LIBERATED: Going by the fact that behenjis from various parts of the country shed their ghunghats and wander around Goa in hot pants and torn jeans on hired bikes, Goa must be the most liberated state in the country! (Pic above and on cover for representational purposes only)
By Rajan Narayan
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the regional transport office located at the Panjim Kadamba bus stand burned down. For a Saturday following the week when charter tourist traffic was hit by fresh curbs by the Indian Navy. For a Saturday following the week when the Chief Minister claimed that he had agreed to set up a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the nexus between the police and politicians with matka operators. For a Saturday following the week when young women apparently feel totally liberated in Goa.
AND a few stray thoughts on the RTO office located at the Kadamba bus stand building in Panjim burning down on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti. The transport department admitted that data it had prior to 2009, dating back to the 1960s, has been gutted in the fire. Information and data from 2009 onwards have been backed up at the central server of the National Informatics Centre (NIC). Ironically Saturday’s issue of the Goan Observer carried a report on the state of the birth and death certificates in the office of the Registrar. Besides encouraging thieves who will have a ball as there is no proof of who owns which vehicle, the destruction of records is also a security risk. Any terrorist can attach Goa number plates to their car which cannot be verified because the records are lost. The curious part is that the transport minister has been boasting about how the old two wheeler and four wheeler licenses have been replaced by smart cards.
We understand that the fire started at the presidential supermarket which itself was illegal. The KTC, in its greed, had given the passage into the bus depot for putting up a supermarket. Forget about the supermarket, none of the shops and the restaurants in the KTC complex had installed any fire safety equipment. None of them have clearance from the fire department. Though the owner of the supermarket had been warned that his shop was a fire hazard, he did not bother to implement the directives of the fire department. Going by newspaper reports the supermarket owned does not seems to be worried as apparently he has insured the shop and he is confidant of making good his losses through the insurance company. Surely insurance companies should not compensate shops and establishments which have deliberately neglected fire safety directives. If the insurance claim is allowed everyone will start burning down their shops to claim insurance.
The most shocking aspect of the fire which destroyed the RTO office and the shops in the complex is that unlike the supermarket owner, the government will not be able to claim insurance. Among the many reports on the fire, which fortunately did not claim any lives because it took place at 5 am, is that revelation that government offices are as a matter of tradition not insured. Which means that if there is a fire in the state secretariat in Porvorim, or at the chief minister’s residence, the government will not be able to recover even the cost of the building. Let alone any records, such as land records, stored at the location.
Another aspect that the fire at the Kadamba bus stand has dramatized is the total lakh of fire safety consciousness in Goa. Most of the shops and offices in the state, including government offices, do not have any fire safety equipment. I do not recall seeing fire extinguishers whether I visit a fancy restaurant or a shop, except perhaps for the mall. Although fire safety equipment is compulsory under the Shops and Establishment Act nobody takes it seriously. Even establishments which have fire extinguishers do not bother to maintain them. I have my doubts whether any of the fire extinguishers we see actually work.
It is not enough to have fire extinguishers. When a big fire breaks out as in the case of the KTC bus stand what you need is water to put out the fire. In most public spaces such as markets or multiplexes or venues for IFFI and other major events it is mandatory to have fire hydrants. These are special water connections from which the fire brigade can draw water. The fire chief himself admits that very few of the fire hydrants work and many of them don’t even have a water connection. While PDAs and the TCP have allowed many high rise buildings to come up the fire department does not have enough ladders to put out fires even on the eighth storey of a building. We only hope that the Kadamba fire will open the eyes of the government. The most important requirement is to give the fire department some teeth. Unless the fire department has the power to punish those who put the lives of people to risk, nobody will listen to them. Failure to follow the orders of the fire department should be considered a criminal offence.
AND a few stray thoughts on fresh curbs by the Indian Navy potentially hitting the charter tourism industry in Goa. Historically charters have been the backbone of the Goan tourism industry. Goa is the only tourism destination which has been permitted by the Central government to host charter tourism. For those who may not know the difference between normal tourism and charters perhaps an explanation is desirable. Charters are dedicated tourist flights from various part of the world directly to Goa. The package offered by the charter operator includes not only transport to the tourist destination, but also stay in a hotel with breakfast. Indeed the charter tourist has to pay for the hotel accommodation as part of the destination package. The main attraction of the charters is that the cost is much lower than in a normal commercial flight.
The first charters landed in Goa in 1984 after media from around the world discovered the paradise that was Goa because of the commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) in 1983. Prior to CHOGM the only foreign tourists who used to come to Goa were the hippies for whom the main attraction was the ready availability of drugs. Initially the charter tourists who came to Goa were high-end tourists from Germany and the rich and the middle class from the UK. Over the years with competition making holidays to Goa cheaper and cheaper, every plumber and bartender from the UK began to come to Goa. They would not only eat large quantities of the complimentary breakfast but would pack some of it to eat in the shacks on the beach. Indeed the shacks thrived and multiplied because of the foreign tourists who were primarily interested in getting tanned, which meant lying on beach beds preferably without any clothes or the smallest of two-piece bikinis so that when they went back they would look brown. The crazy part of course is that domestic tourists, who are naturally brown, started coming in large numbers not to enjoy the sun, sea and sand, but to watch the naked or semi-naked foreign tourists.
Unfortunately for Goa, because of greedy tourism ministers and industrialists, the British gave way to the Russians and the Israelis. And the Russians who started coming to Goa in large numbers were not middle class Russians but the Russian mafia. The Russians unlike the British even started running drug and prostitution dens in Goa. Morjim was, and is, a favourite with the Russians who have bought huge amounts of property in the village. Not only menus in hotels but even sign boards in the Morjim Arambol beach belt are in Russian. The Israelis who also started coming in large numbers are worse. By law every young man and women in Israel has to compulsorily serve the army for two years when they turn 21. When they finish their army training they are desperate to chill out and they come to Goa to enjoy rave parties where drugs are freely available. The Israelis, like the Russians, have their own drug mafia, and have also colonised parts of Goa which are locally referred to as Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel.
