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Genie In The Bottle

Genie In The Bottle

As a country that boasts of unity in its diversity, in the sense that people of multiple religions, language, race, culture and tradition live together without affecting each other’s beliefs and feelings, India should be cherishing its unique identity.

Yet the manner in which politics has evolved in the country over the past few decades, this ‘exclusive characteristic’ is under threat from every corner of the nation. Moreover, the ‘sobriquet’ that distinguishes India from the rest of the world is understood in a rather general perspective, implying that anything done in any one part of the country holds good for all the regions across India irrespective of any other consideration; lucubration that could have a direct bearing on the socio-cultural aspects of some other territory.

Hence it becomes very difficult to enforce a blanket ban on any commodity or item of public consumption citing moral or social reasons. The Supreme Court order on ban on all liquor vends, as also bars and restaurants serving alcohol along state and national highways, for instance! The Apex court is perfectly justified in expressing concern over the large number of fatalities every year in road mishaps across the country before taking the decision. As a deterrent against drunken driving, such rulings go a long way in restoring the faith of the people in the laws of the country.

But is alcohol the only reason for accidents on highways that the apex court has taken such a stringent view of the matter passing orders that is detrimental to the cause of Goa and Goans! If newspaper reports are to be believed, even a year after the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had directed all states and union territories to remove all speed breakers along national highways which are a safety hazard, several speed breakers continue to dot the highways in Goa while the state authorities have failed to act.

But in this case, it is the Supreme Court that has taken cognizance of the shortcomings. Can the state afford ignoring the order? While the efforts of the judiciary no doubt needs to be appreciated, it is the ‘complete closure’ imposed that is a cause of worry for many. Goans for instance!

In spite of the state’s independence from Portuguese colonial rule, Goa continues to maintain a distinctive identity that is a throwback to its western ancestry. Liquor is a part of the Goan way of life and it is an integral element of the state’s social and cultural ethos. Feasts, marriage functions, or for that a matter, a birthday party, nothing is complete without the customary drinks and dance. Fun and frolic is a way of life for Goans and the revelry associated with various festivals is a testimony of their joyous demeanour.

Denying a Goan his customary  kop is tantamount to a sacrilege in this part of the country. No wonder visitors to this land do not tire of commenting that there are more bars than tea-stalls in the state. With a tavern dotting the landscape every 100 meters or so, ‘liquor fondness’ in Goa is no secret. Moreover, it is to be presumed that with casinos having got the necessary fillip to continue their ‘existence’ in the state, alcohol gives the necessary impetus for the additional flow of revenue. Not to speak of the livelihood of the people dependent on the tourism industry!

Goa is known for its liberal liquor regime, where alcohol is taxed less as compared to other states. This in turn has benefitted the tourism industry which thrives on such magnanimities of the government. The liquor ban is definitely going to affect the tourism industry.

For a state that is yet to come to terms with the mining imbroglio, the apex court order will have a telling effect on the tourism sector. With the government calling a halt to mining activities, there was a holler by the mining dependents who came out on the streets demanding an alternative means of livelihood.  With the bars having closed down in the wake of the Supreme Court order, would similar scenes be enacted by the bar owners who would want the government to settle the issue of their business and source of revenue at the earliest. The state government is definitely caught between the devil and the deep blue sea!

Of course none of the governments in Goa so far has been stupid enough to attempt any sort of prohibition in the state. The apex court order thus comes as a bolt out of the blue!  Another point to ponder over and further galvanize debates against the appropriateness of the apex court order is the matter of highways as the honourable court deems them to be.

Unlike other states, in Goa you have highways passing through practically every city in the state which lends weight to the argument that due to varied geographical conditions, it is highly impractical to apply the apex court order in Goa in toto. If the bench at the apex court could exempt Sikkim and Meghalaya from its order to ban liquor vends within 500m or 220m due to its ‘unique topographical constraints’, couldn’t the same yardstick be applied to Goa! Was the state government caught napping!  

It is however ironic that twice in succession a Parrikar-led dispensation that came to power in the state has had to grapple with an issue that has been central to the economic survival of the state. In 2012 it was the mining fiasco, and now the ‘judicial restraint’ on alcohol! Nevertheless, the implication of liquor ban in Goa is much bigger than mining ban!

Hence it becomes necessary that the Goa government approaches the Supreme Court with an independent petition against the order on ban on liquor sale within 500 meters of state and national highways, as suggested by Town and Country Planning Minister. However it must be said that for a party that could act with astonishing speed and determination to form the present government, the same promptness and levelheadedness was missing when it came to countering the apex court directive and ensuring that it had the best interests of the locals at heart!

So much for  Goemkarponn!

(Published on 10th April 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 15)#