Tuesday 26 March 2019

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Economy | Tourism

How Wadia's bash got bashed up

 

"I want a dope. Want to dance and freak out", he was shouting at the top of his voice while shaking his waist as though he is dancing while Goa Trance is playing. Another guy, who was clicking photos here and there, was trying to cool him down, persuading him to return home.

Many foreigners, sunbathing half-nudes at the Anjuna beach, were laughing at them while also posing with the knocked-out guy and inviting him for the millennium party. They danced, shouted, clicked photos and went off.

Hardly anybody suspected Peter D'Souza, senior sub-editor of Gomantak Times residing in the neighbouring Siolim village, and his friend Danny Fernandes. The duo knew very well that only such freak behaviour makes you feel homely at the Anjuna beach. A serious job is suspicious.

The news broke out on the Goa Liberation Day, the 19 December, on the front page of Weekender, a Sunday newspaper of Gomantak Times. "Nature destroyed for Anjuna party, Tourism department land illegally developed. Hill cut, sand dunes destroyed, scores of trees felled for the bash of the millennium".

It was the World's biggest ten-day long non-stop millennium rave party organised by Jeh Wadia, son of a business tycoon Nusli Wadia, at Pardiso de Anjuna, a state-owned restaurant leased out to one Norman Azavedo. When the deputy town planner Vertica Daggar went to ask them how they could encroach upon over 80,000 sq mts of government land illegally, she was literally pushed out from there.

It made us curious when we read series of news reports carried out by Gomantak Times, following which the tourism department had decided to demolish all the illegal structures and construction carried out there. But Victoria Fernandes, the tourism minister, cautioned us not to go with the demolition squad but separately to witness it, as the whole area was fully guarded by musclemen from Bombay.

Clad in tourist clothes, I along with Prakash Kamat of Economic Times and Sanjay Dhawalikar of Maharashtra Times, hired a tourist taxi to witness the official demolition operation on 22 December. The situation was quite tense though the demolition squad was guarded by bus-load of armed Rapid Action Force and the local police. One police officer however said the demolition could be stopped any moment.

What we saw was really shocking. The Azavedo and Wadia had fenced the whole area from the restaurant down to the beach and the full hillock behind it and even the area around the bungee jumping site (The Gravity Zone) down the hillock. Trees were cut, dance floors were constructed at different levels, caves were carved by cutting sand dunes and steps were made to go up the hillock.

"Paradiso de Anjuna has been now dramatically expanded – you won't recognise it anymore – it now includes over 100 acres", we later read it on their website www.anjuna.com, hosted specially for the event (It now stands withdrawn). The bash was to begin at midnight on 22 December, to go on non-stop till 2 January 2000, expecting 25,000 raves every day.

A cover story by India Today however had glorified the whole thing, perhaps under the impression that the event is fully legal. What the organisers claimed as 'heaven on the earth' consisted a multi-level dance floor going to the beach, around 400 fully-equipped tents on the hilltop, a flea market with over 350 stalls, big tents for esoteric treatment and ayurvedic massages as also facilities for adventure sports like bungee jumping, tattoos and body painting and even a cyber café.

We were told that neither they had sought permission to occupy the government land nor to host the party and play the loud rave music throughout day and night. Still DJ Hossain and Ness Wadia were seen shouting at the officers while demolition was on. Calls were made on mobiles and they were made to talk to chief minister's office. Finally, police arrested Ness and five others for trying to stop demolition.

But the police officer was right. Within one hour, a wireless message came from chief minister Francisco Sardinha to stop the demolition. We later learnt that he received a call from one of the topmost government offices in Delhi to stop demolition while he was waiting for President K R Narayanan to arrive at the Dabolim air port.

We returned in disgust, remembering tourism minister's words the earlier day : "they cannot take government for granted. We will not allow such illegality". Perhaps even Peter did not want to take government for granted as he had now filed public interest litigation. The same day evening, pending admission, the high court took an undertaking from Azavedo and Wadia not to have party there until court decides.

The news was now spreading fast. While we told our colleagues in local newspapers the mockery of democracy we witnessed, even other top lawyers in the court came forward to help Adv Vishnuprasad Lawande, the young lawyer pleading for Peter. The court was full with journalists while influential VIPs from Delhi were reportedly still contacting local politicians to allow the party. In fact one of the CM's close aide was seen openly moving in the court with Wadias.

With the high court remaining quite firm on the issue and most of the local and national newspapers highlighting the illegalities committed by Wadia, Sardinha convened an emergency cabinet meeting on 23 December morning. Defying oral instructions from their central leaders, even the BJP ministers in the coalition government favoured not allowing the party and take over the government land.

During the hearing, which went on till 5.30 pm, even Mahesh Jethmalani, while arguing on behalf of Wadia, admitted the illegality committed. The party is not possible now, he predicted even before the court read out its order the next day morning, while the whole World was getting into the mood of Christmas.

The court not only ordered demolition of all the illegal structures and take over of the land while admitting the petition, but also ordered the government to take over Paradiso de Anjuna, the hub of Wadia's activities, as its lease had expired and liquor licence was found to be invalid. The biggest party of the millennium was totally in doldrums, it appeared.

But neither the restaurant was taken over nor demolition was carried out by the tourism department till the new year celebrations got over. "We will do it by 6 January", said tourism director S S Keshkamat, giving clean chit to the organisers to have full blast parties.

Incidentally, Bacardi and V Channel, two major sponsors of Wadia's bash held non-stop parties near the bungee jumping site, which was part of his millennium bash earlier. Authorities however did not even bother to find out whether it is the same group holding parties, which were restrained by the court.






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