By Rajan Narayan

ON New Year’s eve Goa police confessed to Goans that they could not protect them from drunken drivers driving home in the early hours of the morning after partying. The police in a directive put out on New Year’s eve itself asked Goans not to go our for early morning walk on New Year’s dawn. Instead of organizing and hauling up inebriated drivers the law enforcers were childishly asking Goans to stay at home if they didn’t want to be at the mercy of drunken drivers.
In a twist to the whole story the police also asked hotel to take responsibility for their guests at all the New Year eve’s parties to usher in 2024. Not only guests staying in the hotel but also the hundreds if not thousands of tourists who flock to 5-star hotels to enjoy New Year eve and New Year revelry and merrymaking.
We remember that in earlier years like other Goans we too settled in Goa for long years, used to go to a five-star hotel to ring in the New Year. My better three-quarters Tara would insist we drink hot chocolate at midnight at any place but home. However, this year I have been in hospital trying to outwit spinal TB and its harsh medicines and couldn’t go anywhere, she went home and fell asleep by 8pm on New Year’s eve. No hot chocolate for me this year although she promised she would bring some but later on could not. Catering to a patient in hospital can be quite burdensome although she won’t admit it.
However, the implication in Goa during the year-end celebrations is that only tourists drink and drive irresponsibly. The police advisory did not name tourists specifically, but asked Goans and those who have settled in Goa especially to refrain from going for early morning walks on New Year’s dawn hours. The worst affected are senior citizens of course who are very religious about going for an early morning walk as their doctor advices them.
I presume hotels are supposed to warn guests including those who have come for the New Year parties not to imbibe too much liquor or have at least one member of their group stay sober so that he or she may drive them back to their home-stays or wherever they are putting up for their Goa year-end holiday. Many tourists also hire a car to drive themselves around but do not know if the driver keeps an eye on how many drinks he may be drinking during the course of the evening. It is true sometimes accidents happen because of careless drunken tourist driving.
This is a variation of the rule in London and other major cities in the UK. This rule applies to pubs and bars in the urban areas primarily. In London, there are more pubs than doctors or hospitals. Every street has at least a pub. It is the usual custom for office workers to go to the bar and have a peg of two before returning home.
Unlike in Goa and India, the British are very strict about drunken driving. Those who drive while they are drunk irresponsibly are sent to jail without the option of bail. But in Goa and generally speaking in India the police are kind-hearted maybe that they do nothing about tourists driving under the influence of liquor and particular during the year-end ushering in of the New Year, this year 2024.
Virtually lakhs of tourists present in Goa for the well promoted online and in the newspaper New Year revelry parties. The five-star hotel venues are the biggest beneficiaries and have reported a 90% occupancy during the festive season. It is not the poorer tourists or the middle class Goans who are victims of the directive that they should not go for morning walks on the New Year’s Day.
It is the rich and famous, bold and beautiful who drink themselves silly on New Year’s Eve. We do not know why we want to get high to celebrate the dawn of a new year. But it is a fact of life that it is rich and powerful and the bold and beautiful who are the primary cause of major road accidents in the early morning hours of the morning during the festive season. Remember the Banastari accident where a wealthy Goan couple’s Mercedes-Benz crashed into a several people by the roadside and three were killed. Whoever, an inebriated wife we are told, was driving lost control of the car and the tragedy occurred. Even worse the couple had their children sleeping in the back seats of their Mercedes Benz but who were unharmed in the accident. This couple are residents of Miramar in Panaji. The husband Paresh Sawardekar was arrested and kept in custody for a few days but his wife Meghna was never arrested. Onlookers claimed that she was driving the car. Both husband and wife were in a state of intoxication and returning home from a party.
As is the usual case in such accidents monetary compensations all around try to make amends although for the families of the dead victims it is poor comfort and no compensation at all if the breadwinner in the family is dead. The rich will always go free and after some time the incident is forgotten till the next one occurs in similar circumstances.
Even if FIR complaints are lodged justice is slow in coming and often it never comes. This is true for the wealthy classes be they celebrities from out of Goa or influential Goans or Indians out of Goa. Former Commissioner of Police in Bombay Julio Reberio, later appointed as Director General of Police in Punjab, recounts an interesting story.
He reveals in his recently out book that as a young policeman was appointed as the bodyguard of Salman Khan. The young policeman with barely two or three years of experience had no experience of security. He was from a rural area and not comfortable in high society. Salman Khan used him for running errands like getting him bottles of whisky and designer suits. In the process, some bottles of scotch and designer clothes were also gifted to the police constable.
