Baba’s Explainer – Karnataka- Maharashtra Border Dispute

  • IASbaba
  • December 2, 2022
  • 0
Governance, Indian Polity & Constitution
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  • GS-1: Post-independence consolidation and reorganization within the country. 
  • GS-2: Federalism & its challenges

Context: The border town of Belagavi has been a part of Karnataka since boundaries were demarcated along linguistic lines under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956. But the inter-State border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra erupts every now and then.

  • Recently, the decades-old dispute flared up again when Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that the Karnataka government was “seriously” laying claim to Jath taluk in Maharashtra, evoking a strong response.
What is the Origin of the Karnataka-Maharashtra border dispute?
  • 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.
Has there been any talks to resolve the issue?
  • 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
  • Mahajan Commission: In 1966, at Maharashtra’s insistence, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi established a one-man commission, the Mahajan Commission (Mehr Chand Mahajan, third Chief Justice of India) a few months before the 1967 general elections and its report was released after the elections.
    • The Commission was also asked to look into Karnataka’s demand for integration of Kannada-speaking areas in Kasargod in Kerala.
What did Mahajan Commission recommend?
  • 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.
  • The Mahajan Commission also upheld Mysore’s (Karnataka) 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.
What is the 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.
What has been the politics around the dispute?
  • In the immediate decades of the formation of States, no national party was willing to take the risk and address the dispute, especially the Congress which has a social base in both States. This helped Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) sustain its fight with a single agenda— Belagavi’s inclusion in Maharashtra.
  • MES-supported candidates, who have been winning one or more seats in the district since the 1957 Karnataka Assembly elections, were defeated in the 2018 Assembly elections. As another election draws close in 2023, MES is keen to revive its political fortunes.
  • One factor for the renewal of the conflict came from then Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde in 1986 when he made the Kannada language test mandatory for anyone joining the State Government service.
    • Though the decision was apparently aimed at bolstering the Janata Party’s position, stopping the concession given to linguistic minorities strained relations between the two linguistic groups.
    • Later, Hegde had to assure Marathi leaders that Kannada would not be made compulsory in primary education in the border areas.
  • The dispute strongly resonates in the cultural arena too. For instance, two Sahitya Sammelanas – the 73rd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelana (ABMSS) and the 70th Akil Bharatiya Kannada Sahitya Sammelana – were held in Belagavi in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Both events prepared the ground for the re-opening of an otherwise muted issue.
What is the row over Jath taluk?
  • Jath taluk in Sangli, a border district in Maharashtra, faces severe drinking water shortage and the Karnataka government has implemented programmes to curb the issue.
  • In 2021, all 40 gram panchayats of the drought-prone taluk passed a resolution to join Karnataka, stating that the Maharashtra government was unable to provide water to the people of Jath and they were being treated unfairly.
  • Karnataka State government stated that it was “seriously” laying a claim on Jath taluk and held meetings with a team of senior advocates to resolve the boundary issue with the neighbouring state.
  • The Karnataka state government also decided to grant special funds for the development of Kannada schools in Maharashtra through the Karnataka Border Development Authority.
  • They also proposed a pension for all Kannadigas living in Maharashtra who fought in the freedom struggle, the Karnataka unification movement and the liberation of Goa
  • Karnataka CM has also said that the border row had become a political tool for whichever party came to power in Maharashtra, and asked the Maharashtra government “to not create disputes between two states” which share cordial relations.

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