Panaji, March 17 (IANS) Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat Tuesday denied the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) charge that senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel had asked him to raise the ceiling on the number of offshore casinos in the state.
'Neither Ahmed Patel, nor any other Congressman from Delhi called me in connection with any casino related matter,' Kamat told a press conference here.
On Monday, opposition leader Manohar Parrikar claimed that Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, had telephoned Kamat and pressurised him to increase the number of casinos in Goa from seven to nine. The BJP leader demanded a vigilance inquiry.
'I refute these charges. There is no truth in them,' Kamat said, adding that Parrikar was making the allegations because Lok Sabha elections were around the corner.
However, despite repeated questions from the media, the chief minister was unable to say exactly how many offshore casinos would be allowed to function.
'My top priority right now is to ensure that the casinos move from the Mandovi river into the sea. In my personal opinion, the casino vessels should go at least two nautical miles into the sea,' Kamat said.
The chief minister's 'personal opinion' is, however, not reflected in the cabinet decision that directs the casinos to move from the Mandovi river to a distance of up to one nautical mile into the sea from Panaji.
'As long as the casinos move out of the Mandovi into the sea, the government has no moral or legal issues in increasing the number of offshore casinos,' Kamat said.
Ever since the first offshore casino vessel was introduced in Goa nearly a decade ago, the state government has maintained that the number of offshore casinos in Goa would be limited to five.
While there are five casinos at present operational in the Mandovi river, two other casino operators have already been issued licences in contravention to the government's publicly stated offshore casino policy.
Kamat acknowledged that the state had departed from its policy but did not specify the exact number of offshore casinos after which the state government would stop issuing licences.
'I cannot say that right now. There are 22 applications pending with the government,' Kamat said.
The opposition has had the Congress-led coalition state government on the mat after accusing the Chief Minister's Office, the state's home minister and several bureaucrats, including former chief secretary J.P. Singh, of allegedly receiving kickbacks for issuing licences and clearances for offshore casino vessels.
Parrikar also alleged that the Chief Minister's Office and J.P. Singh had telephoned Goa's Customs and Central Excise Commissioner C. Mathur to release casino vessel MV Casino Royale, which was being probed for duty evasion.
Mathur had confirmed Parrikar's claims.