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Strike cripples life in Bangalore

The strike in Karnataka follows a ruling that awarded an increased share of river water to TN, reports BR Srikanth.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2007 17:39 IST

This technology hub was engulfed by an atypical silence as a dawn-to-dusk shut down over a century old dispute over sharing water of the Cauvery froze all activity here and across Karnataka on Monday.

The impact of the shut down was not only felt at educational institutions and IT and ITES companies but forced postponement of the WTA Sony Ericsson International tennis tournament as well.

As the country's tech capital, this city -- home to about 1500 leading IT firms and multinationals such as Infosys, Wipro, IBM, Accenture and HP -- employs about 350,000 in software and BPO services and accounts for 36 per cent of the country's IT export revenue ($8.3 billion) in the last fiscal (FY 2006). All the IT and ITES companies, including Infosys Technologies Ltd and WIPRO Ltd, have drawn up plans to make up for Monday's loss by asking their staff to work either on February 18 (Saturday) or the next weekend. A few BPO companies have shifted the transactions for the day to other locactions.

The strike, called by Kannada protagonists (Kannada Rakshana Vedike), was backed by the local film industry and scores of social and cultural organisations, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It was to protest against the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) announced on February 5th. The final award has allocated 270 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet of the river water to Karnataka as against demand for 430 TMC feet, but a lion's share (419 TMC) to the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, 30 TMC to Kerala, 9 TMC to Puducherry, with the balance (12 TMC) of the total 740 TMC feet for environmental protection.

In a pre-dawn attack on Monday morning, members of the Kannada Rakshana Vedike attacked a BPO centre located in the heart of the city. About 40-50 Vedike activists, armed with heavy sticks, Kannada flags and Cauvery banners, barged into the office and shut down the operations, shouting slogans against the company for working on the sly.
 
"The activists forced the subsidiary to shut the office and ordered the skeletal staff to leave the premises. They also deflated the taxis engagaged by the firm to ferry its employees and castigated the drivers for being on duty," police sources said.
 
Company officials were, however, not available for reaction and attempts to get details on the attack or damage (if any) drew a blank. "We are closed today due to a general strike in Karnataka. We will resume service tomorrow," a pre-recorded voice from the BPO centre repeats when its phone is dialled.
 
Earlier, a dozen-member teams of Vedike activists fanned out in the wee hours to check whether IT and biotech firms declared holiday and remained shut. When a few call/BPO firms were found retaining some of their employees for key services and maintaining the business of its clients remotely, the activists warned them of dire conseequences.
 
Vedike leader Mr Praveen Shetty told reporters later that though majority of the IT firms and offices declared holiday in view of the shut down and decided to make it-up by working on a weekend later, some of them ignored the strike call to remain open "showing their scant regard to the cause of our farmers, people and resources whose interests are affected by the arbitrary and indiscriminate allocation of the river water to Karnataka".
 
At the airport, officials confirmed that a dozen flights belonging to Indian and private airlines such as Jet, Sahara, Kingfisher and Air Deccan were cancelled as those who were to operate and fly could not reach the airport in the absence of any transport mode. A few hundreds of passengers who arrived in the city by morning flights were caught unawares and faced hardship in leaving the airport.
 
State government and central government offices, public sector undertakings in defence, space, electronics, manufacturing and research and development (R&D) centres opened officially but reported thin attendence, as their employees could not commute from their homes.
 
In the four districts of Mandya, Mysore, Chamarajnagar and Hassan where the Cauvery flows, situation remained tense but under control, as thousands of farmers, agricultural workers and agitators blocked state highways, roads and trains near Maddur, Mandya, Channapatna, Tumkur and Hassan stations.
 
At Bellary in north Karnataka, the Bangalore-Hubli Hampi express was stopped from proceeding further soon after the shut down began. Hundreds of passengers at major stations were stranded due to delays and suspension of train services in the Bangalore, Mysore and Hubli divisions of the South Western Railway.

CM to present state case

On his part, the Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy will take the state's woes on the Cauvery water sharing row to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and brief him about the 'injustice' rendered out to it in the final orders of the tribunal.

"I have sought an appointment with the Prime Minister and will be meeting him soon," Kumaraswamy told reporters after chairing a high-level meeting to review law and order situation in the backdrop of a 12-hour statewide bandh called by Kannada organisations to protest the tribunal verdict.

Expressing doubts over the Centre rendering justice to the state, Kumaraswamy remarked "The previous experience has not been encouraging. At least now, we hope, the Centre will come to our rescue."

"Let the Centre discharge its responsibility. Let not the Centre repeat earlier instances," he said but did not outline the issues over which injustice was caused to the state.

Kumaraswamy said he would be convening a meeting of MPs of the state in New Delhi before February 22 to seek their support to fight the state's case in Parliament.

He complimented the people of the state for maintaining peace and order during the bandh and also the police who have been "effectively controlling the situation". "We have to appreciate the patience of our people who have been agitating peacefully for their legitimate demand on Cauvery ever since the Tribunal announced its verdict on February five," he said.

He defended the decision of the JD(S)-BJP government in not supporting the bandh, citing the Supreme Court order on bandhs, but added "personally, I express agreement with those who have given call for bandh in exercise of their fundamental right to protest".