Thursday 23 Mar 2023

Background check? First, expose the gangs in forefront


While addressing a press conference on Monday, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant called for a criminal background check on staff hired in the hospitality sector. The statement comes against the backdrop of the Anjuna staffer’s involvement in the brutal attack on a tourist on March 5. “Hotel owners must verify criminal antecedents before hiring any employee, and workers should possess a labour card since there are non-Goan employees too,” said Sawant.

The chief minister’s statement assumes significance in the wake of an increasing number of assault cases where staffers have been partners in crime. A background check on tourism-related staff is essential because they interact directly with tourists. But much beyond that, it is interesting to know how gangs enjoy liberties to operate with such brutal authority that they barge even into a private space and pick their target.
The chief minister assures to offer government support to legal businesses. Still, at the hub of tourism along the northern belt, it is increasingly clear that the enforcement machinery and support systems are entirely compromised. The police action in the Anjuna case explains that, and the suspension of the PSI endorses it further.
Interestingly, Calangute MLA Michael Lobo has alleged that gangs demand protection money from restauranteurs. Many questions arise from Lobo’s statement. Firstly, have these gangs sprouted now, or was the legislator tolerant towards them all this while? If extortion was happening, why was it not reported, and why was no complaint lodged? And why are businesses giving protection money if there is no illegality?
Random statements not only vitiate the atmosphere but lead to unreasonable speculation. Now that Lobo has returned to the BJP and is very supportive of those at the helm, he should have come forward to uproot such evils plaguing tourism instead of trying to add fuel to the Anjuna assault case.
If the allegation holds that restauranteurs can carry on music beyond the deadline provided they pay protection money, it only shows how deep-rooted and murky the tourism waters are. If protection money takes care of the sound ban, too, we face an inevitable tragedy where the ordinary citizen is helpless.
Now, picture this. Earlier this month, days after the High Court slammed authorities for allowing loud music along the turtle nesting sites, night clubs on the Anjuna-Vagator coastline were booming decibels way beyond the restrictions even as police maintained a steady silence. One wonders how the police cannot hear what the ordinary citizen can.
When Goa is looking towards cleansing its image, the dark underbelly and the goon culture dictating business terms must be done away with. The question is whether the government has the gumption to dive deep and unearth the shady side of Goa tourism. Are we content in pointing fingers and making allegations whenever the moment arrives, like the Anjuna assault case?
The locals involved in the attack on tourists at Anjuna could never have gone to such an extent if not for the tacit support from the system. Although the system needs to be inspected in its totality, checks on hospitality staff alone will not change much.
While the government has taken some good initiatives, including the registration of hotels, it has yet to take complete control over the tourism sector, an area in which gangs, mafias and lobbies of all hues have dominated. It’s time to get cracking.

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