Amid Karnataka-TN water wars, closed border escapes notice

29th Sep 2016
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The Cauvery agitation has entirely blockaded the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border at all the three major crossings for three weeks now.

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While all interstate movement first stopped on September 6, the Hosur-Attibele crossing has been by far the worst hit in the last three weeks. It already resembles an Indo-Pak border with no activity in an 800m stretch of National Highway 4 that connects both the states.

Policemen belonging to the respective states line up menacingly, turning motorists away, especially those with the 'other' number plate.

On the Karnataka side, all vehicles bearing KA registration plates are stopped at Attibele itself. Even a private car driver who urgently needed to get to Salem was forcibly turned back “for his own safety,” as policemen put it.

It’s the same story on the Tamil Nadu side too, where police have stopped all vehicles bearing TN number plates. The options are to either head back towards Hosur or fall in line and park behind the thousands of trucks already stationed there.

Padmarajan, a South India Truck Owners’ Federation member, said:

Most of the trucks have been idling here with full tarpaulin-covered loads for a fortnight now after the September 12 fury that Bengaluru witnessed where TN registered vehicles were targeted with a vengeance. There are some stuck from September 6 itself when the problem first started.

He said the losses could run into crores of rupees and cannot be compounded.

Pedestrian zone

About 800 metres of the border seems to have turned into a pedestrian-only zone as a steady trickle of people walk from one state to the other. Palaniappan is too old to carry his luggage by himself, but the Rs 200 per passenger autorickshaws are charging for the `border service’ can see him through an entire week. The old man is coming to Bengaluru for his grandson’s birthday this weekend. His son works for a prominent ITeS firm in the startup capital.

“I am coming from a village near Salem where I retired as a postmaster. I feel humiliated to walk across the border into another state with all this luggage as the TN bus dropped me off at the checkpost. I did not expect to walk this far into Karnataka to board another bus. I wonder where the country is headed,” the former central government employee said, shaking his head.

In the one-upmanship between the two states over sharing of the Cauvery water, it is clearly the ordinary citizens who are suffering. Trade is also suffering huge losses.

In this age of interdependence, many opine state borders within the country cannot be shut. “This reminds me of NH 39, the lifeline of Manipur which is blockaded by militants regularly for some reason or the other, bringing the movement of goods to a landlocked state to a complete halt and pushing up prices,” says a passing military man with a Punjab-registered bullet.

Trucks pile up

According to Truckers’ Federation president G R Shanmugham, there are 16,000 trucks piled up at the border on both sides. “Tamil Nadu has a huge number of trucks as it has a large number of fleet operators doing business from the south. We are losing incomes and for how long can we wait like this? We have given both states an ultimatum to settle the issue by September 30, or we will also be forced to approach courts for police escorted movements,” he said.

In Bengaluru, the fear is palpable among tech workers and startups every time there is a Cauvery-related hearing, especially after the mindless violence that rocked the city on September 12 and the enforced bandh the next day.

Infosys has already approached the police to register cases against goons for deboarding their employees, including some disabled persons, who were going home in 10 buses on Mysore Road on that fateful day.

Section 144 again

Prohibitory orders have once again been clamped in Bengaluru till September 30 in the wake of the Assembly passing a resolution not to release water to Tamil Nadu in defiance of the Supreme Court’s orders.

Thousands from the IT workforce in Electronic City live across the border in Hosur as it’s closer and more convenient than travelling from the city. Now, they have been forced to walk the pedestrian zone at the border twice a day, complains Rajesh Goud.

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The fear of violence has made many organisers cancel events. Prominent among them is the India Gadgetz Expo (IGE) which was supposed to be held in the last three days of this month.

“Owing to the unrest over the Cauvery river water dispute, this year’s India Gadgetz Expo is being pushed back to October 14–16. As the reaction to the final verdict is not yet known and cannot be predicted, the organisers have chosen to postpone IGE 2016 until normal business operations can commence and public services can operate without disruptions. Since the safety of visitors to IGE — many of whom will be travelling from other countries and states — is of paramount importance, this decision has been taken unanimously,” said a press release.

Rail, air only option

Except for trains and flights, there is no other mode of passenger and freight movement between the two states. Rohan Davadass, a 21-year-old from Bengaluru who was on his way to Cyprus for his first job as a radio officer aboard a ship had to fork out Rs 6,000 for a flight ticket to Coimbatore from Bengaluru last week. As his agent was based in Coimbatore, he had to go there first to sign documents.

“I had booked on a night service bus but got a message that the trip was cancelled on the day of the journey. As there were no train tickets available, I was forced to fly, borrowing money from my dad,” says Rohan who managed to reach Coimbatore on time and from there flew to Mumbai and onward to Cyprus via Turkey.

The estimated loss to commerce is said to be in the region of a few thousand crore. “For two days of forced closure in Bengaluru, the ASSOCHAM had put the loss at a whopping Rs 25,000 crore or $4 billion. Going by the same token, the loss due to the border closure alone could run into at least $10 billion for the month. But, nobody is putting a figure to the losses incurred yet as it is still an ongoing problem,” says Shanmugham.

The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation has pegged its losses at Rs 60 lakh per weekday and at Rs 75 lakh every weekend. The Tamil Nadu state transport undertakings could also be bearing a similar loss. There is a larger loss because private and government passenger fleets also run through Tamil Nadu to reach Kerala. All vehicular movement to Kerala too has been disrupted.

The railways are not making any extra money during the crisis as most trains that run towards both Kerala and Tamil Nadu have 90 percent reserved berths and seats. Railway officials said as the capacity has not been increased, they are only witnessing 30 percent more demand in unreserved coaches.

It seems both states are waiting for the central government to intervene. Until then, movement across the borders is expected to be severely restricted.

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