Releasing water only for the Shahi Snan (bath) at the Kumbh Mela in Nashik will deprive lakhs of people and livestock of drinking water, the Bombay high court said on Monday and directed the Maharashtra government to reconsider its decision to release 1,000 million cubic (TMC) feet of water for the Shahi Snan on September 18.
“It cannot be disputed that there is water scarcity in the entire state,” said the division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice VL Achliya. “Prima facie, releasing water only for the Shahi Snan is not only contrary to the water policy laid down by the state government and the Union of India, but also defeats the fundamental right of citizens to access to drinking water,” the bench said.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Hiralal Desarda, visiting professor at Gokhale Institute of Politics and Law, questioning the release of a large quantity of water from Gangapur dam in Godavari for the Shahi Snan. The Pune-based activist submitted that the water was being released merely for the holy dip at a time when all of Maharashtra was facing an acute water shortage. Desarda pointed out that a town like Latur was getting drinking water just once in 20 days.
The judges noted that the water policy adopted by the state government laid down priorities on the use of water – giving first priority to drinking over all other usage, and releasing water only for the Shahi Snan was contrary to the policy. Therefore, they said, the petitioner was right in terming the release as illegal.