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Indian stars call for dry Holi festival amid drought

March 26, 2013

School girls play with coloured powder outside a school in Allahabad on March 25, 2013. — Photo by AFP

MUMBAI: Bollywood stars have joined calls for Mumbai to temper celebrations and reduce water wastage during a riotous Hindu festival this week, as millions of Indians face their worst drought in decades.

The Holi festival takes place on Wednesday at a time when central parts of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, are reeling under a severe water shortage with no rain due until the monsoon in June.

Revellers enjoying the “festival of colours” have been urged to cut down on water usage during the festival, which is normally celebrated with wild “rain dances” and the throwing of buckets of water, water-filled balloons and paint.

“Water shortage in Maharashtra... and it's only March. What will happen in Summer? Save water! Play a dry Holi!!” wrote cinema veteran Amitabh Bachchan to his hordes of followers on Twitter.

Holi, a public holiday, marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring.

It is especially popular in northern India and other parts of the world with large Hindu communities.

Bollywood is known to throw lavish Holi parties, but celebrations are expected to be toned down this year. Television show producers say they have cut back their depictions of the festival to avoid water wastage.

Actor Riteish Deshmukh stressed on Twitter that the “need of the hour is to save water”, while popular TV host Mini Mathur wrote: “The mere thought of rain dances in the wake of the water crisis is creepy and tasteless.”

Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also appealed to the people of Maharashtra “to play dry Holi with chandan (sandalwood) and flowers”.

University students in Mumbai have taken to the streets to spread calls for a dry festival.

Municipal authorities are not planning to cut water supplies on the day of Holi despite calls for them to do so, but they are urging moderation and reportedly not allowing tankers to supply extra water.

“People realise that many districts in the state are facing acute water shortage so I hope they will not waste water,” Mumbai Mayor Sunil Prabhu told the Mid Day newspaper.

A similar problem was faced during 2010's Holi festival when a weak monsoon the previous year left Mumbai with a chronic water shortage, and officials vowed to crack down on anyone misusing supplies.

Authorities attribute this year's crisis to two successive poor monsoons, although critics blame official ineptitude and corruption for exacerbating the natural water shortage.