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India's Karnataka State on Alert After Water Sharing Ruling


India's southern state of Karnataka is suffering sporadic protests over a recent ruling on a century-old water dispute with neighboring Tamil Nadu state. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, serious water shortages have emerged in India in recent decades, making water a contentious issue.

Thousands of police patrolled Karnataka's capital Bangalore and other parts of the state for a third straight day Wednesday. They were out to calm public anger at a court ruling in a long running dispute over the sharing of water from the Cauvery River.

The Cauvery originates in Karnataka, and then flows through Tamil Nadu and the states of Kerala and Pondicherry. It is a major source of irrigation and drinking water in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

On Monday, a tribunal in New Delhi ruled that Tamil Nadu state will get a far larger share of the water than Karnataka, raising tempers and fueling protests in Karnataka.

The protests have affected traffic on busy state highways. Schools and colleges were shut for two days. On Wednesday, lawyers in Bangalore boycotted work and staged a march.

R.K. Srinivasan of New Delhi's Center for Science and Environment says the Cauvery waters are critical for millions of farmers and city dwellers in both states.

"Both the states, the main cultivation is paddy, which is the main food crop, which requires more amount of water, and so most of them traditionally depend on this river for irrigation purposes," he said. "Many cities like even Bangalore depend on [for] drinking water purposes on Cauvery."

The ruling came 17 years after the tribunal was first asked to arbitrate the issue, but the dispute goes back further than that. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have bickered over their share of the water since 1974, when an agreement signed in 1892 lapsed.

The dispute has also triggered unrest in the past. In 1991, a court order telling Karnataka to release the river's water to Tamil Nadu sparked violence against minority Tamils in Bangalore, and 20 people were killed.

The Cauvery dispute is India's longest-running river controversy, but not the only one. Intense water shortages have emerged in the country in recent decades, due to a growing population and high economic growth. Several other states are also squabbling over the sharing of river and dam waters.

A 2005 study by the World Bank warned of conflicts in India caused by severe water shortages, as rivers dry up and groundwater resources are depleted.

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