The most precious resource in any developing country is water, a necessity for agriculture, livestock, and most importantly for people living in poverty. Nowhere is this more true than in India, where hundreds of millions of people live in poverty and survive on subsistence agriculture.
For the past few decades, the nation has struggled to find suitable sources of clean water. This lack of water causes entire regions in India to rely on a single river. When one region encroaches upon another’s source and demands more water, territorial conflicts and riots ensue, forcing the government to choose which region should receive more water.
Recent riots over a water-sharing agreement in the city of Bangalore, a tech-hub in Karnataka, have brought these tensions to a tense standoff. In order to resolve these disputes, developing countries must equip rapidly expanding cities with additional resources over poorer agriculture-based regions.
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are neighboring regions whose agreement to share water from the Cauvery River has been a significant source of tension. For over a century, each state has argued that it deserves more water than what it currently receives through irrigation.
Tamil Nadu is a region dominated by rural farmland. After constant pleas from farmers that they were unable to operate with the amount of water they received, the Indian government took action. On September 5, the Indian Supreme Court directed the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cubic feet per second of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu every day for ten days to alleviate the plight of the farmers. This decision redirected water from the Bangalore’s supply. The solution was only a stopgap to a long-lasting problem but spurred widespread discontent.
Massive riots took place in the streets of Bangalore to protest the Supreme Court’s decision. According to the BBC, there were thousands of panicking protesters, both violent and nonviolent, and at least two men died. Police officers were forced to control the crowds, which were shouting, “Cauvery belongs to Karnataka.”
The government must select which of the two regions is more essential in the development of India and redirect water accordingly. Because so many technology firms and entrepreneurs have moved to Bangalore over the last five years, the BBC describes the city as “India’s Silicon Valley.” Bangalore is a densely-populated city that houses multiple large companies, so a steady supply of water is especially vital for those wealthy businesses to be able to operate. The Indian government should recognize that Bangalore is more essential to India’s long term growth and send more water to the city.
As harsh droughts have plagued the country over the past three years, the government has been indecisive about how to combat the Cauvery river dispute. The Supreme Court has increased and decreased the water supply to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu multiple times since 1990. The Indian government is faced with an extraordinarily difficult decision: it can either provide water to the farmlands in Tamil Nadu while neglecting large cities with growing economies, or aid in the development of large cities like Bangalore and force farmers in Tamil Nadu into further poverty. In either scenario, people suffer. This water conflict boils down to a basic question: should the Indian government invest in growing the economy of India or help impoverished farmers?
While both options involve suffering, the Indian government must move to help Karnataka. If the economy of the region flourishes from the arrival of foreign companies, nearby regions will benefit from the economic development. Tamil Nadu and other impoverished regions will undergo more permanent development when the trade these companies bring radiates outwards, paving the way for more sophisticated water collection methods that are more effective but currently beyond the economic reach of the region.
There is no good short term solution. There will be suffering. But serving Bangalore can open a gateway to a more prosperous future that guarantees enough water for all.