Broken promises: No end to Kalyana Karnataka's struggle

(Left) Government primary school students of Horatur village in Wadagera taluk in Yadgir district attend classes under the shade of trees as the schoolbuilding is unsafe for use; patients in a public health centre, which does not have a doctor, in Yadgir

Mallamma Garadi, 63, of Batgera village in Basavakalyan taluk of Bidar district lost both her daughter and daughter-in-law due to childbirth complications during delivery a few years back. The family had to opt for non-institutional delivery as the primary health centre (PHC) at her village did not have doctors and they could not afford to admit them to the nearest private hospital which was eight kilometres away. 

For the past eight months, students of the government primary school in Horatur village in the newly formed Wadagera taluk in Yadgir district have been attending classes under the shade of trees as their school building is unsafe for use.

Mallamma and the students of Horatur village mirror the ground reality of the Kalyana Karnataka (KK) region comprising Bidar, Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Raichur, Koppal and Ballari, the most backward districts in the state. They are also among the most socio-economically deprived districts in the country. 

READ: ‘8% students’ struggle for a better future

Recently, Hyderabad-Karnataka region celebrated its Liberation Day and was rechristened as Kalyana Karnataka. Even as politicians and officers made tall claims that the region was improving after it was given special status under Article 371(J) in 2013, reports from the ground revealed a contrasting picture.

The special status makes provisions for 80% special reservation in education and jobs in the KK region and 8% reservation in other parts of the state for the residents of the region.

The region annually gets an additional fund of Rs 1,000 crore from the state government because of the special status. The amount was raised to Rs 1,500 crore in 2017 and further to Rs 2,500 crore in 2019. However, the increased funds for 2017 were released only this year.

These funds are meant to improve three major indicators of the Human Development Index (HDI) — health, education and the standard of living. But even after nearly six years of getting the special status, five districts of the KK region still stand at the bottom of the HDI ranking list.

As per the Economic Survey of Karnataka 2018-19, the Kalyana Karnataka Region Development Board, since its inception in 2013, has spent Rs 281.74 crore on education (out of an allotted fund of Rs 646.74 crore), Rs 112 crore on health (of Rs 165.19 crore), Rs 32.89 crore for development of women and children (of Rs 54.93 crore). However, experts say the funds have not led to much development.

Access to healthcare

None of the 14 primary health centres DH visited in Bidar, Kalaburagi and Yadgir districts had the required number of doctors. Multiple PHCs were managed by a single doctor and many were even run by nurses and midwives.

According to official reports, of the 431 sanctioned posts of specialist doctors in the KK region, 182 posts are still vacant. Of the 445 sanctioned posts of General Duty Medical Officers, 59 posts are vacant. According to experts, this is one of the major reasons for high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates in the region. Due to the lack of facilities, patients are frequently referred to district hospitals which again are overcrowded and lack many specialised services.

The picture of education institutions is no different. Almost all government schools are largely dependent on guest teachers due to vacancies. In several high schools, language teachers are forced to teach Science, Mathematics and Social Science. Prof Razak Ustaad of Raichur, who has conducted an extensive study on the status of education in KK, says 85% of the 12,000 schools (both primary and high school) do not have the required number of teachers.

A majority of the degree colleges are run by in-charge principals who are not eligible to take decisions, and 80% of PU colleges do not have a principal. No wonder, the six districts, especially Yadgir, Bidar and Kalaburagi occupy the last positions in the state in every annual SSLC and II PUC examinations. Even the literacy rate remains low when compared to the state average.

All six districts of the region have harsh summers with temperatures reaching 45 degree Celsius. Though three major rivers — Krishna, Bhima and Tungabhadra — flow through the districts, all of them go completely dry during summer leading to severe water crises. A majority of the groundwater sources either go dry or are unfit for consumption as they have a high content of fluoride and other pollutants.

Of the 74 families in Horatur village of Yadgir district, almost half of the families have a kidney stone patient and doctors attribute this problem to the consumption of contaminated water. To address this problem, the government installed Reverse Osmosis water purification plants but most of them stand idle as they are either not connected to a permanent water line or have turned defunct due to poor maintenance.

