Fight over water causes tensions between Indian central government and Tamil Nadu State

Fight over water causes tensions between Indian central government and Tamil Nadu State

Shops and buses across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu will shut down today as residents protest delays in

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Photo: Reuters/Abhishek Chinnappa

Shops and buses across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu will shut down today as residents protest delays in resolving a dispute over the nearby Cauvery River.

The states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have fought over the Cauvery, a key water source for irrigation, since the 19th century. Karnataka argues Tamil Nadu receives a disproportionate share of water from the 700-kilometre river; Tamil Nadu insists any renegotiation would threaten thousands of farmers’ jobs.

In January, India’s Supreme Court ruled that upriver Karnataka must supply 5 billion kilolitres of water—enough to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools—to Tamil Nadu, and stipulated the creation of a water-sharing oversight board. The central government’s failure to set up this board has triggered today’s shutdown.

With past demonstrations having turned to violence, future rioting is possible. Tamil Nadu has accused the federal government of willful disobedience, an allegation that will be heard by the Supreme Court next Monday. If accepted, PM Modi’s government centre may be forced to address the issue prior to next month’s local elections in Karnataka, putting at risk Modi’s hopes of eroding the state’s current opposition majority.