Commercialisation eating away Goa heritage houses

Panaji: Businessman Armando Gonsalves lives in his over 15-room big and almost a century-old ancestral mansion in the heart of the city.

Classified as a heritage house, Gonsalves has his office there and also gives his house free of cost for social causes, including annual Jazz music festival. But many others, who own similar traditional heritage structures in Goa are not as fortunate. Several old-age houses are increasingly being converted into some kind of commercial centres like boutiques, bars, restaurants, while many others are gasping for their last breath.

Located in the Campal area in the centre of capital of Goa, Gonsalves` mansion is one amongst the houses which has saved itself from the dire effects of commercialisation and from getting demolished.

"I am not against the commercial use of the heritage structure, but it should not lose its aesthetic beauty and its character," Gonsalves says. He feels that the increasing cost of maintenance of the heritage houses is forcing people to give them on rent so that they can earn the kind of money required for the upkeep of these structures.

Panaji`s corners like Fountainhas, Campal, Altinho and St Cruz have been homes to Indo-Portuguese style architectural houses. However, barring a few, many of these structures have been demolished to make way for high-rises. There are many houses across the state in places like Chorao, Diwar, which are islands, and Chandor, an erstwhile capital of Goa.

Jack Ajit Sukhija`s family owns three old structures, out of which two have been converted into heritage hotels and one into an art gallery. While Geetanjali gallery has been art lovers favourite in Fountainhas area, Panjim Inn and Fountainhas Inn are most preferred hotels by the foreign tourists, who want to get a feel of the traditional Goan houses.

Way back in the 90s, when the forts of Rajasthan and palaces were converted into heritage hotels, Sukhija family had their house classified as heritage hotel in the year 1997. Ever since, the hotel has become an important attraction for the tourists.

"Government had formed a scheme for heritage houses, but it is yet to be implemented. Goa needs to promote its heritage tourism through these kinds of houses and other places," said Sukhija, secretary of Goa Heritage Action Group.

When asked if increasing commercialisation is making houses lose their charm, Sukhija says he doesn`t feel so. "Ultimately the building should be able to pay for itself. The heritage houses require regular maintenance, which is very costly," he said.

The heritage activists, several times, have taken on the streets when some builder and even the state government tried to pull down the old building. But how do the owners survive the increasing cost of maintenance of such houses? Gonsalves has an answer, which is also agreed by like-minded people like Sukhija.

"Government can allow the owners of these houses to have transfer of developmental rights (TDR), which can be sold to a builder for a cost. The money earned from TDR can be utilised to maintain the house," Gonsalves said.

Goa government was earlier toying with the idea of giving flying floor space index (FSI) to the owner of the heritage house, so that he can sell the FSI to a builder. Certain percentage of money earned from that was supposed to be deposited in the corpus, which would fund the repairs of such houses.