Goa Govt surrenders, drops plans for offshore casinos

| 07 February 1997 23:23 IST

After a nationwide controversy over it for six months, the Congress government in Goa itself has opted out from its own proposal of setting up India's first offshore casino on the Goan coast. Rather than a sigh of relief, Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane's announcement in this regard has come as a shock to everybody, including the ones opposing the casinos here.

''If people think it is detrimental to the Goan society in the long term, then we don't want to impose it on them for our short-term benefits''. Even the media was taken by surprise when Rane made this 'casual statement' last weekend after the cabinet meeting. Though he clarified that it's his personal opinion and not a cabinet decision, it's clear that the government is thinking otherwise.

Rane, as the home minister, had amended the Goa Public Gambling Act in July last year, to allow casinos on board in vessels, around one km away from the shore, by charging Rs one crore towards the annual licence fees and certain amount of percentage on the monthly revenue. The opposition parties, along with the NGOs, had begun a state-wide movement against it, though it had not picked up as expected.

Countering the opposition, the CM had forcefully justified it, stating that it is necessary to attract high class tourists to the state. He has also tried to woo the Goans stating that the revenue generated from it would be utilised for the welfare of distressed women.

But he speaks a different language today. High class tourists don't prefer such kind of gambling, he claims now. Also as an alternative to the revenue generation, the cabinet has now decided to tax Rs 300 as a foreign tourist tax for every charter tourist. With around 70,000 charter tourists visiting Goa every year, the state would earn minimum Rs two crore.

Is Rane really concerned about what Goans think ? Apparently not, as he has no plans to suspend the plans of setting up golf courses in Goa, despite violent agitations waged by the respective villagers. ''That's a different issue'', he claims, indicating that he is firm on it.

Sources in the Congress circles firmly believe that the reason is purely 'political' and not social or cultural to put off the casinos. Though the amendment was moved by Rane, the fruits of it would be borne directly by his rival, Deputy Chief Minister Wilfred de Souza, who is also the tourism minister. The CM reportedly feared that de Souza would strengthen his 'lobby' the way enquiries from all over the World Goa was receiving to set up the casinos.

To put it in the state opposition leader Kashinath Jalmi's words, Rane's sincerity would be proved only when he amends the Goa Public Gambling Act, and not by merely making a public statement. ''Otherwise the government will put off the proposal for offshore casinos, to welcome the on-shore casinos'', he says.

No matter whether the internal Congress politics or the public pressure played role in aborting India's first casino proposal, the most demoralised group is the local five star hotel lobby and the casino masters, who were looking at Goa as their new target.

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