The decades-old border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka escalated into a political slugfest on Wednesday as both states hit out at each other for raking up the issue with claims and counter-claims.
Karnataka’s deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi said Mumbai should be made part of his state, and urged the Centre to at least declare it a Union Territory. His suggestion came after Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray raised the border issue at a public event, demanding that the disputed areas be carved out into a union territory till differences are resolved.
The dispute between the two states over Belgaum and other border areas has been pending before the Supreme Court for several years, but the issue has erupted into a firestorm after the Maharashtra CM said his government is committed to incorporating into the state the areas of Karnataka where Marathi-speaking people are in majority.
He made the statement in the presence of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and his deputy Ajit Pawar, who has earlier stoked the issue by saying that Belagavi, Karwar and Nipani needed to be included in Maharashtra as it was a “dream of Balasaheb Thackeray”.
What is the origin of land dispute?
The land dispute over the border areas between Maharashtra and Karnataka had began after the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 made Belgaum and 10 talukas of Bombay State - once part of colonial Bombay Presidency - a part of the then Mysore state. This happened because states were divided on the basis of linguistic and administrative lines. The issue has been pending in the Supreme Court for several years.
What Maharashtra and Karnataka Claim?
Maharashtra has for long claimed that certain areas that are a part of Karnataka - Belagavi, Karwar and Nippani – should be handed over to Maharashtra. The state contends that the majority of the population in these areas is Marathi-speaking.
Karnataka, on the other hand, maintains that Belagavi is an integral part of the state and has built the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, modelled after the Vidhana Soudha, the state secretariat in Bengaluru, where a legislative session is held once a year.
Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa had in November reiterated that the state considers Mahajan Commission report to be final.
“I condemn Maharashtra DCM Ajit Pawar’s statement. The whole world knows that the Mahajan Commission report is final. Marathi people here are like Kannadigas in our state. We have created a corporation here for the development of Marathas,” Yediyurappa said.
The Mahajan Commission report
The Reorganisation of States Commission, while demarcating state borders, included talukas with an over 50 per cent Kannada-speaking population in Mysore. However, opponents of this demarcation argue that Marathi-speakers outnumbered Kannadigas who lived there in 1956.
The Mahajan Commission, under former Chief Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, was formed in October 1966 to resolve the issue after the then Bombay government in September 1957 had lodged a protest with the Centre.
The Commission had in August 1967 recommended that 264 villages be transferred to Maharashtra and that Belgaum and 247 villages remain with Karnataka. Maharashtra had rejected the report, calling it biased and illogical, and demanded another review. Karnataka welcomed the report, and has ever since continued to press for implementation, although this has not been formally done by the Centre.
What is the Situation Today?
Maharashtra continues to press with its demand that 814 villages from Karnataka be transferred to the state after the linguistic population of each state is counted.
After Uddhav Thackeray became the chief minister under the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in 2019, he appointed ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Eknath Shinde as coordinators to oversee the state’s efforts to expedite the case filed in the Supreme Court related to the dispute.
The Maharashtra government had in 2004 approached the apex court, seeking resolution of the border dispute under Article 131(b) of the Constitution. This case is still pending.