Opinion: IPL water controversy proves common senses least common among TV anchors

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Updated: Apr 09, 2016 10:31 AM

The IPL water controversy proves that common sense is least common amongst TV anchors and politicians

“People are dying— and you want to maintain cricket pitches” asked an over-excited TV anchor. But not as morally excited as the learned justices of the Bombay High Court who opined that (as quoted in the media  “that this entire thing (of the utilization of water for IPL matches) needs to be thought over”. The court also apparently asked the BCCI counsel whether “cricket matches were more important than people or preserving water”. An important question.

The first answer to this question, especially to immoral thinking economists and those with a modicum of common sense, is to ask a related question—what alternative use is there for water, and what is its’ price? In the desert, water is worth a lot; and it is also worth a considerable amount in drought prone areas. An average person consumes 150 litres of water per day, or 54,000 litres per year. Assume that a sixth of the population of Maharashtra (around 20 million) has no access to any water for half a year—i.e. Maharashtra needs to supply (transport) to the drought areas 540 billion litres of water. The IPL matches in Maharashtra are estimated to use 6 million litres of water for watering the grounds. But that is an estimate of a corrupt capitalist (and therefore dishonest BCCI)—so let us double the stated amount. So the honourable justices, and the oh-so-moral Loksatta Party that brought the PIL against IPL, and our so learned TV tripping (as in TRP) anchors believe that saving .002% of water will alleviate the water misery of 20 million people. It is not for nothing that my column is called No Proof Required—moving the IPL will only provide water for 400 people for half a year.

The Financial Express editorial “IPL vs Sugarcane” (April 8, 2016) illustrates the utter stupidity of the position that less cricket matches in Maharashtra will “solve” the water shortage problem. If policy makers were serious about alleviating water shortages for the poor, then they will first blame themselves for the stupidity, if not depravity, of the policies they have pursued. In particular, look at water-guzzling sugarcane. Maharashtra encourages the growing of sugarcane; in 2015/16, the estimate of sugar output in Maharashtra is 10 billion kgs. Each kg of sugar uses 2,000 litres of water—or, total water for sugar usage in Maharashtra is 20 trillion litres. You do the math—as the FE editorial hints, the savings from no IPL matches are not even a drop in the ocean of water used by the sugarcane growers of Maharashtra. By creating a moral song and dance about the IPL, the immoral elite only proves to the world that it is intellectually dead.

Neither drought, nor poverty, is new to Maharashtra, First and foremost, the responsibility of delivering much needed water to all its citizens (and not just the wealthy) lies with the state administration. What was the BJP in Maharashtra, in particular Chief Minister Fadnavis, doing for the last two years? Doing nothing, of course, except banning beef and moralising about the need to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai in parliament, and elsewhere. What could he have done, and given that he has not done it, what can he do now? Basic water needs of humans (150 litres a day) can easily be transported to the drought hit areas on a daily basis and expenses paid from all the taxes collected by the state. What is the problem, and why hasn’t this solution been offered, and used?

The (non) agricultural policy at the Centre has distorted the food market for decades. The Punjab economy is in a mess because of too much rice production in that state. The Maharastra economy is in a mess because of production of too much sugarcane. According to Shah (counsel for the trend setting Loksatta Party), the BCCI and the IPL “have the means and resources” to shift matches out of Maharashtra. But the state does not have the means, and/or political desire, to transport water to its poor drought hit citizens?

The IPL versus water controversy raises a lot of non-sequitur issues, and especially the contention that morality has anything to do with it. The need of the hour is to conserve water, and herewith some people who should be honoured for suggesting (moral) rules for water conservation. The top prize goes to Moralist # 1, Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, who has recently banned the sale and consumption of all alcohol (except foreign made liquor) in Bihar. Note what a far-sighted and water saving this policy is. No beer will be sold, so less toilet water needed for flushing beer piss.

Moralist number 2 award goes to that ever thoughtful and far-sighted Pahlaj Nihalani, the man in charge of the film censor board. Sensitive to the IPL and drought conflict, he recently gave a U/A rating to a remake of a children’s film Jungle Book. A U/A rating means that children below the age of 12 have to be accompanied by an adult. His reason for the U/A rating (and I am not making this up) was that the 3-D effects were too scary for children sitting alone. Note how very subtly Mr. Nihalini is helping the water cause. Less children screaming means less water is needed to calm them down afterwards, and this saved water can be directed to Maharashtra via the BCCI headquarters and the Bombay High Court, both in Mumbai.

Herewith some other Nitish-Nihalini (NN which can also stand for No and No) sensible policies to help lessen the need of water, and therefore help farmers and ordinary people in the drought hit areas of Maharashtra (and elsewhere).

Recommended policy # 1: Stop asking people to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Think about it—500 million people not saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai on a daily basis will save enough water, through less thirst, to flood Latur.

Recommended policy # 2—Not only recommended, but practiced in Fadnavis land—Maharastrians were asked to have a muted Holi celebration to save water. Of course, if Holi were not a Hindu festival, Holi would have been banned.

Recommended policy # 3: Mr. Fadnavis could help the poor citizens of his state, and improve governance, if he removed the ban on the slaughter of old cows (above 16 years of age). Water consumption will go down, though, as a Supreme Court 2005 judgement noted, manure production will also go down (this was the primary reason why the honourable Court banned the killing of all cows, regardless of whether they were less or more than 16 years of age).

Some questions remain: Why did the honourable court not throw out the morally juvenile petition of Loksatta? And why the argument that the IPL should pay for drought relief? What sense does that make? This makes as much sense as putting an environmental tax on the purchase of cricket bats because trees have been felled. Paraphrasing Peter, Paul and Mary: Where has common sense gone, and when will they ever learn?

The author is contributing editor,The Financial Express, and senior India analyst, The Observatory Group, a New York based macro policy advisory group. Twitter @surjitbhalla

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