School of Thought

Drought shaming IPL won't end Maharashtra's water crisis

Not only should the event be cancelled, the lawns of Raj Bhawan, Mahalakshmi Race Course and the rich must also face the dry spell.

 |  School of Thought  |  4-minute read |   09-04-2016
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In the year 2013, Asumal Sirumalani (who likes to be called Asaram Bapu) decided to defy government ban and went ahead with his planned Holi celebrations in Nagpur's Kasturchand Park. At a time when most parts of the state were facing a severe drought, Asaram's Holi celebrations in Nagpur alone wasted more than 50,000 litres of water. Activists and an outraged civil society were fuming and the media rightly gave them appropriate airtime, for doing which it came under attack from Asaram and his bunch of lumpen followers.

Asaram and his followers defied prohibitory orders and continued to indulge in their water-guzzling celebrations across Maharashtra. An angry intelligentsia rightly debated the futility of his extravaganza where millions waited in vain for several days and walked several miles to get one-fourth of the water they required.

This Holi the Maharashtra government issued instructions to urban local bodies to stop the supply of water to organisers of rain dance and swimming pools. Most municipalities complied to ensure a very low-key Holi citing water shortage in distant Latur and others parts of Western Maharashtra.

The water situation continues to be grim and has particularly worsened in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra affecting millions of farmers whose Kharif crops stand devastated following a massive drought - declared officially by the state government. Of the 39,453 villages of the state, 23,811 have been declared drought-hit.

The BCCI has decided to hold 20 matches across Maharashtra in the current season of the Indian Premier League starting April 9. According to water consumption data from last year's IPL, the three pitches will consume 60 lakh litres of water during the 2016 season.

There have been PILs in the High Court seeking change of venues for the matches to be held in Maharashtra. Public intellectuals have labelled the opposition to the IPL as "the worst kind of tokenism" and found it hypocritical as to why there's no demand to stop watering the huge lawns of the Raj Bhawan or the Mahalakshmi Race Course or empty the swimming pools of the state. Valid arguments.

Only that instead of advocating IPL because there's avoidable wastage of water elsewhere, they need to reverse the argument - because there's an acute water crisis, the impact of which is currently being faced entirely in the rural areas, not only should IPL be cancelled, the lawns of Raj Bhawan, Mahalakshmi Race Course and the swimming pools of the rich should also face the dry spell.

The onus of conserving water cannot be just on the countryside just as the consumption too is not just in the countryside. The drought manual is applicable both on rural as well as urban areas.

The response of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to the severe drought in California is something to learn from. There are strict guidelines regulating watering of gardens and washing cars and driveways.

The issue of equity of water has been debated upon by development professionals for ages. The need for user groups to participate in water governance has also been stressed upon from various international fora. In the absence of streamlined water governance, in developing countries like ours water becomes a source of social power.

There have been welcome articles triggering the inter crop and inter industry equity debate. As my friend Sunil Jain points out, the power-packed water-guzzling sugar cane industry consumes 2,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of sugar. One kilogram of rice takes 5,389 litres of water.

The shifting of sugarcane from Maharashtra to UP and of rice from Punjab to West Bengal will drastically reduce the per kg water consumed. With agriculture accounting for 85 per cent of our water used and 60.4 per cent of our land, it is time for us to do a cost benefit analysis of this sector. In its present form it is increasingly becoming an unviable proposition.

Last May, Californians managed to reduce their water consumption by 29 per cent as against the government stipulation of 25 per cent. Vigilant Californians started a trend of #DroughtShaming celebrities who indulged in wasteful water habits like watering their ranches, lawns et al. Peer pressure forced Barbara Streisand to let her lawn go brown, even as actor Tom Selleck got drought-shamed when he was found taking away water from a fire hydrant for his avocado farm.   

Arguments that essentially revolve around "whataboutery" won't solve the water crisis in Maharashtra and elsewhere. On the other hand, measures like shifting of IPL - howsoever tokenstic they appear - will certainly contribute. According to Indiaspend, the water used for readying the pitches for IPL can provide drinking water for three villages for a month.

Won't IPL undo the spirits of Mumbaikars who showed tremendous sensitivity in downsizing their annual Holi celebrations?


Pawan Khera Pawan Khera @pawankhera

Political Analyst working with the Indian National Congress

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