Bhiupachi Goroz Asa

By Ashwin Tombat
07 September 2020 16:22 IST

 

Each and every citizen living in the states of Goa, Delhi, Chandigarh and Haryana will end up losing an average of between Rs40,000 to nearly Rs 1 lakh this financial year, owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The national average per capita loss is lower but still substantial, at around Rs 27,000 for the year, says a State Bank of India (SBI) research report.

India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) plummeted by 23.9 per cent (year-on-year) in the first quarter of Financial Year 2020-21 (April 2020 to June 2020). India was the country with the second-highest decline worldwide after Peru, and the worst among major economies (Spain was second-worst at 22.1 per cent and the UK third-worst at 21.7 per cent).

The SBI believes that India’s total annual decline in GDP will be 16.8 per cent for the entire financial year. It will be the worst contraction since 1961, the year since which the World Bank has been maintaining records. India’s economy has contracted in absolute terms only thrice in these 60 years – by 2.62 per cent in 1965 (Pakistan war), by 0.55 per cent in 1972 (drought and war) and by 5.24 per cent in 1979 (sudden crude oil price hike following the revolution in Iran and the war with Iraq). The coming economic contraction is larger than any of the three above. Life is going to be very hard for all Indians in the coming year or two.

But even more so in Goa…

Out of all the states in India, Goa is likely to witness the steepest contraction in the economy in 2020-21 at 14.3 per cent, followed by Gujarat at 12.4 per cent, Sikkim at 10.9 per cent, Assam at 10.7 per cent and Himachal Pradesh at 9.9 per cent, according to projections by India Ratings and Research, a reputed credit rating agency that is recognised by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Housing Bank.

Faced with the prospect of being India’s worst-affected state, one would expect that the Goa government would be urgently looking for ways to improve the state’s finances. But, instead of giving incentives to local businesses to lift the state’s economy, the Goa government is going about sharply increasing license fees and taxes for the state’s already comatose tourism industry. That’s like killing the golden goose before it can lay even a single egg…

Tourism, along with mining and pharmaceuticals, is a major contributor to Goa’s economy. Tourism, particularly, is Goa’s main source of employment, both direct and indirect. Tourism-dependent countries across the globe are coming up with innovative and even frantic measures to revive the tourism industry in their own countries. Sadly, in Goa, there seems little or no innovation; mostly just desperation.

For states in India, the only sources of substantial direct revenue they get is from taxes on petroleum products and alcoholic beverages. Nearly everything else comes under GST, and has to be shared with the Centre.

GST collections have sharply plummeted. And the Centre has blatantly broken the promise it had made to compensate the states for any shortfall in GST collections. Total pending GST compensation to all states in India for April-July 2020 was around Rs1.5 lakh crore. It is expected to increase by nearly another Rs1 lakh crore by March 2021. The Centre is simply refusing to pay. It’s asking the states to borrow money and fill the gap in their resources. 

Faced with such a huge shortfall, one would have expected that the Goa government would try to maximise its direct revenue. But it did quite the opposite. When it allowed restaurants to open, the government maintained restrictions on bars. Around half of Goa’s liquor sales are to bars. Result? Most restaurants refused to open. Further result? The Goa government lost huge direct revenues in excise taxes on sales of liquor to bars and restaurants, in VAT on consumption of liquor in restaurants, and in GST on consumption of food in restaurants. End result? The government coffers remained empty.

Now, all of a sudden, in a complete U-turn, domestic travellers to Goa don’t need to carry Covid-19 negative certificates nor do tests at borders, railway stations or the airport. Though every shop and office in the state has to do temperature checks on each visitor, no such check is done on tourists at the airport or any other entry point to the state.  

Often touted as a competitor for Goa, Thailand, is opening up far more slowly and systematically. International tourists entering Thailand have to stay for a minimum of 30 days. The first 14 days are under ‘relaxed’ quarantine; they can move one kilometre from their hotels. After clearing a second Covid-19 test, they can move anywhere in Phuket. After another week, they can travel anywhere in Thailand. The government knows this will not result in a significant inflow of tourists; but their primary objective is testing the waters, before the peak season starts in November.

Goa had managed a measure of control over tourists without inconveniencing them seriously, through rapid tests that yielded results in 20 minutes. Making these grossly overpriced tests more affordable could have increased tourist traffic without seriously endangering the local public. But the government, it seems, has chosen to throw the baby out with the bath water.

In the fight against Covid-19, Goa is in complete chaos. Nobody seems to know exactly what is happening. For example, Friday’s health bulletin said that 508 fresh cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, but it listed only 108 new cases at 20 health centres. Where were the remaining cases from?

Tackling and containing the spread of Covid-19 depends on isolation and effective contact tracing. If the government does not record where Covid cases are arising, how can it tackle the pandemic? Directorate of Health Services figures show that out of its 33 health centres, 13 are showing a decline in Covid cases. But the location of nearly two-thirds of the cases is not listed; so is this decline factual or fake? There is no way of knowing!

The death rate is also zooming. In the first four days of September, Goa has reported 25 deaths. So far, August had recorded the highest number of 150 Covid deaths in 31 days, an average of five deaths per day. But the first four days of September have already overtaken August, with an average of six deaths a day.

The SBI says that Covid mortality rates may increase by an additional 0.5 to 3.5 per cent owing to unplanned exits from lockdowns and unplanned entry into fresh lockdowns in different states in India. Goa, it seems, is looking at very bad times to come.

Coincidence it may seem to be, but the very next day after Goa was thrown open to Indian tourists with zero precautions, Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant tested positive for Covid-19. Is there a message in this somewhere?

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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