In a judgment that has split opinions, the Bombay High Court ruled on Wednesday that cricket grounds in Maharashtra cannot host the Indian Premier League matches post-April 30. As a result, 13 matches scheduled to be played in Mumbai, Pune, and Nagpur in May will have to be played at venues outside the state. In its order, the court observed that if the water that is planned to be used to maintain cricket pitches is diverted to drought-affected areas of the state, the water crisis can be solved to some extent. Quite naturally, the BCCI has argued that it will not be feasible to shift IPL matches out of Pune, which is scheduled to host nine matches this season. Moreover, the two Maharashtra-based franchises are willing to donate Rs 5 crore each towards the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s drought relief fund, the board said. In the past, this column has argued that it is a wise suggestion. It is a question of basic empathy. Farmers have suffered consecutive crop failures due to deficient rainfall. In the past three months, more than 200 farmers across eight districts in Maharashtra committed suicide. Recently, district authorities in Latur were forced to invoke Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to prevent violence over in the drought-hit zone. Under the collector’s order, not more than five people are allowed to gather near 20 water storage tanks until May 31 in order to prevent possible acts of violence. Earlier this week, a train carrying water tanks reached the drought-hit district. But others have contended that people are not dying of thirst because of the IPL. The water crisis in the state is down to the failure of successive state governments to provide basic services to so many millions. Critics of the court’s judgment argue that they have failed to make adequate provisions for decades when rainfall is deficient. Even during seasons when the monsoon is generous, the state apparatus has failed to make enough provisions. Across all three stadia hosting games in Maharashtra, reports indicate that the total amount of water used is estimated to be six million litres. This figure is only 0.2 percent of Mumbai’s daily water supply. Critics have slammed the court’s decision for what they consider to be “tokenism of the worst kind”.
Like any other business entity, the IPL generates employment and provides tax revenue. Admittedly, a lot of fat cats reward themselves with a disproportionate amount of money and other perks through the IPL. But the court is also denying many working-class people, right down to the hawkers selling snacks and souvenirs, a chance at earning a decent income. The court has not quite said how their concerns will be addressed or what will take the IPL’s place. The tax revenue earned through the IPL, besides other sources, is what the government should use to develop the requisite infrastructure so that all citizens have access to water. It’s not the IPL’s mandate to provide water for the State’s citizens. It’s the government’s job, they argue. The current water crisis that has engulfed the Marathwada region only points to a criminal waste of taxpayer money by the government. Moreover, the escalating water crisis in the state is also down to short-sighted considerations that have engulfed its politics and agriculture. In Maharashtra’s sugar belt, which includes the drought-stricken Marathwada region, sugarcane production has been on the rise. For those unfamiliar with agricultural practices, sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop. In 2014-15, a year in which the sugar belt faced a serious drought, it declared record production of sugarcane. It is baffling how a state stricken by drought continues to promote sugarcane plantation. The crop consumes over 70 percent of irrigated water while occupying just 4 percent of the state’s farmland.
Despite the discrepancy and dire water situation, successive state governments have bailed out the sugar industry on numerous occasions with subsidies and loan waivers, instead of incentivising the production of other sustainable crops. Suffice to say, the sugar lobby and the number of local politicians beholden to it have influenced agriculture policy in the State. Without a change in State policy and efforts at revamping the infrastructure for regular water supply, the people will continue to suffer. Although the court has the right intentions, its decision to shift the IPL outside the state may not provide succour to drought-affected areas.