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Russian mafia and not government controls Goa

MUMBAI: If any place in India is top of the mind recall for foreigners, it is Goa - a destination most popular and most known for holidaying. It's among the top 10 holiday places of the world for beach seeking holidayers. Goa has some of the most pristine beaches without doubt. Goa has hence thrived on tourism. But hang on. It may not retain its position for long if the government does not step in and take corrective measures.

While it has got all the trapings of perfect entertainment for holidayers with its innumerable shacks, water sports, adventure sports, India's top party place with Sunburn being the hottest, the rave parties, music, resorts, casinos, fashion, tattoos et al..., it has another facet that is increasingly disturbing: the alarming crime rate, murders, molesting foreigners, rape, drugs, custodial deaths and the list goes on.

While the average Goan is content with making money during the six month season between November and April, they are suddenly waking up to an identity crisis. Most of the businesses that are run in Goa are either illegal or not in order. The land runs on black money. None of the shacks accept credit cards. It's just pay cash.

The drug lords control the beaches and without any doubt in any one's mind, it happens with the connivance of police and politicians. The state government looks the other way, the Income Tax department probably has no real interest here, and the External Affairs Ministry finds it too cumbersome to monitor what is happening in Goa. There is no real data on foreigners buying land in Goa, though, everyone on the street will tell you that some of the properties are owned by foreigners in Goa. Well, for record sake, they are held in the name of a Goan. But that certainly is just a ploy to circumvent the law.

So, who runs Goa then. Ask the average man on the street and they tell you with a knowing smile - the mafia. First it was the Isreali mafia, and now it is the all powerful Russian mafia. Nobody wants to take a chance with them. The political class love it because they don't have to make too much of an effort to make their bucks. All they have to do is support the mafias and then their bank accounts look pretty (well, most of them do not have bank accounts!).

Today it has become so deep rooted that even if the politicians want to back out, it is difficult because the mafias know where the politicians have made investments abroad and their movements are monitored by them. Just to protect their ill-gotten wealth, politicians have to toe the line of the mafia. The police are finding an easy way out because their palms are greased.

There are many examples that stand glaring in front of you, yet no one wants to act on the goings on. The death of 16-year-old British national Scarlett Keeling on February 18, 2008 - her body was found in the waters of Anjuna Beach near Curlies was certainly not an accident. Some powerful groups were involved in the happenings. She, according to police, was seen coming to Curlies, a shack on the Anjuna Beach, regularly to drink and party hoppers knew where to get their drugs. Drugs were and are in free flow in all parts of Goa.Who runs Curlies is common knowledge in Goa. Yet, Goa's home minister Ravi Naik is not willing to take action. Why? Only he can tell.

The drug mafia-police nexus has had all baying for Ravi Naik's blood, especially after the Atala tapes became public. Both the BJP and the NCP are demanding the home minister's ouster, but chief minister Digambar Kamat is unmoved and only ducks the question by the media. It's high time that the Centre intervenes in Goa to make it a safer place for one and all, otherwise it will be too late to do anything.

The goings on in the last few years have not augered well for Goa. The moment you talk about Goa outside of Goa, the first things that people will say is `Wow, what a party place'. Well, it certainly is a happy thing to be known as the most happening place, a lovely party place, for all youngsters love it absolutely. But also with it, Goa has got the dubious distinction of being known as a place of drugs, drinks and sleaze. That has hurt the sentiments of Goans. No well meaning Goan, who is very proud of his rich heritage and culture is able to digest the fact that Goa is being demolished by characters who have become suddenly very powerful with money earned from the mafia.

Goans are themselves to blame for this situation. Most Goan children have gone away to far off desitnations in pursuit of good education, jobs, and opportunities, leaving behind their aged parents and relatives, who are too meek to fight the political system. Many of the shacks and businesses are either owned or run by MLAs and ministers. With literally no instititue of repute for higher education and lack of skills for employment, industry too is unwilling to take a risk to set shop in Goa. The only gainful employment for many Goans come from the marine industry both in Goa and abroad. But no economy can continue to run based on one industry.

It needs to expand to other zones. Goa needs to wake up. Goa needs to follow the example of Singapore in making it a more stable tourism destination, and its political class need to learn to follow the laws and not break them. To start with, a thorough overhaul is required in the way businesses are run, to make it a more conscientious society and bring back Goa's youngsters to live in their homeland for which industry has to come right here to provide high paying jobs. And it's in the hands of the people more than the politicians. It will require a mass movement. Are Goans ready for it? Time will tell.

ramananda.sreenivas@timesgroup.com