The tourism department was expecting a steep increase in the number of charters this year. This is partly due to the facility of ‘visa on arrival’ extended to tourists from European countries and the UK. Until recently, the Navy, which does not permit civilian flights between 8:30 am and 12 noon on weekdays, used to permit flights on Saturdays and Sundays, which was the preferred choice of charter operators. The navy also used to allow flights to land at 10:30 in the morning provided they took off after 12 pm. Without giving any notice the navy extended the ban on flights between 8 am and noon to the weekend also. The tourism industry expected a large number of charters to cancel because of the new curbs on civilian flights. And there was nothing that Goa government could do about it as Manohar Parrikar is no longer the raksha mantri. Now apparently after talks, the Navy has agreed to withdraw its notification. We hope this remains the case.
AND a few stray thoughts on the decision of the government to set up a special investigation team to probe charges of a nexus between politicians, police and matka operators. It is either the biggest joke or cruellest irony that while the poor man’s gambling, namely matka, is banned in Goa, the rich man’s gambling casinos are freely given licenses. This despite the fact that matka has been around at least since liberation if not even before liberation.
It is well known that some of Goa’s biggest politicians are the matka kings of Goa. The most recent heat on matka is because thousands of matka slips were found in two rooms in the Betul residence of Chandrakant Kavlekar, who happens to be the leader of the Congress Legislative Party. The anti-corruption branch of the police accidentally stumbled on the matka slips when they were investigating Kavlekar on charges of swindling the IDC and having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. Kavlekar had made the big mistake of not disclosing the huge amounts of property that he owns in Kerala in his nomination papers for the 2017 election.
Matka was started and continues to be run by the Mumbai dons. More specifically it has been run by the family of Ratan Khatri. The person who wants to play matka has to correctly predict the lucky number on a slip of paper. Every day the number is announced from Bombay. As in the case of roulette or housie you can bet on a single number or double digit number. The return depends on how much risk you take and is a multiple of the amount you have bet. You can win up to or more than a hundred times the amount you have bet.
Matka betting is very easy because in every street and every office there is a matka agent. Some of you have seen tables with matka slips near the market. Earlier every gaddo selling cigarettes used to have a matka bookie. The entire matka business operates on trust. Matka does not require any slot machines or electronic systems for placing a bet. It does not require any land or buildings, let alone a ship. Matka has never blocked the Mandovi river or caused disasters like the grounding of the Lucky Seven. All there is to matka is the agent, and maybe a table and chair with matka slips. If you have a number figured among the winning numbers for the day you get your payment immediately. There never has been any delay as those who did not observe the rules or cheated were dealt with very harshly by the mafia. As the Margao-based lawyer Radharao Gracius pointed out once, matka is effective because it is based on fear as it is run by underworld dons. If matka is legalised or the government takes over, the winner may not get any money as the government may claim it has no money. Don’t laugh, this is an excuse which the government has used to delay payments to contractors and even advertisements released in papers including the Goan Observer.
You don’t need a SIT to probe matka. It is the most open secret. Matka has survived all attempts to stop it because the main agents are the top politicians of all political parties. It has always been alleged that Babu Kavalekar was among the top against if not the matka king of Goa. The matka king of Panjim is a former mayor who is very close to Babush Monserrate. There are matka agents in every party. The police are not only involved in matka but many of them play matka. In fact almost everyone is involved in matka, right from the bread man to the newspaper vendor to junior and senior reporters in newspapers and even editors. Anyone can play matka as the minimum amount that can be bet is as little as `50 if not less. If you hit the jackpot you can win `5,000 if not `50,000. Matka also provide employment to literally thousands of young people. The government has not been able to catch even two mine owner’s despite the Shah commission claiming that they had robbed Goa to the extent of `35,000 crore. Nobody believes that the police will implicate themselves by admitting that everyone is involved in matka.
AND a last stray thought for yet another Saturday. Male-dominated, traditional India has always wanted women to cover up any exposed flesh except for the navel, as for some reason all women who wear saris are allowed to keep their navel uncovered. Of course in these days with the sari becoming a part of high fashion, it can display much more than the navel. Not to mention the new bare-backed cholis (blouses) and their deep cleavages. However, forget fancy exposed attire, in most states in the country, particularly ones ruled by the BJP, girls are not encouraged even to wear jeans. They are not supposed to bare any flesh When young girls are raped in UP and Rajasthan, if they are wearing western clothes senior BJP ministers tell them that they deserve it for wearing clothes which expose flesh. One BJP leader even asked why they don’t go completely naked.
I have come to the conclusion that though Goa is a BJP ruled state, it is the most liberated in the country. The moment all the bahenjis from Gujarat and Rajasthan and UP land in Goa they shed their inhibitions along with their clothes. I have been going to the Miramar beach close to my house more often these days. Not to watch drunken tourists but to see the progress on removing the Lucky Seven. And even I am shocked over the fact that all the young women tourists are in hot pants. And those who are not wearing hot pants have slits in their tops and exposed shoulders and the arms. The guys with them, who are equally young, look like beggars in their torn jeans with gaps at strategic places. And it not only the boys who wear torn jeans but girls also. It’s almost like a uniform where their clothes leave little to the imagination. I suppose no BJP leader has visited and seen his daughters and sisters from back home in their hot pants or torn jeans in Goa! They don’t wear them only on beaches but roam around Goa on rented bikes in hot pants. Full marks to Parrikar and even the RSS in Goa for not making any noise which will affect the money that everyone makes from tourism.