If this is a season of rationalising and bringing order into a world of a chaotic churn which has gripped industries, such as the vexed casino industry, this rationalisation needs to extend to the totally unregulated restaurants, clubs, lounge bars and shacks. Not entirely linked but not totally delinked, is the crackdown on the drug trade, which festers in the same belt which has the largest concentration of night spots.
The issue which was always in the vicinity of the high table on which priorities of Goa were spelt out, finds itself firmly on the high table now, following the new minister for Water Resources and Fisheries Vinod Paliencar – who is the Siolim MLA – on the war path against restaurants/bars/pubs remaining open till the wee hours of the night. This has had two effects. a) Established businesses are feeling threatened and worried that an already beleaguered year for business will plummet if there’s a clamp down. While this worry is genuine, it can be addressed to the satisfaction of both the industry and the need to make the area safe and completely legit. b) There is an underbelly which exists in the northern belt of Anjuna, Chapora, Siolim and Morjim. In this underbelly the business of sale and consumption of drugs happens within the vicinity or even within certain shacks, clubs and bars. But the minister has chosen to target this underbelly within the geographical limits of his Siolim constituency. Within Siolim this underbelly has been clearly ruffled, since its functioning over the last decade was never met with any ministerial intervention or interference. In fact, the passivity bordered almost on complicity.
There is a need to look at the two aspects, both in isolation as well as in togetherness.
a) The fear of established businesses: Firstly, a business which has been allowed to be run for years, is established from the business point of view. However, there is no denying that, in many cases, laws have been bent and broken, with the general rule of thumb being connections rule, laws don’t. The need for nightclubs, lounges, restaurants and bars to function in a place like Goa is imperative. But there has to be level playing field for all, where systems, processes and norms are bricks in a policy structure. This is more so, because there are establishments which play by the rules and yet suffer. An overall framework should be in existence, within which the business of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, et al, are regulated through specific licences. For instance there is nothing that defines a “bar” or a “Night club” or a lounge. Legally speaking, they do not exist because there is nothing to define them. They come under the purview of restaurants and function because they have excise licenses to serve liquor and panchayat or municipality NOCs and permissions from the Food and Drugs authority and the Pollution Control Board.
Therefore the nightlife industry which may be broadly taken to include bars, restaurants, nightclubs , shacks and other outlets, has to come under a license regime under the Home Department, just as casinos are. This regulation is being sought not for tourism purposes but to ensure that they are safe zones and more importantly they do not become venues for uncontrolled outdoor music, which disturbs local peace. Outdoor music, not within four walls, can be permissible only if the noise does not permeate onto the roads and the vicinity. Or else, the regulatory mechanism will lay down clear guidelines for the playing of music for any number of hours, as long as it is controlled and is mainly indoors. The licensing authority will ensure that all the conditions for issuing the licence are fulfilled, along with a licence fee, depending on the kind of business and the number of hours it wants to run it daily. A detailed security drill must be in place so everything from CCTV cameras and security guards are in place.
But any change, even a change to regulate Goa’s nightlife needs to come with checks and balances. In the wide sweep to bring outdoor music indoors, some of finest traditions such as wedding dances, to great live music, festival pagents and dances, the carnival, the shigmo and the zatras should remain untouched. At the same time days of traditional festivity, like holi, Diwali, Easter, Eid, Christmas etc, should have adequate time relaxations so that the festivities aren’t affected.
The rationalisation should be limited to commercial activity and not move into the sacred domain of Goa’s traditions where families and communities get together. This distinction is not only important but needs to be spelt out explicitly.
b) The crackdown on drugs and they being linked to raves, isn’t a new phenomenon. But the ask is, should Goa continue to take this, revelling in pockets of complete hedonism, which probably draws some tourists. Across the beach belt, on the edge of the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, there is a low thud- thud noise of trance music parties, popularly called raves it is here that joints are lit up, lines are drawn (and you know what we are not talking of lines of talcum powder but we can code name it as such). In tiny coves across islands, in mini forested areas, in seedy shacks, a combination of trance and “talcum” rocks the party scene. And this is where the money is. This is the sanctum sanctorum of Goa’s drug inflow. It is a trade worth crores, fuelling a parallel industry of drug imports from the west and from the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It feeds and fuels a whole class of pushers, traders, dealers and drug kingpins who in turn are sometimes rave party organisers.
If tourism needs to be “hurt” and damaged, it is this ‘tourism’ that should be a candidate. Vinod Paliencar has picked the right battle, by picking this as his opening salvo as minister. But here too, there needs to be a method in this very positive madness. He cannot be a superman or super cop going from rave party to rave party trying to shut them down. His letter to the Chief Secretary asking for details of such places is an indication that the executive – a combination of the Chief Secretary (also the Home secretary), the police headquarters, and the District police of North and South Goa, and the need to ( if they haven’t) have a list of places under watch with a schedule of investigating them and closing them down, if violations are found. The nexus between some local police stations and such clubs, is evident and needs to be brought out.
So this is the contour of the rationalisation of the Goa’s entertainment, music, drinking and eating out scene. This will, or at least should, be backed by the bulk of stakeholders, who can hope to live in a regime where their establishments can run based on water tight rules. Therefore the rule book will rule and not the all important 2 am telephone call from a minister or other VIP to “sort out things”.
The only way Goa, and its tourism, can get its mojo back is through this rationalisation. Where tourism thrives, within the ambit of rules where no favours are asked or given.