Wednesday 26 September 2018

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NGOs, parties join hands to oppose casinos

 

Goans are waking up in protest of the state government's plan to set up offshore casinos, the first of its kind being introduced in the country "to promote international tourism".

While the ruling Congress party is bent upon going ahead with its plan, most of the opposition parties have geared up to stall the "casino invasion", joining hands with several NGOs including environmental and women's groups.

Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane had succeeded in getting a nod in the Assembly for casinos in August, by amending the Goa Public Gambling Act, 1976, which authorises table games and gaming on board in offshore vessels.

Maharashtra governor Dr P C Alexander, also holding charge of Goa, gave his assent to the bill the next month despite strong protests by the opposition parties and the NGOs. Rules to monitor the casino scene are however yet to be framed.

While passing the amendment bill in the House, Mr Rane had made it clear that it would charge Rs one lakh as the annual licence fee and five per cent over the annual turnover. "The revenue would be utilised for the welfare of distressed women", he claims.

But several women's groups in the state describe it as an eyewash as the authorities have done very little for the women's welfare till date despite repeated demands to form crime against women's cell and several other woes of the womenfolk.

The move has even been opposed by union law minister Ramakant Khalap, representing Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), stating that attempts to bring in "corrupt money" should be opposed with mass upsurge.

His party has now taken initiative in forming a broad anti-casino forum, led by state opposition leader Dr Kashinath Jalmi. Before moving into villages to hold state-wide protest meetings, a meeting of all the political parties is convened this weekend to widen its sphere.

The state BJP unit, on the other hand, has already begun a campaign amongst its circles, collecting signatures in protest of the "onslaught on rich Indian culture and traditions" as they describe it.

Controversial South Goa MP Churchill Alemao, belonging to the United Goans Democratic Party (UGDP), is the sole non-Congress political figure who has wholeheartedly supported the move to introduce casinos in the state. Mr Rane, who otherwise always humiliates Mr Alemao as a smuggler and anti-national element, has welcomed his support.

The CM dismisses the contention of the opponents that with casinos would inevitably come other social evils like prostitution, drugs and Mafia trade, who would ultimately control the whole political, economic and cultural scenario in the state.

Mr Alemao, representing the five star hotel lobby in the state, goes one step ahead demanding full-fledged casinos on the shore instead of such backdoor tactics. He is also critical about collecting only Rs one lakh towards fees when the casinos would earn in crores.

While the anti-casino protesters describe it as a socio-political invasion at the cost of our culture, Mr Rane and Mr Alemao have joined hands in wooing the people, arguing that it would generate revenue and employment for the locals.

In order to prevent locals from getting addicted to this high class gambling, Mr Rane suggests a remedy by restricting it for the Indian income-tax payers. Mr Alemao proposes to charge entry fee of Rs one lakh, as even a higher middle class employee in the state pays income tax in Goa, the state known for the highest standard of living.

The unrest among the people is brewing in view of the casual attitude adopted by the state government while introducing slot machines and electronic amusement games in the five star hotels here. With an entrance fee of hardly Rs 250, youngsters from the local elitist section are seen throwing money in the nuggets here.

After amending the gambling act five years ago to allow these games, around six five star hotels have been owning over 200 such machines in the state, while others are planning to introduce it. The state treasury however earns hardly Rs 13.20 lakh over it annually, besides Rs 25.30 lakh charged initially.

The anti-casino protesters have alerted the Goan masses that it's a part of the plan to reshape Goa for upmarket tourism with casinos, golf courses, superhighways etc due to intense pressure from the international market. "It's a kind of colonial invasion", they claim.






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