Karnataka shuts down over Cauvery water row with Tamil Nadu

      A 12-hour-long shutdown of all institutions in Karnataka began at 6 a.m. on Saturday. Many schools, colleges, offices and shops were reported closed in the wake of the shutdown call given by various Kannada outfits to protest against the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) order directing the state to release water to neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

The shutdown is being supported by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the opposition Congress Party and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) party. So far, there has been near total impact in Bangalore and the Cauvery basin districts of Mandya, Mysore and Chamarajanagar. Almost all schools, colleges, offices and shops in Bangalore and the Cauvery basin districts are closed, roads are empty, state transport buses are not plying, even autos are not running. A large number of security personnel have been deployed across the state to ensure peace during the shutdown. 17000 police personnel are maintaining a vigil in Bangalore alone.

The protest is being held against the September 19 decision of the Cauvery River Authority (CRA) that directed Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu daily from September 20 to October. The CRA is chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Karnataka, however, started releasing water only last Saturday after a directive from the Supreme Court, which pulled up the state government for not obeying the CRA order. Karnataka Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar had walked out of the September 19 CRA meeting after registering a protest over the ruling and expressing inability to release the Cauvery water due to drought in the state.

Karnataka says it does not even have enough water for its own needs after an insufficient monsoon. The state has been witnessing daily protests and demonstrations since last Sunday over the CRA order. The protests are mainly being held in Bangalore, Mandya, Mysore, and Chamarajanagar. Traffic movement in Bangalore was severely hit for several hours yesterday as a number of rallies were held in the city in protest against the CRA order. Some of these rallies were led by religious leaders and several Kannada film actors. Former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and hundreds of his supporters also staged a day-long protest at MG Road yesterday. A separate rally was organised by the JD(S).

The protests coincided with the visit of a team of central government officials at the Cauvery basin areas to assess water availability and requirement of Karnataka. Another team is visiting Tamil Nadu for the same purpose. The two teams are expected to submit their reports within a week to the central government. Karnataka has moved the Supreme Court to seek review of the CRA's "impractical" order. The state's petition says that Karnataka is having a "distress water year". Tamil Nadu, which faces perennial water shortage, has said that it needs water urgently to save its crops. The Supreme Court will hear the petition again on Monday.

Meanwhile, a farmers' body spearheading the stir against release of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu has begun a relay hunger strike in Mandya in protest against Karnataka's action and warned that people would stop paying taxes if government did not heed their demand to stop the flow by Thursday evening. "We have set a deadline to the government... if the water release is not stopped by this evening, people will resort to a civil disobedience movement by not paying taxes," Cauvery Hitarakshana Samithi President G Madegowda said. Opposition Congress leader in the Karnataka State Assembly Siddaramaiah has commenced a padayatra from Mysore to Mandya to express solidarity with the agitating farmers.

Authorities at Krishna Raja Sagar reservoir stepped up security in the wake of escalated protests when thousands of farmers tried to lay siege to the dam and also the Kabini reservoir on Wednesday, demanding closure of crest gates to stop the flow. District authorities had deployed Rapid Action Force at the KRS dam. Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar had urged farmers to maintain peace and said the state would file a review petition before the Supreme Court, praying for a review of the Cauvery River Authority directive.

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