Dark shadow over Sunburn, three die at Goa fest
Yet another tourist visiting the controversial yet popular EDM (electronic dance music) festival Sunburn in Goa collapsed and died after being rushed to a hospital, taking the toll of deaths that took place in and around the venue of the festival to three and prompting a heated political debate over the availability of drugs in the coastal tourist destination.
Sandeep Kotta, 24, a resident of Bengaluru, was shifted to hospital in an unconscious state from the Sunburn venue at Vagator beach in Goa on Sunday evening but died while undergoing treatment, the police said.
According to eyewitnesses, Kotta complained of uneasiness before collapsing.
Kotta is the third visitor to the EDM music venue to die. On the first day of the festival, two friends — Sai Prasad Malayala and Venkat Satyanarayana, both from Andhra Pradesh — collapsed while waiting in a queue to enter the venue and were declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
To be sure, police are yet to confirm the cause of deaths, but the age of the dead — Kotta was 24, Malayala, 30, and Satyanarayana, 24 — and the fact that the festival has always been a bit of a politically sensitive issue have been enough to see politicians enter the debate.
“Do we really need events like Sunburn to promote tourism? Can we not redefine our priorities in this sector? Let’s ponder,” Rajendra Arlekar, a former minister, speaker and senior figure in the BJP, tweeted.
His comments come after chief minister Pramod Sawant said the government supports events such as Sunburn solely to promote tourism in the state.
Opposition parties have blamed the rampant availability of narcotics in the state for the deaths, which they claim appear to be on account of an overdose.
“Today’s unfortunate incident has vindicated the stand of the Congress party that the narcotic drug trade in Goa is flourishing with the blessing of the ministers, MLAs and office bearers of the party with a difference,” state Congress president Girish Chodankar said.
Goa is governed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
However, the police, while not ruling out that the deaths are due to drug overdose, are awaiting the final report of the post mortem inquiry to ascertain the cause of death. Doctors at the Goa Medical College and Hospital have reserved their verdict on the cause of death in the case of the first two who succumbed, pending analysis of the viscera which has been sent to a forensic laboratory outside the state. The final report could arrive in eight days, the police said.
The Congress, alleging a cover up to protect the event’s image, has demanded that a special investigation team be set up to probe the deaths.
The Goa Police have denied that drugs are freely available at the venue of the festival.
“The ANC (Anti Narcotics Cell) has developed and trained a very capable dog squad with two highly trained sniffer dogs for drug detection. Drug sniffer dogs have been deployed for the first time in a public event at Sunburn to scan the premises of the venue and detect use of drugs. Three undercover teams of ANC were deployed inside the venue for active detection,” superintendent of police Shobit Saxena said.
He added that the police were “successful in prevention and no case of drug abuse has been reported.”
Goa’s tourism minister Manohar Ajgaonkar, who himself attended the music festival and was filmed grooving to the music in a video that has since gone viral, has also stoutly defended the event and insisted that: “we cannot focus on the two deaths and ignore the 50,000 people who were enjoying at the festival”.
“We are pained at the deaths. We are aware that we have to care for the tourists who come to Goa. We do not yet have the report over why they have died. If it is indeed that they have died because of drugs then we have to be alert,” Ajgaonkar said.
Sunburn is a decade old music festival that began in Goa before moving to other cities. This year’s event, Sunburn Klassique, is an offshoot of the main brand. The three day event which concluded on Sunday drew several high profile performers and DJs who performed across the three day festival at Vagator in North Goa.