The power of symbolism

April 16, 2016 02:44 am | Updated November 17, 2021 05:08 am IST

Citing an >acute water crisis in parts of Maharashtra , the Bombay High Court has evicted the Indian Premier League from the State’s cricket stadiums. All matches scheduled for May this season will be relocated, giving the local cricket associations two weeks to make alternative arrangements. There is no doubt that this unusual decision of the court is another instance of arbitrary judicial intervention in the governance space. Also, this ruling will do nothing to solve Maharashtra’s water problems, as the two-member Bench itself admitted; the amount of water used to maintain cricket grounds after all is an insignificant fraction of the State’s water consumption. But if we are prepared to ignore the overreach and the lack of any tangible impact, the Mumbai High Court’s order has succeeded in drawing attention to the seriousness of the drought situation and the gross inequities that prevail in the way people access water. The power and significance of symbolic action should never be underestimated. As for the IPL, the tournament has become so synonymous with excess and >exceptionalism that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is hardly in a position to counsel a sense of proportion. Indeed, it is for this very reason that the IPL provides the perfect target to draw attention to excess and highlight the spreading water scarcity.

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In Latur, where the traditional sources of water have run dry, >Section 144 has had to be imposed to prevent into a water riot. Trains carrying water are now being despatched to Latur. In other parts of India too, there is acute shortage, notably in the Bundelkhand region. The mechanics and the motivation for declaring districts drought-affected remain somewhat arbitrary, but a composite picture of the country with about half the districts classified as such is reason for a paradigm shift in examining how India conserves and uses water. Sure, we are coming off two years of deficient rainfall, but our water-splurging agri-economy needs urgent policy intervention. Live data from the Central Water Commission show that water levels in 91 major reservoirs is alarmingly low, with no water currently in three reservoirs in Maharashtra. The country’s groundwater is over-exploited, especially in the Green Revolution zones. Increase in irrigated acreage is also taking place through use of groundwater. Recalibration of the price support regime and rationalisation of electricity subsidies are required to nudge the farmer towards less water-hungry crops. As Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor of Delhi University and genetics professor, has pointed out, when India exports 1 kg of basmati rice, in effect it exports 5,000 kg of water. India lives by its farm economy — while its share in total GDP may be dropping, the percentage of Indians who depend on it remains extremely high. The country will only begin to make the livelihood of farmers sustainable when it addresses the water crisis and pursues solutions that keep the terms of trade in their favour.

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