Although the people of the Surla village of Goa and the people of Kankumbi, Parwad and adjoining villages of Karnataka have differences over sharing of the Mhadei river waters, they have found common cause in demanding that the liquor outlets at Surla are permanently closed. The liquor outlets have been ordered to remain closed for a month by the North Goa district collector. A gathering of people from the two states on Sunday passed a resolution demanding that the outlets be not allowed to reopen at the expiry of the closure period. They threatened to organize blockades of the main road in case the administration does not accept their demand. The outlets were told to down their shutters last month after the villagers of Surla in a near-unanimous decision at a gram sabha demanded their closure. With people from nearby villages in Karnataka joining hands with them, their fight against alcoholism has acquired a strength the state government can ignore only to its peril.
The Surla villagers were aggrieved because they have had to bear the brunt of the anti-social activities of the drunkards from the neighouring states that throng the remote village which has many outlets and bars. They alleged that the drunkards knock at their doors in the dead of night asking for liquor and making the daily lives of women and children miserable. The drunkards have also been found to be adding to waste generation in the area. The people from Kankumbi, Parwad and other villages, particularly women, who came to attend the Sunday meeting, were from families that had suffered owing to the alcoholism of one or more male members who found it easy to get liquor from the outlets in Surla. These addicts have been blowing away their earnings on drinks and causing social and economic problems for the families.
It might be argued that closure of liquor outlets would have impact on the livelihood of those who have been operating them. However, social well-being and maintenance of law and order, particularly safety of children and women, could outweigh the economic benefits. Till the district collector ordered closure of the outlets, Surla had been attracting hundreds of visitors, most of them from the nearby villages of Karnataka, for consuming liquor which was cheaper to that available in their state. The proximity of the Goan village made it easier for them to be in Surla in minutes after day’s work and then go back to their homes late in the night. The villagers have apparently upped the ante against the liquor outlets following the propaganda by the owners of the liquor vends that their establishments would reopen for business from August 21 onwards. Having enjoyed the ‘peace’ during the period since the bars were ordered to be closed, the villagers would not want the menace, annoyance and public nuisance to return to their village. The meeting on Sunday was an exhibition of the resolve of the villagers not only of Surla but also of Kankumbi, Parwad and adjoining areas who want to uphold the peace and tranquility that has been prevailing for nearly three weeks. With no law and order problem having been reported in the area since the closure of bars and the public nuisance having stopped, the demand of the villagers needs to be accepted by the state authorities.
With the closure period getting over on Monday next, there is possibility of bar owners seeking permission to reopen their outlets citing loss of income and livelihood. Perhaps the government can satisfy both the villagers and liquor outlet owners by relocating the outlets away from Surla. The closure of the bars in Surla would stop the traffic from the nearby areas of Karnataka to access cheap liquor. Those addicted to it could still go elsewhere to satiate their desire for liquor. Addicts from Kankumbi, Parwad and adjoining areas who were frequenting Surla could try to go to Keri to get their quota of liquor, and there is a possibility of Keri residents facing similar problems as were faced by Surla villagers. There is also possibility of people selling spurious liquor, which could be more dangerous as its consumption could kill people. The government would need to take a tough call on to ensure that the prevalent peace in Surla is not disturbed while deciding on the demand to close down the bars. If the government dithers, not only the situation in Surla will become explosive, but also the Surla agitation might trigger similar agitations in other parts of the state.