Bombay High Court questions hosting IPL matches in drought-hit state
The Bombay High Court has sought an explanation from the BCCI and the three state associations in Maharashtra on why water should be "wasted" on hosting IPL 2016 matches when the state is facing one of its worst-ever droughts. After making a series of stinging remarks questioning the BCCI's priorities, the board's counsel sought time to prepare a contingency plan and the case was adjourned till April 7.
The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Loksatta Movement, a Hyderabad-based NGO, which wanted the IPL matches, scheduled to be held in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, relocated following a severe state-wide drought in recent months.
The court has asked the BCCI and the concerned state associations - the Mumbai Cricket Association, the Maharashtra Cricket Association and the Vidarbha Cricket Association - to give "a detailed account" of the amount of water that will be needed for the tournament. However, no orders have yet been passed by the court.
The division bench of Justices VM Kanade and MS Karnik observed "that this entire thing (of the utilisation of water for IPL matches) needs to be thought over". The court also reportedly asked the BCCI counsel whether "cricket matches were more important than people or preserving water".
Overall Maharashtra is scheduled to host 20 matches in the ninth edition of the IPL. Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai will host eight matches, including the tournament opener on April 9 and the final on May 29. Nine matches have been allotted to the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium in Pune, including the Eliminator on May 25 and Qualifier 2 on May 27, while three matches will be played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur, designated as home games for Kings XI Punjab.
Arshil Shah, the advocate appearing on behalf of the petitioner, said: "We argued that there is absolutely no water available in areas like Latur and Parbhani [districts]. People are fighting over water. It is a severe law-and-order situation. In such times, the court observed it would be a criminal waste of water for cricket matches to be held in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur." According to Shah, the BCCI and the IPL "have the means and resources" to shift matches out of Maharashtra.
In the original PIL filed in court, Shah had noted: "The state is going through the worst kind of drought in a century and is facing acute water shortage. There is already a scarcity of drinking water and for sanitation purposes, but the state government, Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation have not raised any objection to the proposed wastage."
The BCCI, represented by the law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, argued that water used for watering grounds and pitches is tanker water and therefore should not be mistaken for drinking water.
BCCI officials refused to comment after the case was adjourned. At a sponsor event on Tuesday, however, IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla had ruled out moving matches out of Maharashtra.
"We are with the farmers of Maharashtra, and will look to help them in all possible ways. If the Maharashtra government brings a proposal (in this regard), then the BCCI president, all of us, will think in what way we can help the farmers," Shukla said. "And I, through my MPLAD [Members of Parliament Local Area Development] fund, am going to personally adopt some villages in Marathwada [one of the regions hit hardest by the drought].
"If the water needed to irrigate two or three grounds were to solve the problem of Maharashtra's farmers, then I can't understand that. I don't think this [saving water by shifting matches] would serve any purpose. Sport is a different thing, it needs little water. Farmers need huge amount of water. All political parties should come together to deal with this crisis."
BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur said that shifting matches at the last minute was not easy and could result in financial losses.
"I think we need to look at the overall situation. If stopping IPL matches is going to help we need to debate on that and we can look into various aspects but it is not easy to shift matches at the last minute," Thakur said during an interaction on a social media website. "What we have faced in the India-Pakistan game during the World Cup it has brought a bad name to India. Shifting of the matches at the last moment doesn't help anyone but it [has brought] a lot of losses not only financially but a loss of face as well."
Raunak Kapoor is a presenter at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @RaunakRK