Entire tankers full of water are currently being pressed into service to ensure cricket grounds in Maharashtra are in a position to host Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. But all the tankers in the state still can't quench the parched throats of Marathwada.
And though the water, which came from local sources in urban areas, can't be sent to rural Marathwada, the BCCI could well afford to send several tankers of water to the region's drought-hit districts.
A cartoon in The Hindu eloquently explains the issue. It shows a family from the rural countryside, perhaps Marathwada, looking out for a tap. Any tap would do, even one with just a trickle of water flowing down. Meanwhile, a pair of suited-up gentlemen collect what appears to be cash flowing out of a tap. The pitch is the IPL, the taps are the stumps. The context is trying to draw a direct link between villagers dying of thirst and simultaneous wastage of water.
By the cricket board's admission, about 40-60 litres of water would be used up for watering the pitches and the grounds, three of which are in Maharashtra. The Bombay High Court has expressed its displeasure with the BCCI for this wanton wastage of precious water, even though the BCCI contended that the water it uses for watering the grounds aren't potable or drinking water. This argument is untenable. When drought its you, it means total and absolute unavailability of water, even non-potable water. The non-potable water can also be of great use at drought-affected areas.
The crisis has not overtaken state capital Mumbai yet, but water has become scarce. Neighbouring Thane district has begun feeling the pinch, an understatement considering there are 60-hour spells of continuous water cuts here.
The other argument is that pitches have already been made and only require maintenance, which is also silly, because, despite being aware of the looming crisis, the grass has been laid in the stadium.
The way bodies like BCCI look at issues like drought in Maharashtra is an indication of the disregard they have for citizens’ concerns. It is like refusing your maid a canister of water to take home even as you luxuriate under the shower. During Wednesday's hearing at the high court, expressions like criminal waste of water were used, and at one point, the bench even suggested shifting matches to venues outside Maharashtra. Where, hopefully, water was available in plenty.
Both IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla and BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur indicated that shifting the matches outside the state would not be an easy task. This response indicates that they have no contingency plan in place, which means they had not thought of the water issue at all.
This disconnect between the victims of acute, perhaps even unprecedented, water scarcities across an entire region, and those who have access to water in abundance, is disquieting. The latter category would not understand what it is like to not have water at the turn of a tap. People in Marathwada are actually migrating, hospitals in Latur are not performing surgeries, and even water that comes in through tankers could be of questionable quality.
While the Bombay High Court was asking tough questions, the Supreme Court was hearing petitions on why the Centre didn't activate the drought manual of its own authorship. These should come as music to the ears of the drought-stricken villagers. However, they should be aware, being frequent victims of the vagaries of nature, that whatever governments do, relief will not be immediate.
The only relief would be when monsoon brings good, timely rains and fills up rivers from bank to bank and each and every reservoir, including the village ponds. They await that, but the questions that the court asked should make them aware that even if not the government, the courts are aware of their plight.