They see a taxi driver with their names on a placard outside the airport and hop into the cab. They get a small pamphlet with instructions about restaurants, pubs and bars managed by Russians. There is the phone number of an exotic boutique selling Russian liquor, canned food and even that black-market stuff and sex toys. It’s a boutique run by a former model from Moscow.
What’s so unusual about all this? Well, the ride to the hotel was pre-booked even before the family boarded the plane. It was done by a travel agency operated by a Russian who runs a business in Goa during the tourist season.
So many such agencies have mushroomed in the state that local taxi operators are miffed.
“They run the hotels. They run the shacks. They even run illegal money exchange businesses and bars. And now the taxis... If the Russians are going to operate taxis, what are we supposed to do,” asked Vasant Shetgaonkar, spokesperson for a taxi operators’ collective.
Recently, more than 100 agitated taxi drivers from Morjim, Mandrem and Arambol met CM Manohar Parrikar and asked him to stop foreigners, especially Russians and Ukrainians, from illegally running these cab services.
“The tourist season is the only time we earn and this will kill our livelihood,” Shetgaonkar said. “We have to take care of our families and shell out Rs 15,000 in installments. For that we need to make money. The Russian taxi service is illegal. They are not entitled to do business here,” he said.
However, as a tourist community, Russians tend to be rather insular, seeking little interaction with the local community; and with Goa’s over-priced taxis, which charge exorbitant sums for small distances, calling a taxi firm operated by a fellow national is the most natural thing to do.
When contacted, Health Minister Laxmikant Parsenkar said that the chief minister had assured the taxi operators that their grievances would be resolved “before the New Year”.
The state government has already banned billboards, signboards and menus exclusively in Russian, which spring up in the north Goa beach belt with the advent of the tourist season.