Gun barrels replace beer bottles as Goa enters festive mode

December 24th, 2008 - 1:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Dec 24 (IANS) Gun barrels have begun to outnumber beer bottles on the otherwise merrily buzzing beaches of Goa, as the state slipped into Christmas mode with armed bunkers on beaches where khaki clad policemen rubbed shoulders with bare-bodied tourists. Goa will be drastically shorn of its trademark revelry this year, with a blanket ban on beach parties from Dec 23 to Jan 5. According to the police, such parties held in open areas are vulnerable targets for a possible terror attack, which repeated intelligence inputs have warned of.

More than 5,000 personnel including about 700 paramilitary troops, who have been specially requisitioned from the central government, have already been deployed throughout Goa, with the coastal strip accounting for a majority of these forces.

“We have also intensified patrolling and increased surveillance on the beaches,” said Superintendent of Police (CID) Atmaram Deshpande.

Increased policing has turned Goa’s famed beaches into veritable war zones, with bunkers placed strategically on nearly every populous beach. Each bunker is a two square yard patch, secured by a pile of sand bags on all sides, rising up to five feet. Inside these bunkers is an armed police team.

Quite a contrast to the few foreigners tanning themselves on a canopy shaded beach-bed a few feet from the bunker.

“These are the sights one sees in Kashmir. It’s queer, but we are getting used to it,” says Harish Sharma, who has travelled with his family to Anjuna beach in Goa and was surprised by the number of security personnel stationed on the beaches.

An increasing police presence on Goan beaches is inversely related to the number of tourists who travel to the state, according to the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG).

“People used to come up to us and say we are finding policemen with guns on the beaches strange, till some days ago. But now they are coming to terms with reality. You cannot take security lightly,” says TTAG president Ralph D’Souza.

Ralph even finds time and an inclination to laugh off the worries of a miserably strained season.

Asked if the presence of armed security men in the bunkers would be somewhat incongruous and serve as a deterrent to the foreign tourists, who prefer sunbathing on the beach, Ralph quipped: “Hope the guards in these bunkers don’t prefer keeping an eye out for sun bathers, rather than the terrorists.”

A bureaucrat working with the state’s tourism department had this to say about Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal’s visit to Goa on Christmas eve Wednesday for a security review meeting and his exit on Christmas morning: “Wonder what gifts Santa Claus has got us from the home ministry?”

Already in the midst of one the worst tourist seasons ever, Goa is on the edge with the security apparatus in the state being increased manifold in the last few weeks following threats of a possible terror strike by the Al Qaeda or any of its offsprings.

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