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Waiting For Ban On Drinking In Public Places

Last September Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had promised to make changes in law to prevent drinking in public places and demarcate special zones where people could consume liquor. The government had proposed to amend the Excise Duty Act and impose penalties on those found drinking in public places, including tourist spots such as beaches, so as to prevent inebriated tourists and locals from creating nuisance and littering beaches and parks. The changes were not to allow anyone to drink liquor near liquor shops. Owners of liquor outlets were to lose licences if people were found consuming liquor near their outlets. Though more than a year has passed since the Chief Minister made the promise, there are no signs of it being kept. As a result, drinking near liquor outlets and in public places, even residential areas, goes on.

With the beginning of the tourist season tourists are arriving in large numbers. Owing to easy availability and cheaper prices of liquor, many domestic and foreign tourists go on a binge. Most of them drink in bars, but several consume bottles of liquor in public places. Groups of such drinkers have been seen causing nuisance by making noise, breaking bottles on roads and littering with bottles and food waste. Often such groups create an unsafe environment for female tourists and locals.  A good number of Goans, especially youth, too drink in public places such as residential areas and parks in the evenings, causing nuisance and sense of insecurity among women. If the changes in the law to ban drinking in public places and to demarcate no drinking zones had been notified by October 2017, we would have expected the nuisance to be under control this
tourist season.

The excise department had been given the task of making the proposal for changes in the Excise Duty Act. It has prepared its recommendations and sent the file along with proposed amendments to the state secretariat. According to the excise department officials, the file is still lying with the finance department at the secretariat.  The changes were to be made applicable from August 15 this year, well ahead of the new tourist season. Had the government approved the changes and notified it as was proposed, the state officials would have got enough time to make necessary arrangements for implementation of the rules and plug the loopholes, if any. As the changes were aimed at ensuring the safety of the people and preventing nuisance, the authorities should have fast tracked the changes and approved the rules. The government has to take care in the course of making the changes in the law that they cover both tourists and residents. Intoxication in public places triggers public fear and it is equally true of the families that come to Goa as tourists as well as the families that inhabit the residential colonies. The changes must be clear so that the law enforcement agencies have no room for discrimination between tourists
and locals.

The captains of tourism industry and the officials of the excise department have expressed fears that it would be rather difficult to monitor thousands of tourists who buy alcohol and prefer to consume near liquor outlets, on the beaches and in other public places, or the resident Goans who consume liquor at night sitting on the top of the parapet of footpaths and in parks and other open spaces. The tourism industry’s view is that the tourism sector contributes significantly to the state exchequer, so the government should not do anything that would drive away tourists. The captains of tourism industry and bosses of excise department should not take an apocalyptic view of the proposed restrictions on drinking in public places and demarcation of no drinking zones. After all, nobody is proposing a prohibition policy in Goa, as it exists in Gujarat or Goa. There are liquor outlets every furlong or at a lesser distance in Goa; then there are bars and restaurants. As far as availability of liquor is concerned there is going to be no restrictions. The state government has even worked out ways to save almost all the liquor outlets from the Supreme Court volcano. The issue is not to ban drinking but to ban drinking in public places and in certain designated places. The issue is not to put a cap on the number of glasses or bottles one can consume but to put a stop to any violence or nuisance they cause as a
consequence of it.

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