GoaChronicle.com spoke with BJP North Goa President and Calangute MLA Michael Lobo on the issues plaguing his constituency and overall governance in the state. The revelations of the first-time legislator are insightful and raises questions on some key issues in the government especially its stand on tourism…
GC: Your constituency Calangute has evolved into a tourism destination of repute nationally and internationally. But this tourism also has its negatives such as sex massage parlors, drugs, dance bars and prostitution. What are your comments?
ML: Calangute is the heart of tourism in Goa. Whether it is Indians or foreigners that come here; the beaches, restaurants and other activities in this tourism belt has been a strong attraction for all. But just like in most tourism destinations in the world, you are going to have nefarious activities such as prostitution and drugs, because some tourists come looking for those kind of attractions. We need to control these activities and not allow them to grow.
GC: You mean to say that drugs and prostitution cannot be stopped only controlled. If so why?
ML: The previous government allowed prostitution, drugs, dance bars and sex massage parlors to flourish and grow without any control. We are a tourism destination but we cannot portray ourselves as a sex and drug destination; because 60 per cent of the tourists coming here want to enjoy Goa for its beaches, greenery, hinterland, churches and not for sex or drugs. 40 per cent is that kind of tourist that come to Goa thinking it is a sex and drug destination. And we need to curb this kind of tourism which mushrooming rapidly. Therefore, along with a police force of trusted officers, as the MLA we cracked down on the drugs, sex massage parlors and prostitution rackets in the Calangute beach belt. In fact if you look at the statistics, we would have booked more cases against such activities in nine months than the previous government in five years. So we have sent a strong message to the people running these business. But it will find away to arise once again; therefore we will have to further exert our control and finally lead to a stoppage of these activities.
GC: You mention trusted police-officers. So how come the PSI and Head Constable who were the key officers in closing down drugs and prostitution in Calangute were allegedly taken to task by instructions from your Chief Minister on allegations of extortion last week. Interestingly, the officers have a clean record. Is CM now playing into the hands of owners of these activities?
ML: I am shocked to hear about this and if the CM has indeed questioned their integrity or honesty of these police officers; then I need to clear his doubts. Since I had recommended them on the CM’s insistence and they have an impeccable record. But I would not be surprised that an attempt of such a nature is being made through powerful forces from Mumbai and Delhi to remove this police team and the CM could be pressurized to act based on misinformation or disinformation. But I will need to raise it with him.
GC: Playboy and Sunburn are two hot issues that have got international media attention. What is your stand on both these issues; considering your party when in Opposition was against Sunburn?
ML: Playboy as food & beverage outlet without its scandalous playmates should be acceptable. But if there is going to be any form of nudity or promotion of it; then personally and even as a BJP member, I would oppose such an outlet. And the CM has taken cognizance of the issue. On Sunburn Festival, I would like to state that I have never opposed the highly internationally publicized event. I think an event of this nature and its timing around Christmas week, is great tourism revenue generator for the state and locals in business. Issues regarding drugs and alcohol allegedly rampant at the event; need to be controlled and the organisers must be made to adhere to the control mechanisms of the authorities.
GC: What according to you is Calangute’s most critical issue that you are trying to resolve through your government’s governance in the state?
ML: Garbage is the most critical issue not only in Calangute but also the entire state. Sadly, successive government including our government has not woken up to importance of curbing the garbage menace in light of its impact of good quality tourism in the state and also healthcare of the locals and tourists alike. Today, garbage is an eye-soar for any tourist right from the airport till any of the destination in Goa; they will see garbage all-over.
GC: Garbage is a menace. But do you see it affecting tourism?
ML: Goa has lost out of good quality tourist in the last couple of years and the garbage menace is certainly one of the key factors for it. Germans, Danes, Finnish, Polish and Britishers who have been the cream of Goa quality tourism, simply refuse to come to Goa anymore; because they see it as a garbage haven rather than a tourism haven. Tourist come to Goa for its beauty, greenery, hospitality and paradise feel it brings. For sex, drugs or any grand tourism plan like Cable Cars or Dune Riding bikes or even major tourism parks they can go to Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia. But if they are going to be greeted with garbage they are not going to come back.
GC: Have you raised your concerns with the government and CM on garbage and its resultant impact of tourism especially in your constituency and what has been the CMs stand?
ML: Of course I have raised the issue with the CM and government. We so far have been talking about various measures, but it is only being talked about and nothing is being acted upon until now. CM had spoken about a centralized garbage treatment plant for the whole of Goa. But such ideas might appear good on paper, but may not be practical and economical; atleast for a tourism hub like Calangute. We gather close to 80 trucks worth of garbage everyday in the season time and about 50 trucks normally. If a centralised plant is to come-up in Verna; do you think it is practical for 80 trucks to go everyday to Verna.
