Mumbai: The over-six-decade-old border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra has taken a new turn after Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai on Tuesday staked a claim to 40 villages in Maharashtra.
The dispute over the villages with a Marathi-speaking majority began immediately after India’s states were reorganised on a linguistic basis in November 1956, and 814 Marathi-speaking villages in the border area were included in Karnataka. The Maharashtra government, headed by Y B Chavan, invoked 21 (2)(b) of the States Reorganisation Act, and staked a claim to the villages by writing to the central government. Decades later, the dispute is pending in the apex court, with the hearing expected to begin soon.
In 1966, the Centre appointed the Mahajan Commission, before which the state government staked a claim to 865 villages based on the 1961 census. The commission, in its report submitted in August 1967, recommended that 264 villages and Belgaum be included in Maharashtra and 247 villages be retained in Karnataka.
Genesis of the dispute
In 1948, the Belgaum municipality requested that the district, which had a predominantly Marathi-speaking population, be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state. However, Belgaum and 10 other talukas of Bombay Presidency were made part of Mysore state. Mysore was renamed Karnataka in 1973.
The Mahajan Commission report, tabled in the Lok Sabha in December 1970, was contested by Maharashtra. With no action taken by the Centre on the demand, the Maharashtra government in 2004 moved the Supreme Court. Ten years later, Supreme Court chief justice R M Lodha appointed Manmohan Sarin, former chief justice of Jammu & Kashmir as court commissioner to submit a report on the issue after both states submitted documents to substantiate their claims.
The Karnataka government, a year later, submitted an application contesting the power of the apex court on the issue and maintained that it should be decided by the central government. The SC-appointed commissioner did not submit his report after the SC’s powers were questioned. The apex court is now expected to resume the hearing before a three-judge bench, and first decide on the application pending before the court.
Maloji Ashtikar, general secretary of the Madhyavarti Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, a federation of organisations fighting the cause, said, “Twenty lakh Marathi-speaking people from four districts are eagerly waiting to be part of Maharashtra. The Karnataka government has been trying to impose the state language and culture in these districts to strengthen its claim. We have been opposing suppression and demanding inclusion.”
Ahead of the hearing in the SC, Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde on Monday presided over the meeting of a high-level 19-member committee comprising all parties to request the apex court to expedite the hearing. Senior ministers Chandrakant Patil and Shambhuraj Desai will oversee the developments in the Supreme Court.
Besides the push to the legal proceedings, the state government announced that it would extend social schemes such as health insurance, benefits of the Chief Minister Relief Fund and pension to the next of kin of people who died fighting in the border dispute to those in Karnataka. The state government has also appointed senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan to represent Maharashtra in the apex court.
The row was sparked on Tuesday when Bommai said that his government was seriously considering the inclusion of 40 villages from Jat tehsil in Sangli district in Karnataka. He also announced that he would extend facilities and grants to Kannada-medium schools in Jat tehsil, and added that his government had prepared a plan to supply water to villages that were facing water scarcity.
Reacting strongly to this, Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde said that no Maharashtra village would go to Karnataka. “The demand by village panchayats in Jat to be included in Karnataka was made in 2012. We have implemented many water-supply schemes to resolve the problem of drinking water. We are addressing the issues of the people in the border areas on a war footing. We are in favour of resolving the border dispute amicably,” Shinde said on Wednesday.
Deputy chief minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis said that not a single village would go to Karnataka. “The state government will leave no stone unturned to get Belgaum, Karwar and Nipani into Maharashtra,” he said.