Wednesday 17 Jul 2024

Need to understand message behind the entry tax proposal

| JUNE 22, 2024, 01:12 AM IST

After proposing to bar entry in the village for tourists who do not have a hotel reservation, the Village Panchayat of Calangute passed a resolution earlier this month to impose a “tax” on such visitors. While there is an intense debate across the State on whether barring entry for not having a hotel reservation is legally tenable, the Calangute panchayat cited similar taxes being imposed in Mahabaleshwar. It resolved to seek help from the collector, police leadership and panchayat staff to step up checks at the five entry points to the village.  

The Calangute panchayat’s move stems from the fact that tourists continue to create a nuisance in public places despite a law that bars drinking and cooking in open spaces, littering waste, breaking glass bottles in the open, etc. There is a fine ranging between Rs 2000 and Rs 10,000 and includes imprisonment too.   

The panchayat move reflects a lack of confidence in the government machinery in enforcing laws, possibly due to the fear of the State losing the tourism business or maybe there is not enough manpower. Tourists drinking in the open, engaging in haphazard parking, drunken driving, and littering empty alcohol bottles on beaches and roadsides are nuisances that have largely gone unchecked.  

Logistically, the very act of stopping vehicles will be challenging if the move does not have the government’s backing. Panchayat members are not authorised to stop vehicles, it’s the job of the police. If the tax proposal has to see the light of the day it has to be through proper legislation. The panchayat must remember that it has to account for this money under a specific head. Currently, no panchayat is empowered to open an “entry tax” head in their accounts. Moreover, it can’t be a done deal with a simple resolution. The panchayat has to understand the mind of the government, seek opinion, get the tourism minister on board and above all get a legal opinion.   

This decision will have repercussions on tourism because a large section of single-day visitors may be barred under such criteria, or may skip Calangute because of the “tax” regime. On the flip side, the idea of plugging the five entry points is not a foolproof mechanism to stop tourists from entering Calangute because visitors could still gain entry from adjoining areas.  

The Calangute panchayat move comes against the backdrop of the State government planning to introduce the Goa Tourism Promotion, Management and Regulation Bill 2024 which was drafted by the tourism department with the aim of “protecting, preserving and retaining the natural and cultural heritage of Goa.” According to the proposed bill, a tourism safety force is to be constituted consisting of police personnel and “tourist guards” to be deployed in tourism clusters. This force will be empowered to arrest, conduct searches and impose fines on violators and those causing nuisance.  

The question is whether the new law would do what regular policing failed to do. We say this because if action was needed against violators, there is already a law in force and there is a laid down protocol. The will was missing.  

The biggest takeaway from this panchayat decision, no matter how flawed it may appear, is a growing concern over the nuisance created by tourists. The panchayat has sent out a message loud and clear that people are growing intolerant and that the time has come to act. We only hope that the State government takes note of the underlying message through the “tax” proposal of Calangute panchayat.

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