Issues tourism department must resolve before creating drinking enclosures
TOURISM Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar said to the media on Tuesday that his department was considering setting up ‘picnic zones’ on beaches where tourists and locals will be allowed to drink. As of now, people are allowed to drink in the shacks. They are not allowed to drink anywhere else on a beach. Even the outside of the shacks is considered public space and prohibited for drinking. The idea of a ‘picnic zone’ on the beach is a fine balancing act by the tourism department. Tourists and locals like to go out on the beaches with bottles of beer or wine and enjoy drinking on the sands. However, the law prohibits drinking in public places. The penalty for a violator is a fine of Rs 2,000 or three months imprisonment. The state found it necessary to impose penalties for drinking in public places after complaints became common about drunken tourists causing nuisance. However, the restriction and penalty appeared like a disincentive to the tourists, both domestic and foreign, who like to go out to the beach with a bottle of beer or wine. The tourism department’s picnic zone idea seems to be motivated by a desire to neutralize the disincentive.
The picnic zone idea is bound to trigger a debate in which the tourism policy makers, the tourism industry stakeholders, the panchayats and tourists and locals must participate before it finally takes practical shape. One of the reasons why tourists and locals drink on the beaches is the high price of drinks available at the shacks. A picnic zone will provide them space to take their own bottles of drink to consume there. Yet many questions will need to be settled. First, will a picnic zone attract tourists and locals? Of course, in a shack or a restaurant, people sit, eat and drink at tables placed close to each other, but in an open place under the sky, the atmosphere will be different. Even people who want to drink, unless they are the noisy tourist types that are known to create scenes in a drunken state on beaches, will not like others to see or find them drinking out in the public. Secondly, if the picnic zone is going to be open to both tourists and locals, there may be cultural issues in terms of behaviour, manners of speech, noise levels. Since it is an area where intoxication will be legal, the effect of it on the overall atmosphere of the picnic zone has to be weighed in. Thirdly, if the picnic zone is going to be open to tourists and locals, there will be families close to all-male groups of friends, and that might further exacerbate the cultural issues.
Fourthly, the design of the picnic zone is not clear. How big the picnic zone would be? Will it allow respectable spaces to groups of friends, couples and families with children for them to fully enjoy their outing there? Or will it be too small and crowded? Fifthly, when the tourism department calls it a picnic zone, what exactly does it have in mind? Is it going to be just a part of the sandy beach enclosed by wooden stakes? Or does the tourism department have any plan to provide other forms of recreation which may be attractive to children accompanying families? Sixthly, if it is going to be a picnic zone, people are going to bring food and bottles and there will be litter. Who will pick up the litter?
The tourism department must not ask the panchayats to set up picnic zones on the beaches without finding satisfactory answers to the six questions raised above. Since the idea behind picnic zones is to facilitate drinking in a limited area on the beach, the public will also need to know how the government is going to deal with those who are found drinking outside the picnic zone. Though the rules provide for a fine of Rs 2,000 and imprisonment for 3 months for drinking in public, the number of violators apprehended is negligible. If the rules were not enforced so far, how are they going to be enforced now? Picnic zones may be a good idea but their purpose might be defeated in the absence of enforcement of the ban.