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Last fortnight, the state government of Goa permitted Delta Corp to shift one of its offshore casinos – Deltin Caravela – towards the Veerem side of River Mandovi, where the casino vessel is currently moored. Shortly after that, the government confirmed that two more casinos would be relocated towards the Verem side. The move has predictably become fodder for a fresh political fracas in the coastal state.
Former Ports Minister Jayesh Salgaonkar has vehemently opposed the move. On Saturday, Salgaonkar threatened to go on a ‘Rasta-roko’ protest on the Betim-Calangute road if any of the offshore casinos are relocated towards Verem.
Salgaonkar, who is the Saligao Goa Forward Party (GFP) MLA, said that the people of Saligao and Verem are vehemently opposed to the idea, and he along with the locals would come on the road if needed. “I will close the road if the offshore casino is shifted to the Verem side,” He said, adding, “I have explained to the CM about the (conditions of) roads in the constituency. The roads are used by heavy vehicles to industries and waste treatment plant.”
Salgaonkar reacted to State Ports Minister Michael Lobo’s statement, where he had said that out of six offshore casinos operating in the Mandovi, three would be placed along the Panaji side and three on the Veerem side.
“What is the intention behind getting the casinos in Verem side? There is a promise to remove it from Mandovi and move it to land; so why are you shifting it here Mr Lobo? Who is he (Michael Lobo) pleasing? Who will it benefit? Have they even given a thought to the increase in vehicular traffic if casinos are shifted?” Salgaonkar argued.
“I don’t know whether the government intends to dredge the river before shifting the vessel,” Salgaonkar added, pointing to the adequate dredging measures on the other side of the River Mandovi.
Salgaonkar even pointed out that moving the vessels towards the Betim side of the river would be impractical since they could get grounded during low tide. He warned that he would approach the National Green Tribunal if the government goes ahead with this plan.
More reactions have poured in since. Porvorim MLA Rohan Khaunte has alleged that there is “something fishy” in the shifting deal. Khaunte quoted to the Goa Herald, “Our issue has been to remove the casinos out of Mandovi and not shifting them. I can see some cash flow coming in, I can expect boats will change under the guise of shifting.”
On the other hand, Calangute MLA Agnelo Fernandes has reportedly told local media that he would approach the Court against the government’s decision.
Deltin Caravela is one of the six offshore casinos operating off vessels on River Mandovi. Back in July, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had declared that all such offshore casinos would be relocated to land at the new upcoming Mopa International airport project. Two months later, Ports Minister Michael Lobo announced that the department of ports was being tasked to identify a suitable location on Aguada Bay for relocating the casinos.
In the past, locals have protested against the continued operation of offshore casinos from River Mandovi as they claim they cause severe water pollution. While tidal upheavals have been rocking the boat for these casinos, inadequate dredging of the river near the casino locations has made the river base shallower.
Early last month, Delta Corp had sought the government’s permission to move the Casino Caravela vessel out of its current location, since heavy rolling and pitching caused by tide changes were causing severe discomfort to passengers. According to reports, the company had requested to move the casino to the Betim side of the river. Turning down the request, the government gave the green signal for moving Deltin Caravela towards the Verem side of the river instead.
“I have cleared the file, and the order has been issued by the government allowing change in the location of Deltin Caravela,” State Ports Minister Michael Lobo had said.
Lobo later said that three out of six offshore casinos would be moved towards the Verem side of the river. He explained that the decision was being taken, keeping in mind the demand of Panaji MLA Atanasio Monserrate, who had asked for offshore casinos to be moved out of Mandovi.
While the government’s decision seems to be aimed towards resolving the immediate crisis at hand caused by tidal conditions, the issue has already taken controversial proportions.