This police constable still had enough police blood in him to go and register an FIR when a drunken Salman Khan lost control of his fancy car. He was driving the car inebriated and mowed into a footpath where some employees of a bakery were sleeping at night time. Four of them were killed. When the case came up in court the police constable mysteriously stopped attending court hearings. He was obviously bribed heavily by Salman Khan.
As the constable refused to give his evidence in court the case was dismissed at the lower Court itself. The state went on appeal to the High Court. The High Court also ruled that there was no clear evidence that Salman Khan was driving the car. The police constable refused to stand by his FIR, and Salman Khan got away scot-free.
The rich and the powerful, the bold and beautiful have a network of contacts. Forget about fatal accidents involving drunk drivers. In many cases, even for major and minor traffic violations the police are not able to book the offender. Inevitably, in any such high and mighty catch of cutting lanes or going the wrong way down one-way streets…the offender gets away using his contacts in high office. Calls are made to senior police officers to let the offender go. The RTO also comes under pressure in some cases. Sometimes ministers come into the picture to lobby for the offenders.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that in India if you have money and/or muscle power you can get away with anything. It may be recalled that there have been serious charges of rape against two very powerful politicians. Nothing happened to them, they go unpunished. The cases keep dragging on and except for a few days in jail they have virtually got away with their criminal offences. The problem is that very often the primary witnesses turn very hostile. Which means that they refuse to stand by their initial statements. Powerful politicians and ministers of course make sure that the witnesses are compensated for backing out. In the overwhelming majority of cases the guilty are not prosecuted because of their money power which neutralizes the witnesses.
It has to be admitted that Goans hold their liquor much better than most of the Indian tourists coming to Goa. Most are not used to imbibing liquor in their own home states or at home but once in Goa it is not difficult to take to liquor for it is cheaper in Goa than in neighboring Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Money is never an issue with the rich classes. They count their business in multiple crore and a few thousand distributed here and there to get a family member out of some unsavory adventure in Goa is of no consequence. Liquor is expensive only in the five-star hotels. But this is a deterrence only for the middle class and domestic tourists. Most do not spend their New Year eve celebrating in five-star hotels or even at the many popular dances held in Goa during the Christmas and New Year season.
Many tourists stay at homestays and just prefer to carry their booze bottles to the beach to celebrate. That’s how the morning sees the beaches of Goa littered with empty and broken liquor bottles. In any case we don’t think Goans walk down the beaches. They prefer to party at venues and prefer to drive in their own cars, even if both husband and wife are intoxicated by the evening’s drinking.
Remember the case of a drunk driver crashing into the reception of a beach resort in Vagator? He was driving so rashly that his SUV hit the reception counter of the beach resort and the lady killed was the owner. It is not safe to stay at roadsides in from of your own home in Goa.
After the stroke of midnight on December 31 most celebration venues are so jam-packed and people start dispersing, and oftentimes drive so recklessly that they may never go home again. The early hours after midnight are the worst hours to be out on the road for this is when maximum accidents take place. Still this year around it was going a bit too far to ask Goans not go for their early morning walk on New Year’s morning, that is if they wanted to return home safe in one piece.
Mind you the advice came from the police in their wisdom. They acknowledged their inability to monitor the accidents which take place. To anticipate the drunken driving before the accidents happen. The police are expected to protect both Goans and tourists in cases of accidents. They are supposed to take strict action against drunken drivers.
Alas, driving under the influence of liquor must be equated to man slaughter if not murder. Unfortunately, even if someone who has lost a dear one goes to court, there is no justice done. Money and muscle power wins. There is just one simple solution to stop drunken driving in Goa and that is to increase the price of liquor stiffly. In many states of the country liquor prices are very high and therefore prohibitive.Only the wealthy buy their expensive liquor labels and are willing to pay Rs1,000 for a Patiala peg of the best.
In conclusion, the authorities have to be ruthless in enforcing traffic rules in Goa. They must make use of alcohol meters to check cases of drunken driving. Once a driver tests positive for liquor on the breath they should just take him in and put him away for the night under lock and key. Hotels and liquor servers must be held responsible for those who get drunk and drive later on – either make them stay over or drive. Stiff fines of Rs5,000 may also do the needful to stop drunken driving. The police must do night time patrolling where resorts and liquor bars are located.
That is the solution. Not asking citizens not to go for a morning walk if they value their life. Punish the guilty, not the innocent.

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