Is that the answer?

Separate North Karnataka State

Members of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike stage a protest rally demanding overall development and against a separate state demand for North karnataka at Mini Vidhana Soudha in Kalaburagi. DH PHOTO/PRASHANTH H G

Some indiscreet remarks by Chief Minister Kumaraswamy, even if unintended, have prompted the demand for a separate state for North Karnataka. Voices may not be loud but there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among the people in the northern districts about much of their region being under-developed. The feeling that they have been ‘ignored’ by successive governments is particularly pronounced in Hyderabad–Karnataka.

Let us pause for a while and consider the issue objectively. It is a fact that North Karnataka is less developed than the south, economically and socially. The Committee on Regional Disparities (headed by the economist, late DM Nanjundappa) in 2000 identified 114 taluks in the state as backward and categorised North Karnataka as ‘more backward’ and Hyderabad-Karnataka as ‘most backward’ compared to South Karnataka.

The per capita income in all the 12 northern districts was lower than the state average of Rs 17,158 at that time. Over 77% of the industry and employment distribution was in the south, Bengaluru being the dominant player.

The committee recommended a Special Development Plan of Rs 31,804 crore for development of the backward taluks over a period of eight years. However, no action was taken on the report till 2008 when Yeddyurappa as deputy CM and finance minister in the then coalition government provided Rs 1,571 crore. But progress has been tardy.

The people of Hyderabad-Karnataka had to wage a long struggle to gain recognition under Article 371J of the Constitution for certain special advantages — a separate Development Board for equitable distribution of resources for development expenditure in backward taluks and reservations in educational institutions. Despite the constitution of such a board and allocation of funds for various development projects, the H-K region continues to be the most backward in the state.

According to a recent report on Human Development Index, out of 13 districts classified under ‘poor performance’, 11 were in North Karnataka. It is also a fact that administration of the northern districts has suffered mainly due to their remoteness from the state capital and poor connectivity.

The question is whether a region that has remained backward for so long is justified in demanding a separate state for itself.

Telangana succeeded in carving out a separate state for itself mainly on the argument of ‘backwardness’ and being ‘ignored’, despite the fact that the state capital, Hyderabad, was located in Telangana region.

It is worth recalling that the three districts of Bidar, Kalaburagi and Raichur were part of the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad’s territory, which included the present districts of Telangana. Keeping political arguments aside, purely from the point of view of administrative convenience, a separate state seems eminently desirable.

A smaller state has several advantages. It is easier to manage a smaller population and territory. Ministers and senior officers can visit the districts more often. Monitoring the progress of development projects can be more effective. Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, which were part of the earlier Punjab state, registered rapid progress after they emerged as independent states.

Decisions to form new states, however, are not taken solely on administrative grounds; political and social factors play a bigger role. Those opposed to division argue that in the case of Karnataka, language forms an integral part of the ethos of the state. The unification of the Kannada-speaking people scattered across five different states was achieved after a long and hard struggle going back to pre-Independence days.

The strong emotional chord that has developed over the past 50 years cannot be snapped for the unknown gains of a separate state. Moreover, it is feared that the division of the state might result in a Lingayat north and a Vokkaliga south, given the predominance of these two dominant castes in the two regions.

Regional disparity

Another relevant factor in this context is the disparity between the north-eastern and the north-western regions. The latter is undoubtedly more advanced than the former in almost all aspects. If North Karnataka becomes a separate state, conflicts between the two regions cannot be ruled out. This was evident from the agitation that followed the central government’s decision to locate an IIT in Dharwad. Deciding on a new capital for the new state is bound to become a serious bone of contention. And, it is not easy to build a new capital, as witnessed in the struggle of Andhra Pradesh to build Amaravati, the dream capital of its Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

So, what is the solution? It is not as if there has been no development in the northern region. Huge investments have been made in various activities, particularly in the irrigation sector. The Upper Krishna Project is a boon to the people of the area which when completed will contribute immensely to the prosperity of its people.

The problem lies not so much in budget allocations or paucity of projects but elsewhere — in the shortage of human capital and lack of capacity to plan and execute. This crucial point has been sorely missed or ignored by the politicians.

The Regional Commissioner of Kalaburagi pointedly raised this issue in the recent conference of deputy commissioners. He referred to the large number of vacancies in the Kalaburagi division and pleaded for adequate staff to execute plans and improve efficiency. This is easier said than done as most officers are not willing to serve in that region. And often times, transfer to Kalaburagi division is considered a punishment posting!

It requires serious political and administrative effort to take the north, particularly the Kalaburagi region, forward. It is important to focus on education and human development. More than a separate state, what we need is a separate Minister for North Karnataka, with headquarters in Kalaburagi, with a small but efficient secretariat and a mandate to deliver the goods.

(The writer retired as Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka)

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