New Delhi water crunch laid to violent north India protests

AP

Authorities in India’s capital have closed schools and taken other measures to combat water supply problems caused by violent protests in a neighboring state that have left at least 12 people dead.

Thousands of members of an underprivileged community who are protesting to demand government benefits have damaged equipment that brings water from the Munak canal in Haryana state to New Delhi, depleting the capital’s water supply. New Delhi, a city of more than 16 million people, gets about 60 percent of its water from Haryana state.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, announced Sunday that schools in the capital would be closed Monday due to the water shortage. He also ordered the rationing of water to people’s homes.

At least 12 people have been killed by Indian security forces firing on protesters since the weeklong protests turned violent on Friday, state Home Secretary P. K. Das told reporters Sunday. Another 150 protesters have been injured in clashes in various parts of the state.

Two more deaths were reported on Sunday in the Sonipat and Hissar districts of the state, raising the death toll to 12, Das said. Ten people were killed on Friday and Saturday.

However, a breakthrough appeared to be in sight as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government set up a federal committee to examine the protesters’ demands.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the protesters started lifting the highway blockades in some areas later Sunday after the government’s announcement. There was no formal announcement yet by the protesters on the issue.

Sporadic violence was reported in Haryana on Sunday, with protesters setting fire to a bank ATM and bank records, a car showroom, a gas station, some shops and a railroad station.

The state government said paramilitary forces and irrigation engineers were trying to restore the water flow from the Munak canal to New Delhi.

The protesters, members of the lower-caste Jat agricultural community, are demanding benefits both at the federal and state levels, including guaranteed government jobs or university spots. Talks Friday between community leaders and state government representatives failed to lead to an agreement.

India’s constitution includes a system of affirmative action for people in the lowest castes to help them overcome discrimination. The government has expanded the number of groups, including the Jat, qualifying for quotas.