Mumbai, April 13 (IANS) The Bombay High Court directed the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Wednesday to shift all Indian Premier League (IPL) matches out of Maharashtra after April 30 in view of the severe water shortage in the state.
The matches scheduled until April 30 can, however, be held in the state, the court said, adding that it could not afford to ignore the plight of people affected by severe drought.
The decision means that the BCCI will have to relocate 13 IPL matches, including the final of the lucrative Twenty20 tournament. Maharashtra was originally scheduled to host 20 IPL matches in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune. All three cities are facing a severe water crisis at present.
Five matches will be played in Maharashtra this month. The 13 matches that will have to be moved out now include six that were to be played in Pune, four in Mumbai and three in Nagpur.
A bench of Justice V.M. Kanade and Justice M.S. Karnik handed out the verdict on a PIL by an NGO named Loksatta Movement, which challenged the use of large quantities of water in stadiums at a time when the state was reeling under severe drought conditions.
“We cannot lose sight of the plight of millions of poor people,” the bench said.
The judges added that although shifting of IPL matches would not solve the problem, water meant for preparing cricket pitches should be diverted to the affected regions.
“Shifting IPL matches won’t solve the problem but if water is diverted to drought-hit areas, problem can be solved to some extent,” the bench stated.
Reacting to the high court order, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla questioned the timing of the PIL, asserting that concerns over the possible wastage of water should have been raised earlier.
“We will decide on the strategy of shifting the matches only when we get the order in writing. Shifting of matches will be a huge problem. Several events take place which require a lot of water despite the water crisis. Why should only the IPL be made to suffer?” Shukla told India Today.
“It is not easy to organise the IPL. The preparations for the IPL were going on for the last six months. The concerns should have been raised earlier, during the preparation stage,” he added.
“We have discussed giving help to the villages most effected by the drought. Our decision has been put forward. The BCCI is neither using potable water nor intends to do so,” BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur told reporters before the verdict was delivered.
“Cricket is so popular in our country that people want to create controversy over it. I want to ask how many swimming pools in 5-star hotels are being shut down because of drought. We are not using potable water and we are ready to help farmers too,” he added.
The court had allowed the opening match of this year’s IPL on April 9 to go ahead as originally scheduled, ruling that the timing of the PIL did not allow sufficient time to the BCCI to arrange for an alternate venue.
Earlier on Wednesday, the BCCI made a series of efforts to keep the remaining 19 IPL matches in Maharashtra.
The board told the court that it will not be feasible to shift IPL matches out of the state as the two Maharashtra based franchises Mumbai Indians and Rising Pune Supergiants had invested a lot of money and relocating the matches will also adversely affect their support base.
The BCCI also told the court that the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) is ready to supply around 64 lakh litres of non-potable water to drought-hit areas of the state, and that the Mumbai and Pune franchises will donate Rs.5 crore towards drought relief efforts.
“It would not be feasible to shift matches out of Pune as it will disturb the Pune team’s brand value and economic balance,” the BCCI’s counsel Rafiq Dada told the court.
BCCI councel added that the franchisees have invested more than Rs.30 crore to hold IPL matches in the state. Dada also stated that during the World Twenty20 recently, nine qualifying matches were held in Nagpur, but at that time nobody raised a hue and cry about water wastage.
Kings XI Punjab co-owner Ness Wadia welcomed the court order.
“I’m very happy with this, we welcome this decision. There is a severe water crisis in Maharashtra and this is the right step,” he said.
Kings XI Punjab were scheduled to play three home matches in Nagpur between May 7 and 15, besides the games in Mumbai and Pune on May 13 and 21, respectively.
The Mumbai and Pune franchises, however, were not happy with the court’s verdict.
“We have already invested a lot of money. Shifting matches at this stage will not only affect the finances, but if the home team’s game is shifted to another state, it will lose support,” Pune franchise’s senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas told the court.
Speaking on behalf of the Maharashtra government, acting advocate general Rohit Deo said that if drinking water is not being misused, the government has nothing against the IPL.
“If non-potable water is being used to maintain the pitches, then the government would not be in favour of shifting the IPL matches out of Maharashtra. Is any sport so sinful or pernicious that it should be sent to another state?” Deo said.
“We see there is a drought. If there is no misuse of water the govenment will not take a judgemental position. So to show solidarity with Marathwada, should we ban every recreational activity? Similar demands will be made that stop films? If potable water is not being used we will leave it to your conscience.”