Goa’s state of affairs, especially the divorce between its legislators and the government, can be well summed up in the words of US Democrat Congressman from Tennessee, Jim Cooper. Cooper said, “Politicians are terrified of losing touch with folks back home but content to be clueless about government’s failure to fix real problems”. The last 22 months have been a double whammy for Goa as both of its GDP drivers – tourism and mining – have been sinking to new lows. There have been heated exchanges, there have been public posturing, there have been talks and there have been no results. There have been MLAs demanding answers, there have been Ministers assuring results and there have been no results. One wonders, can’t we get anything right in this State?
Since September 2012 when mining was first stopped in the State, the sector has been coughing and spluttering to get back to normalcy but the champions of the industry do not want to change. With matters coming to a head in March 2015 when the Supreme Court again stopped mining activities for good, the reluctance of the nexus of the government, mining owners and a section of politicians to allow sustainable and legally tenable mining in the State makes us wonder do we vote for criminals and law-breakers? Even though the Apex Court gave specific directions by which mining business could be conducted legally in the State, why are the politicians and the mining barons rushing every time to the Centre to amend the MMDR Act and allow institutionalised corruption and loot of the yore continue? While the poor mining dependent has to sell his belongings to pay off his loans and investments to clear his debts and he has to follow rules or face penalty, the mining companies can approach the BJP leadership at the Centre and even overturn a law? Isn’t that unfair?
While mining suffers the fate of its minister in the state, tourism suffers no less due to its own clueless minister. Manohar Azgaonkar, who as Tourism Minister famously, wanted to ‘fine’ anyone who misbehaves with women under the influence of alcohol ‘as much as possible’ and wanted only ‘good tourists, those who follow Goa’s discipline and culture and Goenkarponn’; has no answer why the footfalls in tourism are falling. While Tourism and Travel Association of Goa lists taxi fares as one of the reasons, the Tourism Minister’s own party senior and Transport Minister Ramkrishna Dhavalikar cannot rein in the marauding taximen. Small world, isn’t it?
But nobody cares about tourism. Once amongst the top three destinations of the world, Goa now resembles a poor shade of what it used to be. Fr Maverick Fernandes of Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT) points out that “it is totally misplaced directionless tourism going on in Goa”. And he isn’t off the mark. This year’s ‘expensive tourism’ was engineered not just by taxi drivers but also hoteliers and restaurateurs. So why single out just one stakeholder? But the larger concern that CRT points out to is the fact that in Goa every household is connected with tourism and successive government planning is ignoring their worth, their role in the tourism industry. And this has had a domino effect on possibly the most overlooked and ignored part of tourism – safety.
As someone who lost their loved son/nephew, Finland based Minna Pirhonen and Sanna Cutter point out that “The main issues (for failing tourism in Goa) are not related to high prices but are connected directly with these safety, law and order issues”. While insensitive and number crunching government officials and tourism industry stakeholders may not pay heed to tourism advisories and tourists travelling back in body bags; the fact remains that Goa’s reputation as a safe, secure and friendly tourism destination is undergoing change. Hafta-collecting traffic cops, rude and uncivil policemen at the station, lewd strangers, bullying locals, prostitutes, eunuchs – the list of things that terrorise you in Goa grows every day. It may seem inconsequential to Goa Tourism but a visiting traveller values his life/her modesty more than the beaches and the experience that it sells. Let us not forget that first came the British, then the Germans, the Dutch, the Israelis, the Russians and then the Brits started dropping in numbers, the Germans stopped coming so did the Dutch and the Russians followed suit. It was not only about the money, honey. It is about human lives.