29 Dec 2019  |   04:51am IST


Goa’s tourism may be floundering and the industry struggling to break even in a season where not much has gone its way, but does it need the stigma of narcotics trade to be attached to it? The death of two persons outside the venue of an electronic dance music festival on the first day of the three-day event brings about mixed emotions of sadness, anger and frustration.

Sadness that two young lives have been lost, anger that this could have been avoided and frustration that it hasn’t been avoided. Instead, the government has gone ahead and permitted the festival to take place without taking adequate precautions to prevent any drug trade in the area.

At the moment, the police claim that the deaths are due to suspected heart attacks. While this is possible, there is the unsettling feeling that two men in the prime of their lives are unlikely to get cardiac arrests within minutes of each other and that too in the same area. There possibly is a common cause for the deaths. The post mortem report will give the real reason for the deaths, but for the moment the needle of suspicion is definitely pointing towards drug overdoses, and the sale of narcotics in the beach belt that is largely going unchecked. These deaths have given the opposition in Goa more ammunition to train its guns on the government. But this is beyond politics, this is of lives lost and of a government that speaks in one manner, but is unable to puts actions to words.

Earlier in the week, Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar had claimed that the police had been instructed to ensure that the event is completely drug-free. He had gone on to say, “We don’t want tourists who come to Goa for drugs, we also don’t want hotels that sell drugs.” The minister had not stopped there, but added that the Chief Minister had issued a stern warning to the police to curb narcotics trade in the State. This, here is a clear admission by a minister in the government, that the narcotics trade does exist in the State. This is also borne by the fact that in the past two months, there have been a number of narcotics related arrests in the Bardez coastal belt. 

So, did the police ensure that the event is drug-free? That is the major question that has to be answered. Yet, to answer that question we will have to wait till the report of the viscera of the two men, that have been sent for chemical analysis, is sent back to the State. Going by past experience, that could take days, weeks, months. Until then these deaths will be treated as suspected drug overdoses or suspected cardiac arrests, with no resolution. Some years ago there had been suspected drug-related deaths of two women at different electronic dance music festivals in the State. This, therefore, is not a new occurrence, and which therefore leads to the suspicion of drug availability in the vicinity of the festival venue.

According to certain ministers, festivals such as these help bring in revenue to the State. That’s a valid argument in favour of an electromic dance music festival, but is this revenue worth tarnishing the image of Goa, which occurs when such deaths take place? The ministers will have to ponder on this question. The deaths have attracted national attention and the State is again under the focus for the wrong reasons. Given the past experience, when similar deaths had occurred, the spotlight on Goa and the drug trade is unlikely to dim very fast, blemishing the State’s reputation. Goa needs to act and spruce up its image and its dealing with the narcotics trade. The State needs a zero tolerance policy on narcotics, that remains not just on paper but is also acted upon.