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Caste protests cut water to Indian capital, hit industry

Rapid urbanisation is putting pressure on water supplies after two years of drought, with the megacity around the capital New Delhi relying on Haryana to meet much of its needs.
Demonstrators from the Jat community shout slogans next to police during a protest in New Delhi on February 21, 2016. India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi. Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Demonstrators from the Jat community shout slogans next to police during a protest in New Delhi on February 21, 2016. India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

NEW DELHI // India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that killed 10 people and hit water supplies to Delhi – a city of more than 20 million people.

The rioting in Haryana by the Jats, a rural caste, is symptomatic of increasingly fierce competition for government jobs and educational openings in India, whose growing population is set to overtake China’s within a decade.

Rapid urbanisation is putting pressure on water supplies after two years of drought, with the megacity around the capital New Delhi relying on Haryana to meet much of its needs.

“No water available now. Still no hope to get it,” deputy chief Minister Manish Sisodia said in a tweet on Sunday morning.

The city government ordered schools to shut on Monday and rationed water supply to residents to ensure that hospitals and emergency services have enough.

The home ministry deployed 4,000 army troops and 5,000 paramilitaries from the border security force in an overwhelming show of force to restore order.

It said the situation was returning to normal and roadblocks set up by protesters were being cleared, adding that “all measures” should be taken to avert a disruption in Delhi’s water supplies.

Home minister Rajnath Singh was to meet leaders of the Jat community – which makes up a quarter of the population in Haryana and numbers more than 80 million in northern India – in a bid to defuse the crisis.

Haryana’s police chief said the death toll had risen to 10 and 150 more had been injured. Protesters have attacked the homes of regional ministers, burnt railway stations and staged sit-ins on tracks, blocking hundreds of trains. They sabotaged pumping equipment at a water treatment plant that provides most of Delhi’s water.

India’s biggest carmaker by sales, Maruti Suzuki India, suspended operations at its plants in the state after the protests disrupted the supply of some components.

With many road and rail links cut, the government announced that extra flights had been laid on to destinations in north-west India.

The unrest poses a threat to prime minister Narendra Modi’s promise of jobs and growth for the aspirational Indians who elected him in 2014 with the largest majority in three decades.

Mr Modi, who has faced criticism for ignoring unrest that does not fit with the upbeat narrative of his nationalist government, avoided reference to the protests during a visit to the state of Chattisgarh. He unveiled a statue and spoke on efforts towards rural and urban development.

Mr Modi wanted to attract foreign investment to back his Make in India drive to create 100 million manufacturing jobs by 2022. At the current rate India may create eight million jobs in that period, by one independent estimate.

The Jat protests echoed a similar movement last year in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where the Patel community demanded a greater share of scarce government jobs and college places that are now reserved for people from lower castes.

Hardik Patel, the 22-year-old leader of the Gujarat unrest, became a national sensation after drawing half a million people to one rally. The authorities cracked down on Patel, who was charged with sedition in October.

* Reuters

Published: February 21, 2016 04:00 AM

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