Water water everywhere

April 20, 2016

A woman collects water from a spring at Raichi Wadi, a drought-hit village 120km north-east of Mumbai, on April 12 (AP)

A court in India has recently ordered the shifting of cricket matches out of the state of Maharashtra, which is facing severe drought.

Why waste water on cricket pitches when there is not enough to drink, it asked. Can the local government take a different approach?

Every crisis, particularly when it comes again and again, brings back memories of the way similar situations were handled years ago.

As India passes through yet another water crisis, the face of a man pops up from memory. The way he dealt with a similar crisis in the southern state of Karnataka, many years ago, will serve as a good lesson in crisis management. The scarcity conditions then and now are not very different.

The only exception being that the game of cricket had not become the heartbeat of the nation and, certainly, not entertainment.

This is the story a man who silenced his critics from the Congress, which was then a powerful party, with a statement for which people still remember him. Karnataka’s first non-Congress chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde was seeking election to the legislative assembly when the opposition Congress party charged his Janata Party government with misusing official machinery to dig borewells in the constituency, close to state capital Bangalore (now Bengaluru).

Asked for his response to this allegation, Hegde’s minister for rural development and panchayati raj Abdul Nazeersab came up with a reply that shocked many.

“If providing drinking water to the people is a crime, I shall commit it not a hundred times but a thousand times,” was his reply. The import of this statement made even the election authorities ignore the complaint of the Congress.

Nazeersab went about, initially, digging borewells to provide potable drinking water across the state that was facing the worst-ever drought years, a situation that is similar to what many parts of the country are facing today. Nazeersab did take democracy to the grass roots level through the panchayati raj system. But, his commitment to provide drinking water earned him the sobriquet of ‘Neersab’. Neer in the local language, Kannada, means water and Sab is equivalent to ‘Sir’.

Unfortunately, the simple, committed socialist and, unusually, honest man died before his other plans to ensure better water systems for the people could fructify. His commitment and his pro-active actions come to mind because of the way those in power at present have dealt with the crisis. It has now become a norm for everybody to rush to the courts of law with all kinds of grievances.

And, it is in this context that a recent order of the Bombay High Court needs to be looked at. The court was informed that at a time when the state of Maharashtra was facing the worst ever water crisis and drought conditions, the state was hosting the Indian Premier League’s (IPL’s) T-20 cricket tournament.

The petitioner found it akin to blasphemy that several thousand litres of water was being used merely to water the Wankhede stadium when there was no drinking water available in the state.

The court decided to resolve the conflict of interest by simply ordering the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to shift the IPL matches out of Maharashtra. In a belated response, the BCCI offered to provide huge quantities of water to the affected rural areas apart from donating R100mn (RO581,000 approx) to the chief minister’s drought relief fund. The court did not appreciate any such gesture.

The judgment has come in for criticism in a country where IPL has become the biggest entertainment for millions in a cricket-crazy country. The strange part in this entire debate has been the focus. It is the verdict of the court that has made everyone see red.

There is hardly a word otherwise said against the government which, surprisingly, marked its presence by remaining ‘a mute spectator’, as the court itself observed. It did not want to get unpopular with the masses by saying that IPL cannot be held in Maharashtra for fear of offending the cricket fans. It did not want to even say that the water being used at the cricket stadium is non-potable water and, therefore, cannot be transported to the villages thirsting for drinking water.

The court’s verdict may have symbolically put the spotlight on the enjoyment of cricket fans at the cost of the poor cousins in the rural areas who had no water to drink. But, it did not take into account the fact that there are similar drought conditions existing in other parts of the country as well. Maybe, the revenues accruing from cricket fans could have been utilised to provide drip irrigation in, say, the water-guzzling sugarcane fields.

The entire issue boils down to the approach of a government to a crisis. It cannot be always reactionary in approach. Like sending an express train with water wagons to an area where there was a riot over water. As is evident during the last several years to the Maharashtra government as well as other state governments, climatic changes are occurring at a phenomenal pace. The impact, according to one study this year, is that the water levels in 91 reservoirs across the country is a dismal 23 per cent.

Therefore, a new approach to tackle drinking water shortage as well as water for agricultural purposes becomes an imperative. A water intensive agricultural crop cannot be produced in an area which has no permanent source of water. The government should have the capacity to advise farmers on the cropping pattern.

It calls for a change in approach to providing, at least, certain bare essentials of life. It is the political will to change the rules of the game in the larger interest of the people that makes people in Karnataka’s rural areas remember Abdul Nazeersab, with affection, even today.

Mind your language

There are commentators and commentators. Every game boasts of some who add great value. Some have expertise because they have played extensively on the field.

Some others, like the late Rajan Bala, would not have run the 11 yards but he had such technical knowledge of the game that players would correct their game just listening to him. Bala, in fact, had once written that Navjot Singh Sidhu was a ‘strokeless wonder’.

Sidhu got so upset with that comment that he took a sabbatical from cricket and got into a tough schedule to practice day in and day out. Sidhu returned to Indian cricket to make a name for himself. To be fair to Sidhu, he had the humility to admit in a live television show how upset he was by Bala’s comment that he decided to correct himself. Bala had hurt Sidhu’s ego but he had given Indian cricket one of its finest openers and, many years later, a very fine commentator.

It is almost in this category of commentators that one can place Harsha Bhogle who landed up in the commentary box, as he himself put it, because he just could not stop talking! The unfortunate aspect of Bhogle’s contract being terminated is that he was given no reason even though he was on the roster for the current IPL season.

Some conjecture is being drawn that it could be because he had been mistakenly referred to by the Big B of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan for comments he allegedly made. To which, Dhoni is supposed to have agreed with the Big B.

Soon after that came his termination from the voice box. But, that did not stop Bhogle from commenting about the India captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, not being his usual self behind the stumps in a match last week wherein he missed a stumping chance.

This comment was soon followed by a warning from Jonathan Agnew who tweeted that he should be careful otherwise ‘they’ could ban him from a social media platform. Clearly, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) appears responsible to deny listeners to a remarkable commentator.


Yet another state government has indulged in the favourite pastime of renaming a city. Better known as the Millenium City for its growth during the last decade and a half, Gurgaon was renamed as Gurugram by the northern state of Haryana. Gurgaon, for the uninitiated, is a city that has grown to house most of the important brands in the information technology (IT) sector and related industries.

It was the first magnate outside of the southern cities of Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad and the western India cities of Mumbai and Pune to grow at a phenomenal pace in this sector of industry. The ostensible reason is that it had been ‘a long pending demand for change’.

By whom and how many is not clear but the decision is based on the fact that a historical place in the Bhagwad Gita was known as Gurugram since the time of Guru Dronacharya. Guru Dronacharya is the one who trained the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the Mahabharata.

Haryana’s reasoning is based on mythology but each of the other major cities changed the names for other reasons. Madras was changed to Chennai because it is a classical name which the Britishers had changed. Similar was the argument with Bangalore which is now called Bengaluru. Mumbai, again, goes back into tradition.

So does Kolkata from Calcutta where the Britishers set up the East India Company to finally make India a colony. Names of the major cities in the South, East and West have changed but, to be fair, it has not hurt the brand of any of these cities. The growth of these cities has not been affected one bit. It is a different matter that people refer to these cities in different ways. Like, for instance, Bengaluru is pronounced as Bangaluru.

It has not stopped investors and people from the rest of the country becoming settlers once they taste the hospitality of the local people. The change in name, however, has not ensured better roads or footpaths or streetlights. Gurgaon or Gurugram will be no different. But, as usual, the social media went berserk to anticipate many other names in the future.

The southern state of Telangana could become Telegram, said one!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]