That the Mumbai high court came down heavily on the Maharashtra government while disallowing a stay on the first match of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the Wankhede Stadium is pertinent in the context of the controversy generated this week.
After no-balling the IPL — so to speak — on Wednesday, the high court on Thursday was unsparing of the state, saying cricket was not the only issue, rather it was priority in tackling the drought crisis. That should steer a lot of people, who were missing the woods for the trees, in the right direction.
Indeed, the IPL was not germane to the crisis even if it was the focus of the public interest litigation filed by activists. A sports body can’t fight drought, nor should it be expected to. This is the task of the government.
Essentially, it is the poor approach by the state in countering drought that has brought things to this stage.
Those in power in Maharashtra — and for the past seven to eight years, not just the last two — have shown little imagination, expertise, resourcefulness or political will for crisis management.
Playing politics and/or praying for the best has worsened the problem manifold. More than 3,000 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra last year alone. Add figures for previous years and this goes past 10,000.
This makes it a monumental tragedy but the state’s efforts at alleviating it have been distressingly namb-pamby. The high court’s anguish says it all. “How many more people should die?” it asked the state government on Thursday.
And that really is the crux, not to be obfuscated by cricket being obliquely sucked into the controversy. Incidentally, 11 states have been declared drought-affected, and the Supreme Court on Thursday was scathing in the lackadasical approach of governments, in fact warning Haryana not to treat it ‘like a picnic.’
That IPL matches in Maharashtra would use 60 lakh litres is fact. But not playing these matches does not mean that this water would be made available to the drought-affected areas. How, who would do it and who will pay for it?
All field sports are heavily dependent on water for maintenance of grounds. Cricket is not peculiar in this. If anything, hockey (because of the astroturf surface) and golf greens guzzle water even when there is no match or tournament going on. I’m not even getting into areas other than sport where water is used aplenty, for that’s hardly the point.
I think the high court has done a singular service by entertaining the PIL against the IPL because this brought the drought crisis into the national consciousness rather than being discussed on the floor of the assembly to little avail.
But the court’s observations about the IPL, in my opinion, highlight it as a metaphor for the well-to-do who have not felt the severity of the drought and therefore apathetic to the plight of affected farmers. It is not an indictment of cricket or the League.
Nevertheless the BCCI — and particularly the IPL — invites detractors easily: not entirely without reason too, given the erosion in credibility the administration has suffered in public perception in the past few years.
There is wide consternation at the way the BCCI has functioned in recent times. If the sport’s appeal still remains undiminished, it is only because fans haven’t surrendered hope.
Given the massive popularity of cricket, however, it is surprising that the Maharashtra government did not think about leveraging the IPL to address the crisis. For instance, a small levy on ticket prices would have seemed the logical and easiest thing to do.
I have no clue on the government’s ways, but I would have thought the BCCI could have been proactive and ally with the state in providing assistance. Perhaps this can still be done. Some top-of-mind suggestions which might strike a chord with the high court: (a) Donate a corpus from the IPL profits; (b) get franchises to adopt the worst-hit areas for 1-2 years; (c) use star cricketers to spread awareness about water conservation through official broadcasters and other media during the IPL; (d) organise a fund raising T20 match post the IPL between champions West Indies and a World Xl.
That still leaves all of us to play our part in drought relief. The crisis, as mentioned in these columns earlier, too, is grave, made worse by ignorance, inaction and apathy.
Saving even half a bucket a day would be a great start.