BATTLE: While Tourism Minister Ajgaonkar blames the lack of ‘good’ tourists on the rising prices charges by hotels and shacks, tourism industry stakeholders hit back pointing out the difficulties at Dabolim and lack of infrastructure. Meanwhile, Goa seems unable to deal with even existing tourists, with garbage piling up on beaches and everywhere
By Rajan Narayan
And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when war seems to have broken out between Minister for Tourism Babu Ajgaonkar and the Tourism Industry. For a Saturday following the week when not just truck owners and barge owners, but even children were affected by the suspension of mining. For a Saturday following the week when the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court pulled up the government for interfering in the functioning of the judiciary. For a Saturday following the week when the state was witnessing a severe water crisis. For a Saturday following the week when though the 36th National Games are scheduled to be held in Goa in April, there is no sign of any enthusiasm among Goan youth.
And a few stray thoughts on the war that has broken out between Tourism Minister Babu Ajgaonkar and the tourism industry.
Babu keeps insisting that Goa wants to attract only high-end tourists and has been going around the world with his entire family to promote tourism. Babu has been accusing the tourism industry of overcharging for rooms and even for food. He has been pointing out that room rates are much cheaper in other South Asian destinations like Sri Lanka, Thailand and even Hong Kong compared to India and Goa. He also accused the hotel industry of hiking rates to exorbitant levels during the peak of peak season, claiming that some hotels even charge Rs 50,000 for the New Year Eve night, which could be true.
A senior hotelier admitted that part of the reason why Goa had been losing its popularity as a Christmas and New Year destination was the compulsory charges levied for New Year gala celebrations at the hotel, whether the guest wanted to spend New Year at the hotel or not. The hotelier in question brought down the New Year gala charges significantly which resulted in a huge increase in room occupancy giving him the satisfaction of 100% occupancy for New Year.
The minister has accused even shack owners of charging a minimum of Rs 500 per dish. It is basically true that 4- and 5-star hotels charge huge amounts for food and drink. On an average the minimum charge for even a humble dal makhani or a dum aloo is an average of Rs 350 which goes up to Rs 450 or more if it is a non-veg dish. This is without taking into account the 18% GST and the 22% VAT if you have any liquor.
Babu has been saying nasty things about domestic tourists — claiming that they come in their own charted buses with their own cooks and vessels, and cook out in the open. Which is also true. Besides of course, the fact is that despite warnings from the police and life guards, many domestic tourists insist on going into the sea with bottles of liquor and beer in their hand.
On the other hand the tourism industry has legitimate complaints too. It pointed out that because Dabolim is a naval airport, slots for landing for charters are not available between 8am and 12 noon. Indeed, until recently charters were not allowed to land during the night at all. Unlike other countries which provide incentives for charters, the Airport Authority of India which controls the airport along with the Navy, imposes stiff fees on charters.
And while the government keeps talking about high-end tourism, it has not bother to create the infrastructure that high paying tourists expect.
There is no doubting the fact that beaches are the biggest attraction as far as charter tourists are concerned as they want to turn brown, unlike us who want to become white. But there are no changing rooms or washrooms on even the most popular beaches. The only MLA representing a beach-front constituency who has made any efforts to create basic infrastructure is Michael Lobo. But the less said about the roads in that area the better.
Then you have the garbage problem, the problems of vendors harassing you on the beach and stray cows and dogs. Without meaning any offense, some domestic tourists are like stray cows and dogs as they walk round semi naked on the beach with beer bottles and insist on selfies with foreigners.
Goa earns a lot of money from tourism but this is spent on financing the tourism minister abroad and not on basic facilities. If Tourism Minister Ajgaonkar is really serious about reducing the number of domestic tourist who create nuisance, all he needs to do is double the price of darru. It is cheap darru that attract domestic tourists and is responsible for a lot of their bad behaviour.
