By Dr Olav Albuquerque
HAS the Goa government’s decision to go ahead with the seafood festival at Miramar Beach been approved by the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP)? Reportedly, the CCP has not granted permission to hold this event because it threatens the destruction of the fragile ecosystem of the riverine beach, which is an integral part of capital city Panaji. It means the government is accountable to no other Constitutional body because it is the CCP that has to grant permission for the festival to be held.
The counsel for CCP is Nigel da Costa Frias and he told the court that the Goa cabinet decision to hold the festival was taken on February 5, 2024. The director of Goa Tourism Suneel Anchipaka was informed only on February 7. This was insufficient time even for the erudite judges to read and prepare themselves for the ensuing arguments. This advocate told the court that the setting up of food stalls on the beach was going on in full swing. Advocate Yogesh Nadkarni said a tender of Rs2.8 crore had been awarded without specifying where the festival would be held.
THIS prompted the judges to remark that the tender documents inviting bids could not be vague but had to be very specific. Without saying this explicitly, the judges’ oral remarks imply that the government has invited tenders from contractors without giving specifics of place and date. This is a clear violation of the law. The judges have asked for the tender document to be produced in court so that the arguments will continue.
Despite not having said this in the high court, the government appears to be regularly taking last-minute decisions. Whether this has been deliberately done or not has to be investigated by media people, because these seafood festivals do not cater to the needs of Panjim citizens but to attract tourists and fill the depleted coffers of the government.
Hence, the lure of easy money to fill its depleted coffers implies the government can bypass the erudite judges of the High Court of Bombay at Goa. And this is why the seafood festival will go ahead despite damages it will do to the beach during and after the festival with hordes of tourists visiting it.
Significantly, the high court of Bombay at Goa has castigated the chief secretary Dr Puneet Kumar Goel and DGP Jaspal Singh repeatedly flouting the orders of the high court on illegal sand mining. This is an issue not connected with the seafood festival but indicates that high court orders are no longer being given their due importance by top government officials.
During the hearing, the court remarked on whether there was any thought process at all about holding the sea food festival and said half of Panaji had been converted into a war zone for it has been extensively dug up. The government kept submitting documents to the court in piecemeal form, creating obstacles for the advocates. The judges pointed out how the Sunburn festival where permission was granted two days in advance, thereby thwarting the process of judicial review.
CONTEMPT OF COURT
ALTHOUGH the judges did not explicitly point this out if the government deliberately submits documents to the high court just two days in advance, this can be construed as contempt of court. The media has already published two instances where the DGP of police and the chief secretary were in contempt of court, but narrowly missed receiving a contempt notice from the court.
Special Counsel Subodh Kantak told the court that the ban on holding seafood festivals or any festivals on Goa’s pristine beaches continues, but said the government decided to hold only this one seafood festival from February 9 to 11 on Miramar Beach. He assured the high court that a policy decision on not holding such festivals on Goa’s beaches had already been taken but failed to produce the policy decision when asked to do so.
Kantak told the court that the government had decided to hold the seafood festival as it was part of the blueprint for the development of tourism in this state. He said the seafood festival was being held during Carnival so that those tourists who visited the state to enjoy Carnival could also visit the seafood festival.
Significantly, Kantak was asked whether the government was ready to defer the holding of the seafood festival. He replied that the Catholic season of Lent followed immediately after the Carnival which was why it was imperative to hold the seafood festival between February 9 and 11 and the government couldn’t defer the holding of the festival.
Ironically, the director of tourism told the high court that this festival was being held just like there were prestigious beach festivals like the Miami Beach Festival. “This festival has been held since the 1990s and there was a sense of nostalgia attached to it,” the director of tourism argued.