The region lags even in industrialisation and employment generation. Except for the ‘pollution causing’ cement and steel industries and three thermal power plants, which were thrust on this region, there are hardly any industries here.

Special status, just on paper

All these indicate the special status has not yielded the desired results. The major reasons for this failure include a delay in the release of funds and underutilisation of funds released for the region. Also, there is a lack of clarity among officers and even elected representatives about the use of these untied funds.

Of the promised Rs 6,000 crore, between 2014 and 2019, the Kalyana Karnataka Region Development Board (KKRDB) received only Rs 3,250 crore and spent Rs 2,491.92 crore on various projects. Surprisingly, a lion’s share was spent on laying roads instead of improving the standard of living in the region. Of the Rs 2,645.39 crore allotted funds,
Rs 1,626.39 crore was spent on laying roads, which could have even been done under various other government schemes.

Kalaburagi Regional Commissioner Subodh Yadav, who is also the secretary of KKRDB, attributes the delay in completion of works and ineffective utilisation of funds to two reasons. One, the Board lacks the capacity and capabilities to manage such huge funds.

“The government officers and staff who used to draw plans and projects worth Rs 50 crore released for each of the districts in this region prior to 2013 are now struggling to prepare action plans for projects worth Rs 1,500 crore. With more than 27% vacant posts in (various departments) in the region, it is hard to implement the projects,” he said.

Secondly, Yadav said, there was no clarity from the state government on utilisation of these ‘untied’ funds and type of projects that could be undertaken. 

“The administrative set-up is such that the Board has become an outside entity trying to implement projects through insiders on whom the Board has no control or authority. Without getting the authority to implement the projects, it is difficult to bring in development,” Yadav told DH.

Sources in the Secretariat said that political interference resulted in funds being utilised only for ‘visible’ development such as laying of concrete roads, whereas other vital parameters of human development were neglected. 

As per the Board’s website, more than 70% of project works taken up by the Board could have received funds under various heads.

On the other hand, experts assert that the Board has not been laying emphasis on asset generation and job creation.

According to Hyderabad-Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industries President Amarnath Patil, it is difficult for the region to develop without industrialisation. “Lack of industrial policies and a blueprint of industrialisation by the state government has led to unemployment in the region. Added to this, Telangana is taking away all ‘our’ industries,” he said.

He added that Telangana has set up over 60 special economic zones (SEZ) providing tax exemptions, cheaper land and other benefits whereas Karnataka has failed to come up with even one SEZ in the KK region.

He also criticised the Union government for orphaning the region after announcing the special status. “Not a single rupee has come from New Delhi to KK region in the past six years,” he said.

Industrialists say that even after implementing Article 371 (J), the region continues to face discrimination. They cite the example of not setting up National Investment Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) in Kalaburagi, while Tumakuru has a functioning NIMZ. According to a techno-feasibility report of Karnataka State Industries Development Corporation, setting up of NIMZ would have generated 2.60 lakh jobs in the first few years itself.

Despite various efforts, the decade-old historical neglect and socio-economic disparities still linger on due to the lack of political will and government apathy.

Land of contradictions

Sangeeta Kattimani

Kalyan Karnataka is the food bowl of Karnataka as it grows the highest quantity of rice and pulses. But it still ranks high in the number of malnourished children. Infant and maternal mortality rates are higher than the state average in this region.

The region has a large number of cement and steel industries, which is required for construction industries, yet a majority of the people live in thatched houses here. 

About 84% of India’s gold is mined from the region, yet the per capita income of five of the six districts is at the bottom of the rank list (Ballari being the only exception). 

The region has three thermal power plants. However, a majority of the power is supplied to outside the region, as there are not many heavy industries to utilise the power. 

Yadgir has the highest number of woman labourers, and a majority of them migrate to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Goa and Bengaluru during summer. 

(The writer is a senior economist and lecturer at the Govt PU college MPHS in Kalaburagi.)

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