We Need To Do Much More Than Moving IPL Out Of Maharashtra To End The Drought

14/04/2016 9:40 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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LATUR, INDIA - APRIL 11: Dried and cracked storage area of the Manjara Dam Project, Dhanegaon which comes under Beed and Usmanabad and supplies 9 nearby regions, from where Latur gets its water supply on April 11, 2016 in Latur, India. Consecutive drought years resulted in acute water scarcity and the agrarian crisis and have its epicentre in three districts of the Marathwada region Latur, Osmanabad and Beed. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

An eight-year-old broke open her piggy bank and donated the contents for drought relief.

A vada pav-seller donated Rs 20,000. A Mumbai school raised Rs 20 lakh. Cricketer Ajinkya Rahane donated Rs 5 lakh. Film star Akshay Kumar donated Rs 90 lakh.

And Aamir Khan donated his face.

In November 2015, the government announced that thanks to the generosity of the mango people, the , the Chief Minister’s relief fund had grown 23 times, from Rs 11 crore to Rs 264 crore. (A fraction of that money was earmarked to fund a dance troupe traveling to Bangkok, but better counsel – or rather, RTI activism and opposition protests – prevailed.)

We are like that. When all is well, we can’t get along even with our neighbors, but in times of trouble we step up to the plate, we do what we can, of our own volition.

But that’s just the people. In March 2013, the Center announced a relief relief package of Rs 1207 crore for Maharashtra. In December 2014, the state government announced a relief package of Rs 7000 crore. In March 2015, the Center sanctioned Rs 2000 crore.

In December 2015, the state government announced plans for a Rs 10,000 crore package. In that same month, the Center sanctioned Rs 3049 crore – after a Central team ‘surveyed’ four drought-struck districts in course of a single day.

That’s just a sampling of what you get when you do a search for ‘Maharashtra + drought + relief’.

In a brutally effective scene from the classic K Balachander movie Thanneer Thaneer, an MLA visits the drought-hit village Athipati to ask for votes in the upcoming elections. “What will you do to solve our water problem?”, the local schoolmaster asks. “See, that is why our government in the Sixth Five Year Plan has allocated Rs 90,000 crore…” “Take a hike,” the schoolmaster interrupts. “What is the point of talking of lakh and crore to people like us who haven’t even seen a 10 rupee note?” (Watch from 1:01 onwards). The film ends with a telling visual of desiccated fields that spout party flags in an assortment of colours.

But, yay good news: The Bombay High Court has ruled that all scheduled IPL games should be moved out of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur from the end of this month.

The court’s decision proves that it is not only politicians who act on the basis of logical fallacies. Fictional bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby set out the politician’s syllogism in the ‘Power to the People’ episode of the television serial Yes, Minister, thus:

We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.

That is to say, Maharashtra is suffering from water scarcity. Cricket grounds use water. Therefore, we must stop the cricket.

Board secretary Anurag Thakur did make some noises off. Vivek Kaul of EquityMaster crunched the numbers to show that shifting IPL matches outside the state wasn’t going to make any appreciable difference. Elsewhere, Girish Shahane argued that the IPL debate was, like so much else in our public discourse, constructed entirely of false binaries.

Reason, however, was never going to work in such a highly charged atmosphere. Juxtapose an image of parched earth with one of the lush green Wankhede outfield, and see how the optics play out.

Aide memoire: On March 10, 2015, the situation was already so bad that MLAs belonging to the BJP and the Shiv Sena were attacking the government run by the BJP and the Shiv Sena over its failure to tackle the drought. And precisely one month later, the Punjab and Rajasthan franchises were playing an IPL league game in Pune – the first of 14 games hosted by Maharashtra that year.

Also in 2015, 96 farmers committed suicide in Pune, out of a record 3,228 suicides across all of Maharashtra.

So much for our waking up, on the eve of the 9th edition of the IPL, to the drought. But as erstwhile ‘President of Banana’ Pervez Musharraf once said, you can’t go forward if you are always looking backward – so enough of history, however pertinent.

Moving on – we have shunted the water-guzzling IPL out of the state, and dissected the pros and cons threadbare on social media. Goody gumdrops. But it’s a new day, and the land remains as parched, so now what to do?

Exactly what we did a year ago – we vacillate, we dither, we flounder, we find new ways to shift the blame, and we hope that somehow, something will happen to make the problem go away.

In February 2016, the BJP government in Maharashtra told the Supreme Court that the BJP government at the Center had not released any funds for drought relief. Around the same time, the state government was busy finalizing a US-based firm to project-manage the proposed 190-meter statue of Chhatrapati Sivaji, to cost an estimated Rs 2000 crore. The government is also busy coping with demands from certain sections that a proposed Ambedkar statue in Bombay should be taller than the one for Sivaji.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court criticized the Central government for delay in disbursement of funds for the MNREGA program, vital to provide alternate employment to the badly-affected farmers; elsewhere, the Asian Human Rights Commission pointed out that funds for the program had been drastically cut. And it is reported that funding for drinking water in rural areas has been drastically cut in the latest budget – that is to say, after a year of crippling drought. And farmers began returning awards in protest.

Earlier this month, the BJP was busy publicizing the ‘fact’ that he previous government was responsible for the drought. Another BJP spokesman suggested that the government’s drought relief measures had failed to stop farmer suicides – which is demonstrably true, only he was speaking of Odisha, where a non-BJP government is in power. (And a Shankaracharya – a member in good standing of our pantheon of motor-mouth ‘godmen’ – went one better, laying the entire blame on those who worship some other godman).

The state’s real problems lie elsewhere. In its politics, rooted in and controlled by the sugarcane lobby. In the rampant construction of dams and reservoirs with neither good planning nor effective management. In toothless water-use laws, aided and abetted by successive governments that have neither will nor inclination to even enforce the few laws that exist.

To understand a problem as complex and as nuanced as recurring drought and its impact on a sizeable section of the population; to think through measures that go beyond the cosmetic; to work to implement such solutions over time, irrespective of which party is in power – that takes political consensus and sustained will, both of which we sadly lack.

And so – yay, IPL banned, problem solved. And the day after, we are left with the question we do not know how to confront: What do we do next?

Tailpiece: To report insightfully on complex issues takes time, and research, and understanding, and empathy. It is far easier to buttonhole some random celebrity and ask for a ‘quote’. Thus, someone apparently decided it was a good idea to ask Virat Kohli, Indian cricket’s latest superstar, for his comments on the drought situation and IPL in Maharashtra.

Kohli’s response is a master-class in using up a lot of words – 54 of them – to say absolutely nothing at all:

"If it is manageable, I am sure they will find a way to work things around and I am sure whatever decision is taken, both sides will come to a mutual agreement and make a good decision because that will be taken in the best interest of looking at both sides of the coin.”

That Kohli channeled his inner Donald Trump – “I know words, I have the best words” – is not surprising. What is he supposed to do when someone asks him damn-fool questions he is neither qualified nor positioned to answer? What beats me is that someone thought this worth taking down and reproducing, verbatim.

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