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In Goa’s party hubs, nightlife takes a pause as election code plays out

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Panaji: The music has stopped, the lights have dimmed and pubs and bars are ushering their clients out. It is just 11pm but in the party hubs of Goa, the nightlife has come to a pause. With the election code inforce, in the state’s coastal belt, the party has ended even before it began.
“I don’t know whether we should celebrate elections or Easter,” says Greg Furtado, owner and partner of Cohiba, a popular nightclub at Sinquerim.

Christmas and Easter have been the biggest crowd pullers, but with Easter—April 21—being one of the three dry days before Goa votes on April 23, the spirit is lost in this party belt.

“Because of strict warnings by the excise department and police, most places have started serving the last drink at 10.30pm, though they’re allowed to serve alcohol till 11pm. Nobody wants to have their licences suspended,” says a tourism stakeholder from South Goa.

It is not just the nightclubs and bars that are losing business—a rough estimate says it is down by 50%— but even those who depend on them like musicians, DJs, small stalls that serve food all night and taxi operators have been affected.

“Tourists have stopped moving around at night,” says a taxi owner.

Shack Owners Welfare Society general secretary John Lobo says there is an urgent need to relook at restrictions at tourist destinations like Goa. “What do tourists have to do with elections,” he asks.

“People sitting in Delhi do not understand what is going on in Goa. The coastal belt of Calangute-Candolim is a tourist destination. Almost 99% of the clientele in shacks and bars are tourists. There are hardly any locals. So, to stop alcohol sales at 11pm is not justified. Tourists are simply buying liquor and drinking in their rooms,” says Lobo.

There is the rent and salaries to be paid, they complain. “We have employees… how do we sustain ourselves. Standalone businesses that have high operating costs should be exempted,” says Furtado.

“The government should also explain how we should pay our staff,” says an operator of a well-known nightclub in North Goa.

And then there is the alleged harassment. “After 10pm, police come to establishments that operate out of high rent premises and start recording. People come to Goa to have a good time. During the day they visit the beach and take a nap in the afternoon and evening. They wake up at 9pm and then go out to party. But now they cannot party late,” says Desmond Oliveira, an event organizer from Arpora.

Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) former president Francisco de Braganza says these curbs have created a negative perception of the state. “Goa is known as a party destination and many of the tourists are youth who come to enjoy. They will stay away during this period,” he says.

Braganza feels that there is a need to relook at imposing curbs in places where the literacy and per capita income is above average. “In states like Goa, a voter cannot be induced with alcohol and an exemption can be made under these parameters,” he says.

Deputy speaker and Calangute MLA Michael Lobo, who owns a couple of 24×7 bars and restaurants, also reckons that there should be a way out. “For the sake of tourism, we must declare certain areas as ‘special zones’, where everything is open all the time, as has been proposed at Mopa,” he says.

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