Parts of India’s IT capital went up in flames as a decades-old dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over sharing of Cauvery river water turned violent on Monday, leaving at least one person dead and dozens of vehicles and property damaged in both states.
Curfew was imposed in 16 police station limits as tensions escalated.
Police said Rajgopal Nagar, Kamakshipalya, Vijaynagar, Byatarayanpura Kengeri, Magadi Road, Rajajinagar, RR Nagara, KP Agrahara Chandra layout, Yeshwanathapura, Mahalakshmi layout, Peenya, RMC Yard, Nandini Layout and Jnanabharathi are under curfew.
The violence began after the Supreme Court turned down in the morning Karnataka’s plea to temporarily stop the release of Cauvery river water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
Riot police tried to contain mobs burning vehicles and vandalising shops in Bengaluru and other cities, while protesters in Tamil Nadu retaliated by targeting Kannadiga people and businesses in their state.
A man was killed and another wounded in police firing when a mob tried to attack a patrol at Hegganahalli in Bengaluru city. More than 200 people were arrested so far.
Rioters set ablaze at least 30 buses bearing Tamil Nadu licence plates at a depot in Bengaluru while trucks were attacked in Mandya, Mysuru, Chitradurga and Dharwad districts.
As television footage showed flames leaping from burnt-out vehicles in Bengaluru, fears of the violence-hit IT hub losing international business began to arise.
Bengaluru is home to top Indian IT companies such as Infosys Ltd, Wipro Ltd and Mphasis as well as offices of several multinational companies like Samsung Electronics.
Police clamped prohibitory orders in the evening, barring the assembly of four or more persons, while private and office cars remained off the roads in the city. Authorities shut down schools and the metro network was temporarily suspended.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh rang up the chief ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and assured them central assistance.
The Centre rushed 10 companies or about 1,000 personnel of the special anti-riot paramilitary force , RAF, to Karnataka. If the need arises, contingents will be deployed in Tamil Nadu too.
Chief ministers S Siddharamaiah of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu’s J Jayalalithaa wrote to each other , appealing for protection to people from their states caught in the crossfire.
“Hotels and properties belonging to Tamils in Karnataka are being attacked and damaged. This is an alarming situation and is causing considerable anxiety,” Jayalalithaa said.
On the streets, passion ran high as Kannadiga groups targeted Tamil speakers. Even journalists were not spared as India Today deputy editor Rohini Swamy and video journalist Madhu Y were allegedly assaulted when they reporting the violence.
Crowds of people shouting slogans against the court order and Tamil Nadu marched along major roads in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Mandya. They forced shopkeepers to down shutters.
Hundreds of policemen fanned across the Tamil-majority areas in Bengaluru, but struggled to contain the protests.
Protesters in Tamil Nadu retaliated, as two petrol bombs were hurled at a Kannadiga-owned hotel in Chennai and a mob damaged vehicles from Karnataka in Rameshwaram.
“If Tamilians living in Karnataka continue to be assaulted, their businesses here will continue to suffer. There are Kannadigas living here as well. Be warned,” said a note left by the attackers.
At the heart of the dispute is the 765-kilometre long river that originates in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala. A British-era treaty governs water sharing between the two states but Karnataka says the award is unfair and demands a tripling of its share.
But Tamil Nadu believes that it needs the water to sustain extensive farming and insists that Karnataka honour its commitment to providing sufficient water.
After Independence, the dispute has dragged on for decades with even a tribunal ruling failing to gather consensus. Karnataka faulted the Cauvery Water Tribunal award, saying it did not deal with the issue of deficient water in the reservoir in a particular month.
In the Supreme Court, senior counsel Fali Nariman – arguing for Karnataka --requested the top court to keep the September 5 order in abeyance for five days but the SC refused to do so and modified the order. He said Karnataka needed more water for drinking and agriculture.
Nariman expressed regret over the Karnataka government citing law and order as a ground in its plea.
The court, however, went on to say: “The tone and tenor of the application is absolutely disturbing and to say the least, totally deprecable. Agitation, spontaneity or galvanized riot…can never form the foundation for seeking modification of an order,” it said.
“Tell your governments they have to implement the order and maintain law and order,” the court told the senior counsel representing Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments. “Unless an order is modified, citizens and governments are obliged to comply with it,” it emphasized.
Senior counsel Shekhar Nafade, Rakesh Dwivedi and Subramanium Prasad opposed the Karnataka government’s plea, saying the Cauvery Supervisory Committee was meeting on Monday to decide on the quantum of the river’s water to be released to Tamil Nadu and other states.
The top court’s order came on Karnataka’s plea that it was facing “huge public pressure” and police were preventing attempts to damage public property during recent statewide strikes with great difficulty.
The application also referred to inputs from security agencies that said if the current flow of water was allowed to continue, the situation “may go out of hand”. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have seen tit-for-tat attacks over the past few days around the sensitive issue.
(With inputs from agencies)