September 14, 2016

India: Douse the flames - Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu must quell violence and manage available water better (editorial, The Times of India)

The Times of India

Douse the flames: Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu must quell violence and manage available water better
September 14, 2016, 2:00 am IST TOI Edit in TOI Editorials | Edit Page, India | TOI

The water war between the Cauvery basin states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has been going on for over 125 years and an end is anything but imminent. What cannot be delayed is action by the two states to end the violence that erupted Monday, moments after the Supreme Court modified its September 5 order directing Karnataka to release more water to its neighbouring state. Anger spilled out into the streets in Karnataka, with mobs going on the rampage targeting Tamils and their properties. One person was killed as police opened fire on a mob in Bengaluru, Tamil Nadu-registered vehicles were burnt and properties worth several crores of rupees vandalised across the state.

Retaliatory attacks in Tamil Nadu followed. A hotel owned by a Kannadiga in Chennai came under attack; in Ramanathapuram and Nagapattinam districts, mobs smashed six vehicles from Karnataka and beat up a driver. Schools in Bengaluru have been closed, those in Tamil Nadu have cancelled excursions to Karnataka. Road transport across the border has come to a standstill.

Drowned in the din are history and facts. The Cauvery is not a perennial river. With the monsoon failing more often than not, the flow in the river has been dwindling over the years even as the drinking water demands of a thirsty Bengaluru and the irrigation requirements of parched fields in both states are rising alarmingly. In such a scenario, sharing the river water is bound to become increasingly contentious. The only way out is to follow court orders and tribunal awards, while managing available water within states better.

Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his Tamil Nadu counterpart J Jayalalithaa have written to each other seeking protection for their people and promising action against rampaging mobs. Unless this rhetoric is translated into action, the violence is bound to spiral out of control and cause immense suffering to people on both sides. Political parties see in such conflicts an opportunity to appease their vote banks and gain political mileage. It is imperative that leaders look beyond narrow and parochial gains, rope in experts, sit across the table and work out a realistic, long-term plan that can bring about a paradigm shift in water management and conservation in the regions fed by the Cauvery. Till then, the primary duty of the governments must be to ensure peace and enable unrestricted movement of people – which is what makes both Chennai and Bengaluru cosmopolitan and prosperous.