While the rape and murder of Scarlett Keeling has led to Britain updating its travel advisory to Goa, on March 7, other countries like the US, Japan, Russia and Israel have all separately questioned the Goa Tourism Ministry with concern.
Foreign offices of the above countries have written to the Goa Tourism Minister Mickey Pacheco asking why they shouldn’t issue travel advisories declaring Goa unsafe.
“In the wake of frequent foreigner deaths, and with causes of over 50 such deaths in the last five years still remaining a mystery (still awaiting laboratory reports), and reports of a thriving drug mafia, I’m being asked questions about action taken.
The foreign offices of Britain, US, Japan, Russia and Israel have all written to me about Goa turning into a unsafe tourist destination,” Pacheco told. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in London has already dashed cautionary messages to their clients traveling to foreign countries.
Pachecho added that he would constitute a tourism task force to allay their fears. And while the tourism ministry is trying its best to prevent Goa’s image from being maligned as an unsafe destination, the home ministry in Goa has blamed the tourists themselves. With the Scarlett case generating interest with questions being asked, not just about the deceased, but now also about her mother Fiona’s past — the Goa government does not have a clear answer.
However, Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat does not think tourism will be affected due to a few isolated cases, which, he said, had been blown out of proportion by the media. He said, “Goa has always attracted tourists from different parts of the world and is safe as always.”
Kamat had earlier controversially said that foreign women tourists had to be careful, and that they couldn’t just do these things and then blame the government for the consequences. On this, he clarified that all he meant was that as ‘we’ take precautions when visiting a foreign country, tourists visiting Goa needed to be cautious too.
Meanwhile Goa home minister Ravi Naik told that he was in the possession of a criminal investigation department (CID) report which highlighted the fact that foreign tourists wore beach outfits even while walking down the Anjuna market road stretch.
“These foreigners also use their children as carriers to transport drugs,” Naik said, blaming Fiona Mackewon of using her children for the purpose. The home minister accused Scarlett’s mother Fiona of having drugs on her while making a trip to Karnataka. “This will soon be proved,” he said. Fiona has denied this.
Though Naik, who has been accused by Fiona of trying to hush up the case to protect a few influential people (read drug mafia), refuses to acknowledge that Goa has turned into a hotspot for the drug cartel, he claims that it was always the tourists who were involved. “The involvement of tourists is evident from the fact that nearly half of the people arrested in narcotics cases are foreigners,” he said.
The inspector general of Goa Kishan Kumar said, “In 2007, the death toll from drug abuse was 59. And 55 foreigners died in the previous year,” Kumar said. Records however reveal that in half the cases, touching 350 in the last five years, the cause of death still remains unknown since the viscera report is yet to received.
“In 2008, the number of cases sent for viscera analysis is six of twelve deaths,” the head of forensic medicine, Goa Medical College (GMC) Dr Silvano Sapeco said. All the cases were referred to laboratories in Hyderabad and Mumbai, because drug abuse was suspected.
“All these cases pertain to foreigners,” Sapeco said. The viscera report establishes whether death was due to presence of drugs or poison in the stomach. Goa does not have such a laboratory. “Till reports arrive, it is difficult to invoke Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (murder),” Nerlon Albuquerque, the police official suspended in the Keeling case, said.