Vice-ridden Mass Tourism disrupts Brand Goa

Jungle raj in sunshine State”, claims a national business daily headline. Our State is again in the news for all the wrong reasons. The BJP may find it difficult to admit the death of one of their leaders as a case of drug overdose. The Hyderabad Narcotics Wing has openly accused Goa police of not cooperating in the investigation of drug related cases. Over a decade back a Nigerian national Obodo Simeon was killed and the then CM Manohar Parrikar admitted that he was a casualty of war between two drug gangs. Has anything changed since then?

Goa has always welcomed tourists. It’s sun, sand and sea has always enticed domestic and international travelers. Domestic tourists get excited over Goa. Tourism is the State’s lifeline contributing nearly 40% to the State GDP. Our State has opted for mass tourism. We have bent every rule, regulation and law for that. We are proud of the increasing the foot-falls. The pristine beaches no longer drive the tourism sector. Our roads get clogged on all Saturdays as the younger tourists come here in search of a new life at weekends and the rich are here to gamble at the casinos. Casinos and nightlife are the new drivers of the tourism sector.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that mass tourism brings in vice. Sex trade is not confined to red light areas and what is nightlife without drugs? Sleaze, sex and drugs are always big drivers of the tourism industry, particularly in the third world countries. Growth of illegal massage palours, prostitution rackets and ‘escort’ services coupled with freely available drugs has brought disrepute to this State. It may have begun in the sixties in the Anjuna -Vagator belt where ‘hippies’ found place beyond a normal society to live with no inhibitions of life. What started in the sixties seems to continue. Rise of hippies also brought about pleasure seeking rave culture. The national crime record bureau for 2020 highlighted that sex tourism in Goa is highest in the country (per capita).

All governments in Goa approve casinos and nightlife to be the moving factors of our economy. Nightlife is notorious for rave parties where MDMA – a popular ‘club drug’ is freely made available for increased sensation, more energy and better pleasure. EDM festivals may be legal but these festivals are more synonymous with rave culture where illegal drugs are the order of the day. What makes a music festival illegal, is the illegal activities associated with the rave culture. By their very nature rave culture is shrouded in secrecy due to illegal drug use and underground organization. The law enforcement agencies have failed to deal with the drug menace. U.K. found the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which banned parties featuring ‘sounds characterized by emission of succession of the same beats’ not enough and brought The Entertainment and Increased Penalties Act against hosting of illegal rave parties. USA brought in a Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act (RAVE) in 2022, to fine and imprison property owners, rave promoters and event organizers failing to prevent drug related offences. These draconian steps going against free speech, right to dance and musical expression in liberal societies were necessitated due to drug overdose and associated medical hazards caused due to consumption of Ecstasy and its cousin Molly every year at the raves which the law enforcing agencies difficult to deal with.

The Union Tourism Minister has claimed Goa to be the casino capital of the country. Our governments are promoting nightlife and EDM festivals which are often associated with illegal drugs. The EDM music festivals legitimize the ‘rave culture’ through government approvals. The government also cannot be faulted as they have failed to bring in alternate sources of revenue generation. Even late Manohar Parrikar who stormed to power by opposing the casinos under local pressure had a change of heart. Panjim runs on Casinos will only be an understatement !

The unbridled growth of tourism in a small State of about 16 million people has overwhelmed the State. It appears that there is a 100% growth despite the pandemic. Even when the country was under lock-down, Goa raved on. Under immense social media pressure the local police who normally looked the other way busted four rave parties organized in the northern coastal belt.

The curse has affected the North more. South and the hinterland remain rustic, peaceful and quiet. There are attempts to bring the vice to these unexploited areas through ‘hinterland tourism’, ‘eco-tourism’ and ‘forest tourism’. If this materializes the entire State would have nightlife which the government believes has to be exploited for higher revenues. The nightlife has its own impact on the local people through the demonstration effect. With the passage of time locals also develop a strong appetite for the vice of gambling at casinos, sleaze and sex resulting from the nightlife. Just see what has happened to Thailand or Philipines.

We may not like to admit it, this tiny state is increasingly viewed as a sex tourist destination and the recent incidents are only showing the Anjuna-Calangute-Vagator to be a drug haven. Nightlife, sex tourism, drug menace may be here to stay for a long time. Locals have also developed vested interests in this vice related mass tourism. It is our responsibility not to condone or tolerate, but oppose the entire Goa getting the sin-city status.

Goa is on the verge of losing it’s brand value. We have to make clear choices – whether we want to continue as the playground of vice only to increase footfalls or get a new and better image. Disapproval of EDM festivals could send a strong signal. Is the CM listening?