But if any government tries to increase the price of darru it will probably lose the elections as Goans are as fond of darru as domestic tourists. The major difference is that the majority of Goan can hold their liquor and it doesn’t affect them as badly because they have been drinking liquor since they were born. Feni is even given to new borns and babes in arms for its so-called medicinal properties. Indeed one of the reason why Goans did not want merger with Maharashtra was that under the then CM Moraji Desai there was prohibition, which means a total ban of darru in Maharashtra at the time of the Opinion poll vote.
CHILDREN AFFECTED TOO
And a few stray thoughts on school children and residents of mining villages being victims of the suspension of mining.
The general impression is that only mining truck owners and barge owners have been affected by mining. This is not true. Mine owners themselves may have lost their golden goose, at least temporarily, but they made so much money during the China boom that they can flourish for over a century even if mining remains suspended.
During the time mining operations were on, the owners of mines supplied buses to the children of mining villages to go to school. Mine owners also supplied drinking water in tankers to the residents of the villages where mining took place along the route. Water was pumped out from mining pits where ore was extracted below the water table. Many mining companies also promoted and maintained primary health centres (PHCs) in mining villages. Sesa Goa, now called Vedanta, was a pioneer in setting up a football training academy in the state. In fact the Sesa Football Academy was the only football academy like the Tata Football Academy.
Virtually all football clubs in the state are sponsored by mining companies. With no one to support them and commercial ISL league teams preferring to hire foreigners at fancy prices, football is almost dying in Goa. Besides the owners of mining truck barges and machinery, many ancillary industries have also been affected by the suspension of mining.
During the Chinese boom many mine truck and barge owners borrowed money from banks to buy more trucks and barges. To service the trucks literally hundreds of mechanics got employment. Since the ladies shared the prosperity of their husbands and parents there was a lot of income for goldsmiths. In the mining hub of Curchorem and Savodem and even Valpoim automobile dealers and shops selling consumer durables flourished.
Now with mining suspended, lakhs of Goans have lost their only source of livelihood. There is no early prospect of mining being resumed as the parliamentary session is over and Modi has not listened to the appeals of even Parrikar to pass an amendment to the Mining Leases Act to facilitate the resumption of mining.
We do not hold any brief for mine owners but we do think that the government and Goa Foundation have an obligation to come up with a plan for those who affected by the suspension of mining. The only ones who have money to do it are mine owners and if they are not sure that they will retain their leases they will have no incentive to do so.
HC SAYS DON’T INTERFERE
And a few stray thoughts on the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court passing severe strictures against the Goa government for interfering in the functioning of the lower judiciary. Apparently the State government has been appointing and transferring judges without consulting the High Court.
A Constitutional principle is that subordinate judges like those at the district court level are supervised by the state high court which in turn is under the Supreme Court. Hearing a public interest litigation, the division bench of Justice R M Borde and Prithviraj Chavan issued show cause notices to the chief secretary and the law secretary as to why orders issued by the High Court with regards to appointment of staff have not been complied with.
Perhaps the Law Department of the state has also been sick like Law Minister Francis D’Souza who spent several months abroad having medical treatment in New York and Dubai during the same period as Manohar Parrikar, who was being treated for pancreatic cancer. Like Manohar Parrikar, Francis D’Souza is not willing to step down from his job as Law Minister or as an MLA in the Legislative Assembly. Efforts were made by senior BJP leaders, including Manohar Parrikar, to get Francis to quit with the promise of being made the governor of another state. This was rejected by Francis D’Souza who still believes he should be the chief minister.
The principle district and sessions judge of South Goa had drawn the High Court’s attention in December with regard to interference by the state government in appointment of staff in the courts. Indeed the state government has even directed judges to outsource jobs in the courts to the Goa Human Resources Development Corporation. According to High Court Rules, even watchmen and liftmen working the district courts are under the preview of the judiciary and the government cannot interfere.
