The India Meteorological Department’s Tuesday forecast of an above-normal monsoon this year should substantially lift the mood of the country, large parts of which are currently in the grip of drought. But I suspect it would have left the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wistful.

The BCCI has been painted as the main villain in a raging controversy that has been tagged, at its mildest, as the Indian Premier League (IPL) vs Drought Relief. Thousands of gallons of water that could have served the drought-affected were to be used to water the grounds and pitches for the 20 IPL matches that were scheduled to be played in drought-hit Maharashtra (in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur) over April and May.

The past week has seen the BCCI dragged to the Bombay high court, with a PIL asking that these matches be shifted out of the state. This has snowballed into a major controversy that threatens to disrupt the multimillion-dollar league.

The high court, while making some scathing observations about the insensitivity of the BCCI, allowed the first IPL match of the season to be played at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on 9 April. Despite being assured that potable water would not be used for the stadia in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, the high court on Tuesday asked the BCCI why some of the matches to be played in Pune could not be shifted.

The BCCI’s main argument was that shifting matches at this late stage would be a logistical nightmare; moreover, it would not really alleviate the dire condition of farmers in drought-hit areas. But the pitch was queered, so to speak, by the Punjab franchise’s public declaration that it was willing to move its matches, scheduled in Maharashtra, to another state in view of the sensitivity of the situation.

And on Wednesday, the Bombay high court ordered the BCCI to shift all the IPL matches scheduled after 30 April out of the state. This means that 13 of the 19 matches to be played in Maharashtra (including the final, which was to be played in Mumbai) will have to be shifted out.

All through, the BCCI has clearly been on the back foot in this controversy. The problem stems from the severe battering its image has taken in the past couple of years owing to the corruption scams linked to the IPL. The corruption, and BCCI’s reluctance in addressing it head on, compelled even the Supreme Court to step in.

This is the reason why the PIL against the league has gained the kind of traction it has, or, indeed, was even filed. Only a few weeks earlier, several World Twenty20 matches were played at the same venues. Nobody objected. The BCCI’s reputation, and the controversies the IPL has been involved in, have made them easy targets of public outrage.

It can’t be anybody’s case that shifting matches out of Maharashtra will solve the drought problem. Common sense negates such a simplistic cause and effect equation. Moreover, tackling drought is the job of the state, not a sports body.

My interpretation of the high court’s observations is that it actually held the state government more responsible than the BCCI, but cricket and IPL became symbolic in highlighting the apathy of the powers that be to the dire situation in the state.

In that sense, the PIL has been of great value in bringing the drought crisis into national consciousness. This is where I believe the BCCI was caught napping. Given that it has politicians from all parties, it should have been alive to the crisis and been proactive in working with the state government in offering assistance.

A percentage of this IPL’s profits could have been assured to the Maharashtra government in advance. Using mega stars such as M.S. Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid as ambassadors to educate people about water conservation is such a no-brainer that it is astonishing nobody thought of it.

I also believe a drought relief match between World T20 champions West Indies and a World XI, to be played after the IPL, would find massive support among both sponsors and fans.

While cricket remains India’s most passionately followed sport, the establishment does not inspire faith because it seems self-obsessed, arbitrary and callous to the world around it. This is a good wake-up call for the BCCI to take fresh guard.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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