Casinos out of sight, out of mind: Goa chief minister

June 6th, 2009 - 5:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Panaji, June 6 (IANS) Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat Saturday said once the six offshore casino vessels were shifted out of the Mandovi river and away from sight, public protests over the issue would stop.
“Out of sight is out of mind. Right now people are protesting because they see the casinos in the Mandovi river. Once they (vessels) move away out of sight into the sea, I don’t think there will be any problem,” said Kamat, when peppered with questions from the media on the contentious offshore casino issue, during the second anniversary celebrations of his government.

The six offshore casinos have been the subject of a series of controversies, allegations of scams and protests, both from civil society and the opposition parties, who have opposed the Goa government’s decision to have an unlimited number of casinos dotting the waters around Goa.

Kamat instead maintained that the purpose of the offshore casinos was to further his “government for the aam aadmi (common man)” policy, which he said formed the fulcrum of his philosophy of governance.

“The casinos benefit the government, and hence benefits the aam aadmi. The money received from the casinos can go into the social sector. How else do you reimburse money for the social sector?” he said, adding that the state government was earning Rs.5 crore (Rs.50 million) annually from the casinos by way of licence fee and entertainment tax.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) however, took strong objection to the chief minister’s approach. “It only speaks about how casual the chief minister is in his approach. He is only pulling wool over the people’s eyes. Administration has never been a serious matter in the Digambar Kamat regime,” BJP state spokesperson Govind Parvatkar told IANS.

“The comment ‘out of sight is out of mind’ only goes to show that Kamat is only bothered about his chair. He is simply not bothered about the ill effects of casinos, which will ruin Goan society,” Parvatkar said.

Leader of opposition Manohar Parrikar has already accused Home Minister Ravi Naik of receiving heavy kickbacks for granting casino licences. He has also accused officials from the chief minister’s office and the ex chief secretary J.P. Singh of pressurising the Goa customs commissioner Chandrahas Mathur into releasing a casino vessel, which was being probed for duty evasion.

Civil society groups like the Aam Aadmi Aurat against gambling (AAAG) and the Baliancho Saad have also been carrying out a series of protests against offshore casinos and the ills which accompany state-endorsed gambling.

“Introducing organised gambling to fund the social sector is not a valid argument,” AAAG convenor Sabina Martins said. President of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) Ralph Fernandes has already expressed apprehension about Goa being now branded as a gambling destination, as against a family tourist destination which the coastal state has been promoted as over the years.

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