The South Goa District Judge has pointed out that outsourcing jobs would undermine the sense of responsibility. The jobs of a watchman carries heavy responsibilities as he has to protect court buildings and court documents. If the job is outsourced and records disappear the judge will be held responsible. The High Court has also slammed the government and the Law Department for its failure to implement the Supreme Court order asking it to increase the basic salary of judicial officials. The High Court has also rapped the state government for insisting that judicial officers should take permission from the government for official tours pointing out that magistrates are not government servants under the control of the state government.
ACUTE WATER SHORTAGE
And a few stray thoughts on the acute water shortage which has followed the power crisis.
Though the power situation has improved with the appointment of Cabinet Minister Nilesh Cabral, the water situation has worsened. For several months the power department was headless because as the then Power Minister Pandurang Madkaikar was being treated for a stroke in the Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai. Madkaikar against whom cases have been filed for building a bungalow in the heritage area of Old Goa continues to be unfit to resume office.
Though the power situation has improved following the filling up of vacancies and the appointment of a lady to fill the post of Chief Electrical Engineer for the first time since Liberation, there has also been a controversy. The over 60 plus vacancies for engineers at various levels have been filled by Nilesh Cabral. But not surprisingly 16 out of the 60 are from his own Curchorem constituency. Other heavy weight MLAs like Vijai Sardesai and Rohan Khaunte have accused Nilesh Cabral of ‘match fixing’.
Talking about the water situation, the number of water pipeline bursts has increased. The construction of the Zuari bridge and the new Mandovi bridge has also damaged several power cables.
In many parts of Goa, particularly Caranzalem and Dona Paula, while the load has increase enormously due to gated colonies which have come up, the capacity of transformers has not been increased. The water crisis which has intensified is also largely due to the power crisis. There have been several instances of power shutdowns and power breakdowns at Opa and the other water pumping stations. This has affected not just the quantity of water but the pressure in many parts of Goa including Panjim. The water pipelines are very old and have not been replaced. This affects the pressure, particularly of areas which are at the tail and of the pipeline like Calangute. The tourist hub which attracts the largest amount of tourists during Christmas and New Year had to go without water because of the problems at the Assonora water works. Porvorim is also facing severe water problems as the underground water pipe, for which work has been started over a year ago, has not been completed.
Even the GMC suffers from repeated water shortage which affects even operations because water is diverted or stolen by neighbouring villages like Bambolim and Curca. In fact part of the water supply meant for the GMC has been diverted to the multi school complex at Curca. Many buildings and huge gated colonies have been approved without the sanction of the water supply authority.
The government has also failed to carry out the promise of building a municipal water pipeline for the Kadamba plateau which is witnessing a huge building boom. The residents have been holding repeated protests as now they have to pay a fortune to get tankers.
We ourselves are spending Rs 600 per day on private tankers as the pressure in our pipeline is very low. The pipeline has been reportedly replaced, but to add insult to injury, PWD employees are now demanding to see bills to ensure that those who are complaining about water shortage have paid their dues.
According to a colleague, high water bills could also be due to failure to close the water metre when no water is flowing through it. Water to my area is supplied only between 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The rest of the time, if the water meter is not closed, the air pushes the wheels of the metres showing consumption when there is no water supply.
NATIONAL GAMES IN GOA
And a last stray thought on the 36th National Games which are to be held in Goa in April after a delay of five years. Unfortunately, not only does there seem to be no interest in sports, the infrastructure is still not ready and it remains to be seen if they will be postponed.
There was a time when Goa produced the best hockey and football players. There are even athletes in Goa who participated in international tournaments. Unfortunately because of the pressure to perform well in exams, parents discourage children from continuing their sports careers when they reach the 12th standard. Unlike in the rest of the country, sport is not considered a career in Goa.
Many prize winning boxers, wrestlers and weight lifters of the female sex, who won awards in the Asian games and even in the Olympics, have been found even in small villages in Haryana and the Northeast. The only sport that seems to attract Goans seems to be chess where there are several grand masters.