-storeyed structure could not have been permitted, activists say.

No permissions for fresh constructions are allowed within the 200-metre radius from a notified archaeological structure. However, the builders applied for repair/reconstruction claiming that there existed a previous structure that was destroyed out of disuse and adverse events that they were seeking to rebuild.

“I have asked the concerned the department -- the TCP department, the Panchayat department -- to check the documents and if it is illegal then it should be shut down,” Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said on Sunday.

The Save Old Goa Action Committee, which started the campaign against the ‘illegal’ structure, had claimed that the permissions were taken to repair a house and purported pictures of the old building needing repair was actually of an existing palatial ancient old bungalow at Parcem in Goa’s northernmost taluka of Pernem, 50 km from the site, where the repair work was to be done.

The committee said at the construction site there was a small ‘shed’ known as loja in Portuguese that was used to store coconuts. The builders, however, described loja an old house that was destroyed and sought permission to repair it, the committee said.

“This is a case where Lotlikar has secured permission from various authorities by misrepresentation and fraud. This construction is coming up overriding the objections of the office of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) This is a case of gross misuse of power by the State Government to favour a powerful and influential party. Lotlikar could not have obtained any permission from any Authority even for repair or renovation to any house, which was not even existing in the property,” the Save Old Goa Action Committee has said. Members of the committee have now begun a hunger strike demanding the demolition of the structure.

The claims of the committee were confirmed by the archaeological superintendent of Goa circle K Amarnath Ramkrishna in a letter to Arvin Manjul Director (Monuments- II), Goa, who had initially granted permission for the repairs.

“The applicant claims that the house in the photograph existed in survey No. 4/1 village Ella (Old Goa) before it was destroyed in a storm in the year 1992. However, …to verify the fact of the matter, this office… visited Parcem village in Pernem taluka... During the inspection, it is found that the photograph submitted by the applicant is false and the claim of the existence of the house in Survey No. 4.1 of village Ella, before the year 1992 is false,” K Amarnath Ramkrishna, superintending archaeologist of the ASI Goa Circle had said in his report to his superiors in Delhi on January 2020.

As the superintending archaeologist at the site with the Old Goa precinct under his care, Ramkrishna began sending notices to the builders that they were using the repair licence to expand and construct a new structure well beyond the scope of the permissions they had sought.

In a series of communications sent between February and June 2020 when the structure was being built, the ASI authorities directed the builders to remove the poles erected at the site of the said structure within 24 hours while reminding them that the permission granted is restricted only for repairs to the existing hut, without any horizontal or vertical expansion.

They are further directed to submit several documents, including approved plans, photographs while asking the builders to maintain the status quo until all this is complied with while calling for a joint inspection. In the meantime, Ramkrishna was issued transfer orders providing further ammunition to those protesting the project.

The stop-work order that the ASI had issued was challenged before the Bombay High Court at Goa by Suvarna Lotlikar who claimed before the Court that her project was completely legal.

Lotlikar claimed that she wasn’t undertaking any activity beyond the conditions in the permissions/approvals/NOCs issued by various authorities and said the ASI has no powers or authority to either misconstrue the permissions already granted or introduce further conditions that can obstruct the petitioner from undertaking the works.

The High Court ruled in favour of the builders and said the petitioner has obtained permission from every single authority.

“The ASI (local unit) was not justified in issuing the impugned communications which, to some extent, seek to virtually reopen or revisit the permission which was issued by the competent authority. Under the guise of supervision, the local ASI could not have usurped such powers unto themselves. In particular, we neither understand, nor appreciate the demand for title documents, or styling of the said structure as some ‘hut’, or requiring the petitioner to restrict the works to the ‘hut’. For all these reasons, the impugned communications are liable to be set aside,” the High Court said in an order passed in September 2020.

After the high court order, the construction resumed and Save Old Goa Action has decided to move Supreme Court against the court order. And, with elections approaching the Congress and the Trinamool Congress supported the issue claiming the approval process was manipulated. From within the BJP, the pressure has mounted with environment minister, Michael Lobo, asking Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant to revoke permissions for the structure within two days failing which he along with his supporters will join the protests.

“I have written a letter to the chief minister and have spoken to the party president and he has told me he will look into it. The permission was given in 2016 and the construction started in 2020. I will see that we take this case to a logical end. We will fight for it. The Town Country will follow due process and ensure that all permissions are withdrawn,” Lobo told reporters on Friday.

A day later, Goa’s deputy chief minister and in-charge of the town planning department, Chandrakant Kavelkear, said he has asked the department to revoke the permissions after examining the matter and blamed his predecessor Vijai Sardesai of Goa Forward Party for issuing permissions. “I have asked my department to revoke the permissions. The local village panchayat is also withdrawing the no-objection certificate to construct,” he said.

Sardesai, however, said that permissions were granted in 2016 during the tenure of former CM Laxmikant Parsekar when he wasn’t in government, and that “insinuating his role is an attempt to confuse and obscure the truth which then Goa Government and the current one, both with full majority, in an untenable position. “Do not dispute the facts and do not hoodwink Goans,” Sardesai said.

For now, members of the Save Old Goa Action Committee have vowed to continue with the hunger strike until the structure is deemed illegal and demolished. With the hunger strike coinciding with the feast of St Francis Xavier that will be held on December 3 and with an election next year, the ruling BJP is on the backfoot.

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Monday, January 24, 2022