HDK faces challenges

Hyderabad-Karnataka

Former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has alleged that no previous government was as discriminatory and indifferent to the Hyderabad-Karnataka region as the present HD Kumaraswamy government. In his 27-member ministry, only eight ministers hail from the region. The continued neglect of the region and the recent statements of the chief minister have resulted in a scenario where the seers from noted mutts in Belagavi and Dharwad region led a massive agitation outside the Suvarna Soudha.

Separate statehood is not necessarily the solution to the problems being faced in northern Karnataka. The Hyderabad-Karnataka region has given the state six chief ministers. However, much remains to be done in the most backward districts of the state. The tussle for resources and development continues. The Nanjundappa Committee report used 35 indicators to measure the extent of development, based on which the comprehensive composite development index (CCDI) and the composite deprivation index (CDI) were prepared.

The report made a study of regional disparities, and recommended appropriate strategies for development to minimise inter-district, intra-district and inter-regional disparities. On this basis, the report categorised the 175 taluks in the region into 39 most backward, 40 more backward and 35 backward taluks. There were also variations in taluk-level disparities. The committee suggested allocation of Rs 31,000 crore, spread over a few years, to reduce the disparities. Let us not forget that the Hyderabad-Karnataka region is one of the most arid in the country and is largely monsoon-dependent. 

Kumaraswamy has argued that by breaking away, North Karnataka would struggle to generate necessary revenue. Some of his recent statements on the region have been provocative.

The last budget saw a raw deal for the region, in comparison to the Old Mysore region, the JD(S) political stronghold. Some of his outbursts have even put the Congress in a spot.

However, to placate the region, Kumaraswamy has promised to make Belagavi the second capital of the state. Yeddyurappa had made a similar promise in 2010. 

The demand for separate statehood has not gathered much steam. The demand is more about political rights rather than people’s rights. Umesh Katti, a political heavyweight from Hukkeri constituency in Chikkodi region, has been in the forefront to carve out a separate state in the North Karnataka region. The north versus south divide is also a tussle between Vokkaligas and Lingayats.

The issue on hand is how the cold-shouldering of the region could impact on the next parliamentary elections. Demand for separate statehood in North Karnataka was first made in the year 2000. That demand, and the measures in response to it, have been knee-jerk. After all, in 2007, when the JD(S)-BJP combine was in power, little was done to alleviate the region’s problems.

Article 371(J), which is the outcome of the constitutional amendment passed by Parliament in December 2012, is cause for hope. However, the challenge before Kumaraswamy has been the tardy implementation of Article 371(J). The Hyderabad-Karnataka Regional Developmental Board (HKRDB) has grappled with a variety of problems. Among these are low awareness levels, the nature and types of rules that have been framed, the contention that many seats reserved for the region are not being filled up, the problems of litigation, inadequate funds and larger issues of inclusion and integration. 

In fact, the Hyderabad-Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industries (HKCCI) has demanded that the government set up a new ministry to exclusively deal with these developmental issues, since the HKRDB has failed to make a difference. In some cases, the HKRDB has not been able to effectively utilise funds.

Perhaps some of the proposals made by the cabinet sub-committee headed by former rural development and panchayat raj minister HK Patil are significant in this context.

The cabinet had in 2013 given its approval to some proposals, such as fixing the quantum of reservation in educational institutions, government departments, boards and corporations for the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. From an overall perspective, the disinterestedness and/or laxity in the implementation of Article 371(J) tends to raise the demand for autonomous status or even separate statehood. 

To assuage the feelings of the region’s people, Kumaraswamy is contemplating various measures. One is the creation of the post of additional secretary (administration) exclusively for the North Karnataka region, to be based in Suvarna Soudha. There are also proposals to shift one Upa Lokayukta and to set up a Karnataka Appellate Tribunal. The government is also thinking of moving 50% of Information (RTI) Commissioners to the region on a permanent basis. This would ensure people from the region do not have to travel all the way to Bengaluru for RTI cases. 

Some of these proposals are to be welcomed. Let us not forget that Suvarna Soudha, which was built at a huge cost of Rs 400 crore, remains largely unused. The government is also planning to recruit permanent staff at Suvarna Soudha by filling vacancies under Article 371(J). 

It will be politically advantageous for the JD(S)-Congress combine to face the next parliamentary election with a report card reflecting its sensitivity and support to the development needs of the Hyderabad–Karnataka region.

The time has come for the state government to seriously address the problems and challenges of backwardness in the region. On virtually all parameters — be it agriculture, industry, finance, trade, infrastructure development, education or health, North Karnataka lags behind the rest of the state. The statistics clearly bear this out. The region is undergoing a transition, and political will is necessary to tackle the challenges facing it.    

(The writer is Professor and Dean (Arts), Dept. of Political Science, Bangalore University, Bengaluru)

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