Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022

No More Drinking On Goa Beaches?

Just outside the famed Reis Magos fort, it was not the fantastic view that one saw but the shattered bottles littered around

Who will bell the cat?

Last week, sitting on a bench outside Reis Magos—an estuary where the river Mandovi meets the sea—it was not the fantastic view that one saw but the shattered bottles littered around, just outside the famed Reis Magos fort, that is now symbolic of what cheap tourism has done to Goa. Go to most beaches in Goa, particularly Baga, Calangute and Colva, that's what you will see.

At long last, the government has decided to do something and the recently-concluded monsoon session of the assembly saw it introduce the Goa Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, 2016, under which a fine of Rs1,000, extendable up to Rs 10,000, well be imposed on those found drinking in a 'no alcohol consumption zone', such as beaches, open spaces and roads, can be imposed.

Shack owners are happy because a clean beach will attract clientele and in turn, they will make them rich by ordering booze and food. Residents are skeptical because it's no secret that Goa's police are soft on tourists and that includes those who drink and drive. But shops selling liquor have been silent because their clientele (mostly domestic tourists) are the ones who buy the liquor and sit on beaches and break bottles.

Three weeks after the amendment, the government has not come up with its promised list of 'no alcohol consumption zone'. With another tourist season around the corner, the government which expects that more than the 5 million tourists a year will come is not serious.

Closure on Scarlett

Remember Scarlett Keeling, the British teenager, who was found semi-nude and dead after being sexually abused on Anjuna beach back in February 2008? That incident put Goa on the international map as the "rape capital", as Mickky Pacheco, a former tourism minister, put it. It also brought up negative images of free-flowing drugs and lack of empathy for Fiona Mackeown, 15-year-old Scarlett's mother, as if her hippie lifestyle made her deserving of her daughter's gruesome death.

Now, eight years later, the children's court in which two locals, Samson D'Souza and Placido Carvalho are on trial for allegedly drugging, sexually abusing and leaving Scarlett to die, will likely pronounce its verdict on September 23.

Three postmortems were done on Scarlett's body which bore injury marks. The CBI's special public prosecutor has pointed out that they indicate a scuffle between Scarlett and the accused. But lawyers of both D'Souza and Carvalho have argued that they are not guilty. But, one crucial thread that the CBI was relying on, the statement of British witness, Michael Mannion alias Masala (who was living in Goa with D'Souza at the time) is not coming through as he has declined to travel to Goa to depose because of security concerns.

Fiona, who fought hard for the case to be given to the CBI over allegations that the Goa police mishandled the case, has been coming to Goa to get justice. And is here now too. "For him (Mannion) to drop out is gutting, his statement gave us a watertight case," she said. She added, "I do not agree with the chargesheet that did not put this down as a murder when I have every reason to believe that it was. They made it look as if it was an accident and all her fault."

"It's now up to the judge to piece together the evidence," she says. "I will not let even a not guilty verdict deter me. I will fight and take it to the next level."

First the bang, then the whimper

Last week it was a free-for-all between the RSS and the BJP, unheard of in the Sangh Parivar. Subhash Velingkar, the head of the RSS in Goa, was sacked and he in turn, "split" the RSS from its Konkan branch and created the Goa Prant hoping it would have a line directly to its fountainhead in Nagpur. Stuff of mutiny, much to everyone's astonishment after being fed stories on the famed discipline in the RSS and that politicking was anathema to it.

Many had speculated that the din emerging from the Sangh Parivar over the mother tongue issue over the last two years were just optics and that the diabolical plan was to pretend that it was fratricide while protecting the mother ship (the BJP which has been ruling here from March 2012) from onslaughts by other pretenders to the throne: AAP, Goa Forward started by Vijay Sardessai, a former Congress MLA who went solo and won in the last elections, even Babush Monserrate—although his juggernaut was in a s hambles after he was arrested in early May for allegedly raping a minor—and of course the Congress' futile dream that the electorate will bring it back when Goa goes to elections in a few months.

However, after the sound and fury of early last week, it's quiet now. But the RSS has refused to recognise the Goa Prant.

Has Manohar Parrikar, defence minister, who emerged as the hate figure and the man who was supposedly behind Velingkar's sacking mended fences? He called on Velingkar, during his Ganesh Chaturthi break, and both claimed that the former CM was only following a tradition.

Although as a child, Velingkar was inducted into the Sangh and the RSS grew in Goa under his tutelage, it did not count for this school teacher turned principal who has won the state-level best teacher award in 1991-92 and also the national best teacher award in 2004.

Has Velingkar bitten off more than he can chew?

Velingkar may have miscalculated. You do not show black flags at Amit Shah, the BJP National President, during his visit to Goa and not rue the day. You do not call Parrikar the "baap of liars" and not pay the price. And you certainly do not form a political party, which Velingkar did, without stringent consequences.

Velingkar, who is also the convener of the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) which has been agitating for the Medium of Instruction (MOI) to be in the mother tongue in primary schools since 2011 vehemently demanded that government grants to 127 primary schools be withdrawn, or it would oppose the BJP electorally. He now says that his party will contest 35 of the 40 seats and take on the BJP.

TurMOIl in the parivar

Interestingly, the controversy over the MoI issue goes back 27 years when the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) government in 1989 discontinued grants to English medium primary schools. It adopted a policy in 1990 to provide grants only to primary schools teaching in regional languages.

After stiff resistance initially, the Church fell in line and switched to Konkani. The Congress government, 21 years later, reversed the policy and extended grants to English-medium primary schools as well. The BJP converted this issue into a major election plank in 2012.

But after it came to power, Parrikar, elated that the party won because of Catholic support, became a "gaddaar" (as Velingkar called him recently) and continued the grants to 127 primary schools teaching in English. That, the BBSM could not stomach.

Meanwhile, last year, Forum for Rights of Children to Education (FORCE) led by Savio Lopes went on hunger strike demanding that only parents can decide in what language their children should be educated. In other words, the grants to 127 English primary schools should continue. The tense atmosphere, while the legislative assembly was in session, led to 11 MLAs, mostly Catholic, assuring in writing that a suitable bill would be passed.

But CM Laxmikant Parsekar, caught between the vocal BBSM and FORCE and with an assembly election coming up has not bitten the bullet. So simply put, and that's how the BJP got caught in a pincer for a policy that the Congress brought in.