Is Goa becoming the hideout of choice for terrorists & criminals?
Margao: Instances of terror suspects and criminals from other parts of the country taking shelter in Goa is not uncommon, but a HERALD investigation has revealed that law enforcing agencies’ somewhat lackadaisical and often bureaucratic approach towards the issue has resulted in the absence of a rigorous mechanism to check and verify the antecedents of thousands of visitors coming into the State each year. Even the fact that Goa is a soft target for terror attacks as it is a top international tourist destination has failed to spur the administration into work out a system to bring unwanted visitors under the scanner.
The only periodic exercise followed by district
administrations worth its name is the notification issued under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) directing owners and managements of hotels, lodges, boarding houses, private guest-houses and paying guest accommodation of all religious bodies not to allow any visitor or guest to check-in without a valid proof of identity. The order mandates landlords and property owners not to let, sub-let or rent out accommodation to any person unless the antecedents of such person(s) is furnished to the local police station. But official sources say even this routine exercise has turned out to be a farce, confined merely to the official record books. The order has had little or no effect on landlords and/or hoteliers for want of punitive action against those not following it. Despite a number of violations, the conviction rate for errant landlords and/ or hoteliers is abysmal.
Worse still, in the prime tourist belt of South Goa which plays host to millions of visitors, the District Magistrate and the district police chief are at loggerheads over the crucial question of lodging FIRs against the hotel owners and landlords.
It’s now nearly two years since the direction issued by the DM to the district police chief and officers-in-charge of police stations to lodge FIRs against those not following the notification but the order seems to have simply been ignored. The men-in-uniform have argued that FIRs lodged against such landlords and property owners by police would not stand scrutiny in court for want of jurisdiction. A senior police officer told HERALD: “The Police cannot be a complainant in cases under Section 144 of the CrPC when the order is issued by the District Magistrate. According to Section 195 of the CrPC, the Magistrate alone or his subordinate is empowered to lodge the FIR. Successive district Magistrates have failed to understand this legal point. The CrPC cannot be amended by the DM. There’s no short cut.”
Sources confirmed that this stalemate has adversely affected the tenant verification exercise over the last two years. Inquiries by HERALD revealed that District Magistrate N D Agrawal’s predecessor G P Naik had once lodged an FIR against an erring landlord, and he even deposed in court, but the case is still to be decided. Police sources say the tenant-verification exercise has failed for want of manpower. Police stations have neither a dedicated cell nor enough manpower to track down all illegal visitors and tenants. “On the one hand, there’s confusion as to who should crack the whip against erring tenants and hoteliers. On the other, there’s an acute manpower shortage to monitor the movements of visitors, whether tenants or guests,” complained a police officer.
Just a couple of months ago, in fact, District Magistrate N D Agrawal had issued a preventive order instructing compliance under Section 144 of the CrPC, apparently on the basis of a report from the district police chief which suggested that intelligence inputs regarding terrorist threats to the west coast of India had Goa in the ambit. As usual, the preventive order received wide media publicity. But that was about it.
While the excuses are endless, even if in some cases genuine, the fact is that non-implementation of these checks is a clear and present danger to the security of Goans, residents and visitors alike.