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IPL 9: Don't single out cricket, says Michael Ferreira

Sugar cane cultivation consumes 70 per cent of irrigation water. Why do the news channels not fulminate about this? Because it does not make for good drama? Or maybe because too many powerful people would be upset?

The hotly-debated issue of the water wasted over the cricket pitch in Mumbai has now been settled by the Bombay High Court’s ruling that all IPL matches after April 30 should be shifted out of Maharashtra.

At the outset, I am as anguished as anyone by the fate of the farmers in the drought stricken areas of Maharashtra. Only a complete moron wouldn’t be. Having said that, let’s give the decision to move the matches out of Mumbai some perspective. It is so easy for news channels to seize the opportunity to launch a high decibel programme excoriating all and sundry for being insensitive to the plight of the poor farmers (“why not send the water treated by the RWITC to Latur” thundered one anchor if memory serves me right). Or more dramatically, calling upon the likes of Tendulkar, Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Manjrekar to comment on the subject.

Spectators enjoy the IPL opening game between Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants at Wankhede last week . Pic/Suresh Karkera
Spectators enjoy the IPL opening game between Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants at Wankhede last week . Pic/Suresh Karkera

With the utmost deference to the Bombay High Court, I respectfully submit that the idea of shifting the IPL matches out of Maharashtra is misconceived. Perhaps their Lordships were not provided with relevant facts that support this statement.
According to research done by the respected writer Vivek Kaul in Equitymaster, the following stunning facts emerged: It is estimated that the 20 matches played in the state will use up about six million litres of water. That sounds like an awful lot of water being frivolously wasted on IPL matches.

The real villain
But the real villain in the piece is not cricket, but the sugar cane industry. According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), to produce one tonne of sugar (1000 kg) in the state takes 2.1 million litres of water. Thus, the total amount of water estimated for the IPL in the state would be enough to produce less than three tonnes of sugar. In the year ended 2014, Maharashtra produced approximately 75.4 million tonnes of sugar which required more than 150 million litres of water. The six million litres that the IPL would use represents about 0.0000038% of the amount of water gulped down for sugar cane production in the state. Sugar cane cultivation which is less than four per cent of the total cropped area of the state, consumes 70 per cent of irrigation water. Why do the news channels not fulminate about this? Because it does not make for good drama? Or maybe because too many powerful people would be upset?

According to an India Today report, the daily requirement of water in Latur is 85 litres per head. Latur has a population of about 2.5 million. Based on these figures, Latur would need about 209 million litres of water per day. Simple mathematics will show that if IPL matches were not held in the State, the water saved would be enough to serve Latur’s needs for about 24 minutes — that too if by some logistical miracle the six million litres transported there would suffer no wastage in transport. So the screaming on news channels that the treated RWITC water should be sent to drought areas of the state makes for excellent emotive viewing but precious little for the hard realities of the situation.

What remains is only the perception of insensitivity for the plight of the poor farmers. I honestly believe that when the facts are properly marshalled and presented, management of that perception will follow as night does the day.

Meanwhile, it is the duty of all responsible citizens of this great state to do what we can to conserve water.

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