GC: But hasn’t the government set-up a Committee on the garbage issue?
ML: I am not saying that my government is not working on the garbage menace. I am only saying that so far no action on this front has happened. Quite honestly, the issue of garbage has been debated by different governments and committees but so far everything has remained on paper. Its time in the interest of the state and people that we act on the garbage menace. In Calangute in order to explain to the government the seriousness of our need to curb garbage menace; along with the Panchayat, we have started to take our own initiative. Since government has not yet acted. It is something that we have done even on the building of wider footpaths in Calangute, since government departments have been sitting on the files even after getting an approval, we have decided to put our own money and build good footpaths.
GC: You have raised several issues such as the Shack Policy and jobs for local water-sports businesses with your government itself? Why?.
ML: I am still not satisfied with the Goa Shack Policy especially the 5-deck bed rule. It is simply impractical. I agree before there used to be a huge number of deck-beds where it was impossible to walk on the beach. But to reduce it to five is not logical at all. Tourists are going to find this disappointing this season and government must do something about. I think 10 to 15 beds should be allowed per shack. That is what tourists are coming to the Goan beaches. On the water-sports local business bit; we must understand the government departments must make it possible for our locals to do business and not open doors to outside businesses to eat into the local share. I will object to any and every issue against my own government if it is against the interest of my constituency, people and state. And as a team player I must show them what they are doing wrong.
GC: Most of the hotel businesses in the Calangute belt are run by North-Indians? Where are the Goans, you are talking about?
ML: Yes a considerable amount of businesses in the Calangute belt seem to be overshadowed by outsiders, but not entirely. Nevertheless, it is my appeal to our local Goans and those abroad to give Goa chance to do business and it will flourish; you cannot complain if outsiders come to the state to fill the vacuums in the job and business markets, if we don’t fill those vaccums. We also need to understand that Goans are not open to doing all kinds of jobs especially menial labor, so people from outside fill those posts. Secondly, Goans must stop selling their land to outsiders, so many of them in eagerness to make good money end up opening doors to the outsiders by selling their land. We cannot complain then if there are more outsiders in the state and less opportunities for the Goans.
GC: You have a hospitality and tourism experience of over 20 years? What is your opinion on the Rs 1crore spent by the Tourism Department on World Travel Mart in London or its Rs 18 crore advertising campaign?
ML: Spending that kind of money on an exhibition in a market that has been extensively taped is money not well spent at all. Instead if the government spent that kind of money on either widening the roads in Calangute or initiated a Garbage solution measure, I assure you that we would have seen an increase tourist much more in comparison to the money now spent on WTM. Goa is known in the international market and many people want to come to Goa. In the old days, many would visit Goa repeatedly. That does not happen anymore. Goa does not get repeat visitors as much as it used too. People coming once and not coming again, because the illusion of Goa is lost on their first visit. We need to make Goa tourism-friendly and we will see more and more tourists coming. For example, if we have toilets with showers along the beaches or in key places along the tourism belt; don’t you think it would make more sense and be appreciated more than the money spent on advertising and frivolous advertising. Tourist want basic infrastructure for Goa not grand plans like Cable-Cars. The problem is that many don’t understand tourism and how its works in Goa. I have started my tourism career as a dish-washer in a restaurant. Today besides being a politician, I am business man who has close to 180 rooms in Calangute. I understand tourism. And the way we have been working on it in the past and even in my current government it is absolutely a step-motherly treatment to an industry that can be a major revenue spinner. Tourism in Goa has happened naturally, we just need to make it more tourism friendly with basic infrastructure needed for tourism to flourish.
GC: With such a vast background in tourism, it surprising to note that you were not considered for the Tourism Minister portfolio?
ML: I will not deny the fact that I would have liked the tourism portfolio but I am not disappointed because these matters are decided by the people in command; and if they felt that my colleague the current tourism minister is more worthy, then it is their decision. I need to work in building my constituency and making tourism flourish here, with or without government financial support. Like along with some investors, we are creating a 800 cars parking in Calangute on a land purchased by my company in the interest of the locals and tourists.
GC: Your name keeps appearing in the list of probable BJP MLAs who are unhappy with the Parrikar-led government and want to topple the government?
ML: Firstly, let me state this quiet openly that I have no intention of leaving BJP. Secondly, some Congress leaders along with media would like to speculate that because I have been voicing my differences on certain issues with the CM and other members in the government that I am unhappy and want to leave, is not true at all. As a team we are going to have preferences and differences; that happens in all relationships. So it is not a sin to have these differences if everyone in the team wants grow. In the end we must work in the interest of the people of the state and its economic future. And like I said, if I feel that my government is not working in the interest of the people and state, I will object and even come on the streets if I have too. But I will not leave it.