Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute

  • IASbaba
  • January 30, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-1: Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country. 
  • GS-2: Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure 

Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute

Context: Recently, Maharashtra CM released a book titled Maharashtra-Karnataka Boundary Dispute: Struggle and Pledge. The book is a collection of articles, news, and other material on the demand that Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka should be integrated into Maharashtra.

In News

  • Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray saying his government is committed to incorporating areas of Karnataka where Marathi-speaking people are in majority into his state has added fuel to a controversy that has been simmering for the last six decades.
  • Belgaum or Belagavi, which has a large Marathi-speaking population, is currently part of Karnataka and is claimed by Maharashtra. 
  • While Maharashtra has gone to the Supreme Court over this land dispute, Karnataka has declared Belagavi its second capital

Image Source: News Minute

Origin of the Problem

  • Multi-lingual Population in border district: Belgaum, which was later renamed Belagavi, is located in the northern part of today’s Karnataka and shares a border with Maharashtra’s Kohlapur district. Belgavi district has both Kannada and Marathi speakers. 
  • Colonial Times: During the British Raj, the Belgaum region was part of the Bombay Presidency, which included Karnataka districts such as Vijayapura, Belagavi, Dharwad and Uttara-Kannada.
  • 1881 Census data: As per 1881 census, Belgaum had 864,014 people of which 556,397 were Kannada-speaking (64.39%), while 225,008 were Marathi-speaking (26.04%). However, in 1948, the Belgaum Municipality that was dominated by Marathi speaking politicians requested the Centre that the district be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state.
  • Post-Independence Reorganisation: The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 made Belgaum and 10 talukas of Bombay State a part of the then Mysore State (which was renamed Karnataka in 1973). While demarcating borders, the Reorganisation of States Commission sought to include talukas with a Kannada-speaking population of more than 50 per cent in Mysore.
  • Objection Raised by Maharashtra: Maharashtra objected to this by claiming that that in 1956, Marathi-speakers outnumbered Kannada-speakers in those areas. It submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs, demanding 7,000 sq km that included 814 villages, and three urban settlements of Belagavi, Karwar and Nippani (all were part of Bombay Presidency in British Raj), to be added to Maharashtra.
  • Demands by Karnataka: On the other hand, Karnataka has sought areas in Kolhapur, Sholapur and Sangli districts from Maharashtra, and Kasargod from Kerala to be included in its state.

Talks to Resolve the Dispute

  • Committee Formation: As the dispute was raging on, both states decided to resolve the matter through talks. In 1960, both states decided to set up a four-member committee with two members from each state, to study and submit a report.
  • Offer to exchange of areas: During this process, Maharashtra offered to transfer 260 Kannada-speaking villages in return for its demand for 814 villages and three urban settlements
  • Lack of Consensus: However, both states could not come to any consensus following the findings of the committee. In the years that followed, several talks were held between the two governments, which ended without a resolution

The Mahajan Commission

  • Commission Formed by Union Government: Following the protest from Maharashtra government, in 1966, the central government formed Commission under former chief justice Mehr Chand Mahajan to look into the issue. It was also asked to look into Karnataka’s demand for integration of Kannada-speaking areas in Kasargod in Kerala. Commission submitted report to the Union government in 1967 and was placed in Parliament in 1972.
  • Recommendation of Commission: The commission rejected Maharashtra’s claim over Belagavi city while recommending the transfer of about 260 villages in the border to Maharashtra and about 250 villages in Maharashtra to Karnataka.
  • Kasargod Issue: The Mahajan Commission also upheld Mysore’s claims for the areas in Kerala and recommended the transfer of the entire Kasargod taluk in Kerala, minus eight villages lying south of the Chandragiri river to Mysore

Response to Mahajan Commission Report:

  • Maharashtra: The Maharashtra government rejected the repot and termed the findings of the reports as biased and self-contradictory because the “formula” applied for Kasaragod was not applied for Belgaum.  Maharashtra Government insisted that the report is against the “wish of people” of Belgaum. 
  • Kerala: The Kerala government refuted the recommendations of the report and refused to hand over Kasaragod to Karnataka. 
  • Karnataka: The Karnataka government welcomed the report and continued to press for the implementation of the report or maintaining status quo.
  • Centre: Despite demands from Karnataka, the Centre never implemented the recommendations of the report. Rather it has been non-committal on resolving the border dispute.

Case in Supreme Court

  • In 2004, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court under Article 131(b) of the Constitution.
  • In its petition, the Maharashtra government claimed that the Marathi-speaking population in Karnataka was being sidelined and that there was a feeling of ‘insecurity among them.’
  • Maharashtra asked that 814 villages in Belgaum, Karwar, Bidar and Gulbarga districts in Karnataka be moved under their jurisdiction since it had a majority of Marathi-speaking people.
  • That case is still being heard by the Supreme Court.

Maharashtra’s Arguments:

  • Maharashtra’s claim to seek the readjustment of its border was on the basis of contiguity, relative linguistic majority and wishes of the people. 
  • If the claim over Belagavi and surrounding areas was based on Marathi-speaking people and linguistic homogeneity, it laid its claim over Karwar and Supa where Konkani is spoken by citing Konkani as a dialect of Marathi. 
  • Its argument was based on the theory of village being the unit for calculation and enumerated linguistic population in each village. 
  • Maharashtra also points out the historical fact that the revenue records in these Marathi-speaking areas are also kept in Marathi.

Karnataka’s Arguments:

  • Karnataka points out that when Congress, which redrew its circles on linguistic basis in 1920, included Belagavi in the Karnataka Provincial Congress Committee. Besides, the States Reorganisation Commission vested Belagavi with Karnataka.
  • Karnataka holds the view that the settlement of boundaries as per the States Reorganisation Act is final. It has argued that the boundary of the State was neither tentative nor flexible. 
  • The State argues that the issue would reopen border issues that have not been contemplated under the Act, and that such a demand should not be permitted.
  • As the legal battle continues, Karnataka declared Belagavi its second capital, changed the name of Belgaum to Belagavi and also holds its winter session at the newly constructed Vidhan Soudha in Belgavi.

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