Sunday 18 August 2019

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Issues | Liquor

No promotion; drinking allowed !

 

Following ban on smoking in public places and promoting tobacco product in any form, Goa government has suddenly gone tough also against liquor advertising, no matter in what way it affects the tourist state.

The provision of Goa excise act, 1964 suddenly became enforceable after three decades in the state "where liquor flows like water", thanks to a simple writ petition filed by Goa Foundation, the environmental group, in the local bench of Mumbai high court.

The hoardings displaying liquor brands all along the highway and border posts, for the benefit of "thirsty" tourists, were either razed to ground or whitewashed overnight, immediately after which the excise department filed an affidavit before the court.

A circular also sent to the local newspapers had a great impact. While openly advertising liquor had already stopped two years ago, even a beer bottle disappeared from the newspapers. In fact, two leading English newspapers in the state have assured the court not to repeat the 'crime'.

But what about the newspapers and magazines from outside the state sold here ? "We will send them notices too. No advertisement through any medium should go to the people in Goa", says Dr Claude Alvares, the brain behind Goa foundation.

He is also planning to file a separate petition, as advised by the high court judges, against the satellite television channels, starting with Rupert Murdoch. To justify his action, he cites the Calcutta high court order regarding the cricket tournament, which states that Indian government has control over airways.

"How can I restrict their entry into Goa, whether it's a time magazine or a satellite channel", asks J B Singh, the excise commissioner. Rather than acting on a complaint, if filed, he expects the court to guide the government in this regard.

While Goa Foundation's petition is just admitted, local newspapers seem to be not too happy with the developments. "We will annually lose at least 30 to 40 per cent of our regular revenue", admits Surendra Kakodkar, the advertising manager of Belgaum-based Tarun Bharat.

But it's just a beginning for Dr Alvares, a journalist-turned-environmental activist. Interpreting section 10 a of the act, he has now also "served a notice" on the tourism department cautioning them to stop sponsorships from liquor companies for carnival floats and the food and cultural festival at Miramar beach, both major tourist attractions of the coastal state.

The act "prohibits any person from advertising or distributing any advertisement or other matter relating to liquor which solicits the use of or offers any liquor or which is calculated to or is likely to encourage or invite any individual or class of individuals or public to commit a breach of any rule..."

"Doesn't displaying banners or bottles or sponsoring attractive prizes for carnival floats amounts to encouraging and inviting people to drink their product", asks Alvares. He is also planning to move against the dances and beat shows, which would begin this month, if organised or sponsored by liquor companies.

The most attractive amongst it is a five-day food and cultural festival organised at Miramar beach in November every year, where thousands of people gather every evening to drink, eat and dance till late night, while liquor and food stalls are put up all around the beach. The tourism department is sitting with fingers crossed, waiting for the politicians to take a policy decision.

Will it affect the state economically ? "No", say both Dr Alvares and Singh, the excise commissioner, while liquor is the second largest revenue generating industry here. With over 3500 distilleries and bottling units including of cashew and coconut feni, over 5000 bars and taverns and around 2000 wholesale liquor shops, the state of 12 lakh population earns around Rs 38 crore through sales and excise duties.

Their contention is true in a way because tourists don't flock to Goa because of liquor advertisements but the meagre excise duties charged on it, unlike rest of the country. But it may hit the tourism industry indirectly if the high court also bans sponsorships by liquor companies for the carnival floats and late-night dances and beat shows, which is another attraction here.

As most of the MLAs from all political parties as well as the newspaper owners are involved either in manufacture or sale of liquor, both IMFL as well as Goa's famous feni, it has to be seen whether the government plans alternate ways to attract tourists or changes the act itself to protect its existing set-up, which is denounced by the locals.






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