Being unneighbourly

Even after decades of wrangling, an acceptable formula to share the Cauvery waters remains elusive

In Karnataka, thirsty urban citizens and water-starved farmers are protesting a Supreme Court order to release water from the Cauvery river to neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Opportunistic politicians are stoking up the centuries-old dispute with an eye on the upcoming Karnataka assembly elections in 2013. What remains elusive after decades of wrangling is an acceptable formula to share waters from the Cauvery between the southern states.

A protracted legal battle has effectively ruled out an amicable solution. A negotiated settlement is difficult, as at least one side Tamil Nadu is currently in an advantageous position and reluctant to come to the table. Mediation is a near impossibility.

So, water hostility is steadily rising between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, leading to a flare-up of emotions and regionalism. So much so that the neighbouring states are beginning to behave like enemy territories. At the border crossing between the two these days, buses and cabs stop just short of the boundary on either side and nervous passengers alight with their bags to make passage on foot.

In the interiors of Karnataka, thousands of farmers are leaving their villages and fields to blockade highways. The government has deployed special forces to contain the agitation, fast spreading from its epicentre in Mandya, near Mysore, in the Cauvery Basin. The situation is volatile.

The Cauvery is one of southern India's lifelines. The river has supported agriculture from ancient times and now serves the water needs of modern southern cities including Bangalore and Mysore.

In this most recent flare-up of tensions, both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu hold that millions of their farmers depend on Cauvery water Karnataka says it does not have enough, Tamil Nadu insists that it get more and crops are withering away. Exacerbating the water shortage, Karnataka is going through a severe drought this year.

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