At the government level there are moves being made to ensure that the alcohol vends that faced closure after the Supreme Court ruling that banned such outlets along the highways, and within a certain distance from the highways are saved. Earlier this year, even a committee of cabinet ministers was formed to suggest measures to keep the businesses running, and this committee had proposed the cluster town concept to save another lot of the outlets from downing shutters. While that has been happening at the State level, at the grassroots, villagers in certain areas are beginning to take a stand against bars in their localities.
Last week, the residents of the ward Appelwal, of the panchayat of Veling-Priol-Cuncoliem went on a hunger strike in front of the panchayat office protesting the sale of liquor in a residential area that has been going on with an alleged illegal liquor sale licence, issued despite their objections to it. The residents of the ward want the shop closed. While this is happening in the taluka of Ponda, in Sattari taluka another group of villagers has decided that it doesn’t want liquor shops in their village.
On Sunday around 200 villagers of Surla met at the local temple hall and passed a resolution to make their village alcohol free. The decision taken was to close down all 13 alcohol selling bars located in the middle of village and next to the government high school. This rather strong decision is because Surla has become quite a tourist attraction, especially in the monsoon when its myriad waterfalls are in full flow, and tourists from around Goa and the neighbouring States drive down, drink and under the influence of alcohol create a nuisance, even targeting the women in the village.
This is not a new complaint from the people of the village, the decision to close all bars is, however, definitely new. There appears to be strong solidarity among the villagers on this subject as they have decided that a memorandum regarding the demand will be signed by all 80 families in the village and handed over to the authorities. Closing all the bars, however, will not be a solution, as alcohol can still be brought into the village by the same tourists and consumed.
The solution could lie in another law that the government had earlier introduced, but that has not been strictly implemented. The decision of the villagers of Surla indicates that the ban on drinking in public places is not being strictly enforced by the authorities. The ban was imposed specifically because tourists drink alcohol in public places and then create a nuisance. While social drinking in public spaces like beaches is acceptable, especially by local families who may carry a few cans of beer to a picnic, the nuisance created by unruly tourists after they have had a few drinks has to be contained. That was the main reason for the 2016 amendment to the Goa Excise Duty Act, 1964 that banned drinking in public spaces. The ban has apparently not been effective, and this would be because the government has failed to enforce it.
In an attempt to further stop the menace created by the tourists, the government earlier this year had announced that drinking in public places would be made a punishable offence with a fine of up to Rs 5000 imposed on those violating the rule. None of this has happened on the ground. Every morning there are streets of Panjim that are littered with beer bottles and cans. This has to stop. We have a law that will curb this unruly drinking, but it needs to be strictly enforced, or very soon more villages in the State may stand up to be counted as those that don’t want liquor vends in their neighbourhood. Giving the law more teeth, but not allowing it to bite will not stop the unruly drinker.