Panaji, Feb 17 (IANS) With no concrete decision on the identification of a new site for the six offshore casinos parked on the Mandovi river off Panaji, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant on Wednesday said that the glitzy vessels will continue to be anchored in the river for six months.
Sawant is the state’s fourth successive Chief Minister after late Manohar Parrikar and Laxmikant Parsekar (both led BJP-led coalition governments) and former Congress CM Digambar Kamat who have been unable to take a formal decision on the relocation of the six offshore casinos to other parts of the state.
Sawant told reporters on Wednesday that the six-month extension, allowing the casinos to stay put on the Mandovi river, had been cleared by the state cabinet because “till now, no decision has been taken” on their relocation.
“Six-month extension to casinos has been given. (They will remain) where they are,” Sawant said.
Offshore casino operators, including the Deltin Group which runs two offshore casinos, Deltin Royale and Deltin JAQK, have declined to comment on the development.
The latest six-month extension follows a string of identical decisions taken by successive governments spanning a little less than a decade. After years of allowing only one offshore casino to operate in the Mandovi river for around 10 years, the Congress-led coalition government from 2007-12 adopted a more liberal — but heavily criticised — licencing regime, allowing more casino vessels to drop anchor in the river.
It was Manohar Parrikar, then an opposition leader and Panaji MLA, who took the battle to the casino industry demanding the removal of the casinos from the river, leading to several agitations.
Once in power, however, Parrikar made a U-turn on the issue. But the demand for removal of the cluster of offshore casinos, which led to overcrowding of Panaji and traffic jams, continued from civil society groups as well as new opposition faces.
With the mining industry on a downswing, the casino industry — Goa has six offshore and nine onshore casinos — is one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. In the past, offshore casino operators had also approached the courts against a decision of the erstwhile Digambar Kamat-led government to relocate the casinos to another location along the coastline, saying the ships which house the casinos were fit for being parked in rivers and would not match the rigours of the rough seas.
The Goa government’s Captain of Ports Department has shortlisted three options for relocation of the casinos, namely in the Zuari river in South Goa, Chapora river in North Goa and another location up the river mouth in the Mandovi itself. But protests from local villagers have led to further delay in the decision-making.
Casinos have been a consistent election issue over the last decade and more, with the opposition parties listing doing away with the offshore casinos as a key poll issue. But as the latest six-month extension given by the Goa government suggests, it does not appear that the offshore casinos will be shifted out of their anchorage just yet.
“Things have reached such a point that politicians from all the parties have been acclimated to the casino industry. The criticisms are just on paper. This government is continuing with the casinos, because they are a great source of revenue for the party in power,” Congress spokesperson Trajano D’Mello said.