The clouds on recent controversy over the “Watermark” has now seemed to have cleared and the verdict of Government has come out on Tuesday stating that the floating restaurant was running illegally without the approval from any competent authorities and that no permission had been granted to the said restaurant, which was anchored in the River Mandovi.
According to the sources, the newly appointed Minister for the Ports Mr. Micheal Lobo has brought to the notice of the course that the permission was granted only for a floating pontoon by the Captain of Ports and not for the Floating Restaurant. Lobo also stated that No Objection Certificate was given to build a jetty (along the River Mandovi) opposite the statue of the former chief minister Dayanand Bandodkar.
‘Watermark’ floating restaurant is owned by Trivesh Ajgaonkar, the son of Tourism Minister Manohar ‘Babu’ Ajgaonkar, along with his partners, Gokul Kumar, and Pankaj Shetty. With a design similar to a ship, the restaurant cum bar has three levels – an intimate upper deck, a lower deck for live music, and a kitchen at the base.
In the month of March, the government officers had assured that the final nod to run the restaurant will be given only once all the criteria were fulfilled by the proprietors including obtaining No Objection certificates from the Directorate of Fire & Emergency Service and the Food and Drugs Administration.
However, in the month of June, a complaint was filed by an activist, Kashinath Shetye with the GCZMA, alleging that the ‘Watermark’ operators illegally put up the floating pontoon along the banks of the River Mandovi without obtaining the CRZ clearance.
Following the instructions from the member secretary of the GCZMA, an inspection of the site where the vessel had been docked, was supposed to be carried out by GCZMA’s two expert members- Dr. Prabhakar Shirodkar and Engineer Audhoot Bhonsle. However much to the dismay of the duo, when they visited the site for inspection, they found that the vessel had made a disappearing act the previous night before any action could be taken on the violators. Now, only an advertisement board and the illegal 50-meter long wooden pontoon deck that connected to the vessel bears witness to the illegal act.
Nilkanth Halarnkar, a BJP MLA, questioned Lobo as to whether the No Objection Certificates from CRZ authority as well as the Corporation of the City of Panaji were obtained, Lobo only stated that it is mandatory for the company to obtain NOC from other concerned authorities as applicable.
‘Watermark’ was inaugurated by the Chief Minister along with the Tourism Minister Mr. Babu Azgaonkar on May 7 in the presence of many legislators. The vessel had ‘disappeared’ from the River Mandovi last month, and was found at Amona, which is a part of the constituency of the Chief Minister, Pramod Sawant.
It is important to note that while an activist could manage to track the illegal operation, the authorities failed to act, which gives rise to the question, whether the officials of GCZMA and other government agencies, abetted its illegal operation.The disappearing act of the restaurants only points out that the owners were on the wrong footing with the law.
Tourism has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years, thus contributing a major chunk of income to the State’s economy. However, the State has failed to streamline tourism, giving fly-by-night operators to escape without paying their dues to the State. The signs of degradation in the tourism sector and the ill effects associated with it are already visible. It is high time that the government comes out with a strong regulatory mechanism and guarantees that the rule of law is adhered to by one and all.
Today, the most pertinent question to be asked is, “Will the government authorities allow the management of ‘Watermark’ to escape the law or will they make sure that the people behind this sordid saga are brought to book for violation of the law?”
The answer lies with the State Government and one can only hope that stringent laws are put in place to be followed by all.