Michael Lobo: "Our economy is getting better and tourism is flourishing. We are having a good bilateral relationship with your country". Source: Olga Khorkova / Alessandro Belli
When the 2014 Great Live Music festival was cancelled in the last minute in Goa, many fingers were pointed at Michael Lobo, a member of Goa’s legislative assembly from Calangute, who was accused of bringing down the Indo-Russian rock festival at the behest of taxi drivers. RIR spoke to the man at the centre of the storm in a frank interview and asked whether there is an anti-Russian sentiment in the state.
Do Russians have any reason to feel unwelcome in Goa?
We welcome all international tourists including the Russians, whoever is going to boost our economy. There are some Russians who are doing illegal business. When I say illegal businesses, I mean businesses which are meant to be run by the local Goans and the Indians, especially where restaurants are concerned. If they come on a business visa or a work visa, they are welcome to do business in Goa.
From my heart and also as an MLA of this coastal belt, I would say that they are all welcome to do business if they are here on a business visa but if they are here on a tourist visa and if they are trying to take a restaurant on rent and they are trying to put somebody else in front, a local Goan in front and they run it from behind, that is illegal. This is what we are saying should be stopped. They are welcome over here as tourists. They can come as many times they want but they cannot eat into our business.
Are Goans assisting Russians when it comes to illegal business activity?
I am not saying the Russians are doing it by themselves. There are some Goans or Indians who are supporting them in this. So we are trying to crack down on these people, the so called dubious people who are in this tour business or any other business. So we are trying to crack them down so that there will be a clear message also to the Russian tourists who are coming that you cannot get involved in tourist business, this tour business or taxi business or, you know like there has to be some rules and regulations which should be followed properly.
The Goa police also need to make sure the rules are implemented, so you don’t see things like a group of men getting together like all these tourist taxi drivers and taking things into their own hands.
So all Russians are not bad. If five people are doing illegal business, there cannot be 500 who are bad, they are not bad. They are giving us business. Our economy is getting better and tourism is flourishing. We are having a good bilateral relationship with your country.
Many tourists complain about getting cheated by local taxi drivers…
I have told the government to come out with a solution so that no tourist will ever complain that he or she is being cheated by a taxi driver. The chief minister has given 15 days’ time to come out with a point to point rate for taxi drivers.
Has tourism created problems for Goa?
Initially when tourism started, Goa was very beautiful. We were garbage-free because the number of restaurants, shacks and hotels were very less. But now since everything has grown, you can see number of hotels, nobody even dreamt that there would be a hotel in many small places because there used to only be small houses.
How can the situation improve?
We need to have better roads, better footpaths, better electrical poles and illumination on the beach. We need to have good toilet facilities on the beach. We need to have changing rooms.
A state of the art garbage treatment plant will come up in the next year because the land acquisition to set up this plant is almost ready and the plateau where the Calangute garage is being dumped right now will be used for a modern garbage treatment plant, like one we have seen in Germany. We went to three countries, Italy, Austria and Germany. We liked the technology which is used in Germany.
Tourist facilities are also not up to the mark…
When a tourist comes here, he should feel comfortable. He should sit in a good environment. The beach has to be clean which is not right now, I am not very happy with the cleanliness on the beach. So, all these things are very important, as we are projecting Goa as a good tourist destination.
How many years would the Goa government need to see progress in cleanliness initiatives, 5 years, 3 years, 10 years?
As far as my constituency is concerned i.e. Calangute, Candolim, Baga, I am trying my level best. The same way the other politicians should also try. As far as Goa is concerned, we have natural resources but to keep this natural beauty clean and green is our job as politicians and the other peoples’ job as they are getting the money out of the tourism like any hotel industry, is to keep the place clean.
At the same time, it is our responsibility as a government to give them the place to dispose of their garbage. We need a treatment plant for garbage and keep the place clean
So this is finally also the government initiative along with the private people, private businessmen or resort owner, hotelier, restaurant owner, shack owner, everybody is responsible to develop tourism but at the same time, the Department of Tourism plays a major role where I feel that till today, they have failed. They only talk and write on the paper but in reality, it is nothing.
So as for you, so you can tell me how many years you think…?
I will develop my area in another two years; everything will be up to the mark. We will have good footpaths going to the beach, we will have good illumination on the beach, we will have better roads, and we will have good infrastructure for parking and all the other requirements. The garbage treatment plant will be ready by then. Proper collection of garbage will happen. All this infrastructure I will put in place as far as my constituency is concerned because I am only an MLA, I am not a minister of the state.
What do you think of the Indian government’s decision to provide visa on arrival for many foreign citizens including Russians?
I feel that is a very good decision taken by the Indian government as far as opening visa on arrival because when we go to any other country, we have to wait for our visa to come and then sometimes there are delays, so it even takes 15-20 days. In Goa, when a visa is offered on arrival, we can compete with other Asian countries. So definitely, we are going to get more and more tourists.
What do you know about Russian culture and if you have a chance, would you go on holiday to Russia?
Yes, I want to go this year to Russia. I am definitely going to see the whole place, the whole country.
(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity)
All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.