Old problems plague new Karnataka districts

Old problems plague new Karnataka districts

Created by political compulsions, most of the new districts in Karnataka continue to lag on various development indicators

The Narasapur Industrial Area was set up on the outskirts of Gadag city in 1997 to give impetus to the development of the newly formed Gadag district. Given its location and connectivity, several industrialists invested crores of rupees to set up their units there, hoping to grow along with the new district.

Twenty-five years down the line, the industrial area still lacks basic infrastructure like proper roads, water supply and adequate power supply. Many of the 80-odd industrialists, who invested more than Rs 350 crore in all, now regret setting up their units here.

In Koppal, which was carved out of Raichur the same year as Gadag, the only visible development is on either side of the National Highway 67 that cuts through the city. 

The lane has new buildings that house various government offices and a new bus stand, giving the visitor a mirage of growth. But just a walk through Bhagyanagar Layout, one of the more upscale areas here, reveals muddy roads and open spaces with stagnant drainage water.

The Koppal Institute of Medical Sciences which was set up in 2015, still does not have adequate staff and medical equipment.

The story of Haveri, which separated from Dharwad in 1997, is no different. Even to this day, the patients of this district have to travel to Hubballi to avail advanced medical care. The district recorded the highest mortality rate during the second wave of Covid-19, even as the district and taluk hospitals were under-equipped and had little skilled manpower to operate the medical equipment.

This is not the story of just Gadag, Koppal or Haveri but most of the 12 districts that were formed in Karnataka post-unification in 1956. 

Experts say that except for Udupi — which was already a developing district before it was separated from Dakshina Kannada for ease of administration — other districts have failed to achieve their objective of bifurcation: development. 

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Created out of political compulsions or without adequate groundwork, most of them continue to lag on various development parameters.

The 2021 NITI Aayog Karnataka report card on the multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI) showed the newly formed districts or the districts from which they were carved ranked at the bottom. Yadgir ranks 30th in the list, preceded by Raichur (29), Bagalkot (28), Koppal (27), Vijaypur (26), Gadag (25), Kalaburagi (24), Ballari (23) and Chamarajnagar (21).

The MPI is estimated on 10 indicators, including years of schooling, school attendance, child mortality rate, nutrition availability for child and mother, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, floor and asset ownership among others.

Even the Economic Survey of Karnataka 2020-21, paints a sorry picture of the new districts, with the exception of Udupi. In terms of literacy, Yadgir (53%), Chamarajnagar (60%), Bagalkot (65%), Koppal (68%) are much below the state average of 75.36%.

When it comes to health, Chamarajnagar, Gadag and Koppal do not have exclusive district hospitals while Haveri, Bagalkot, Bengaluru Rural, Chikkaballapur and Ramanagar do not have autonomous and teaching hospitals.

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According to a senior health officer in Koppal, the majority of the primary health centres and taluk hospitals lack human resources and infrastructure. 

During Covid-19, patients from Haveri would have to rush to Hubballi or Davangere for treatment. "Till Covid struck us, we did not realise the importance of having a permanent medical infrastructure in the district. Once hospitals in other districts stopped taking our patients due to shortage of beds, we took a call to improve medical facilities here itself," said Sanjay Shettannavar, Haveri's Deputy Commissioner. 

According to a letter written by former chief minister B S Yediyurappa on February 15, 2021, to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, 49.1% of children under the age of five in Koppal are stunted and 70.7% of them are anaemic. Similarly, 54.8% of women (from 15 to 59 years) are anaemic.

All these figures then beg the question — what exactly has the ‘district’ tag got these regions?

Demands unfulfilled

“Today’s Koppal is not what we fought for. Our political class let us down by not getting projects related to irrigation, health, industry and education,” said retired college principal Allamprabhu Bettadoor and H S Patil, secretary and president of Koppal District Horata Samithi, which fought for the creation of the district.

Bettadoor also points out poor primary education facilities as the root cause for the backwardness of the district. “With so many vacancies of teachers in schools, both primary and higher education, how can one expect growth in the district?” he asks.

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Narendra Patil, a retired degree college principal in Koppal, said the Singatalur lift irrigation project was approved by the administration in 1992 to draw 7.64 TMC ft of water from Tungabhadra to irrigate 40,000 acres of farmland in Gadag and Koppal.

While H K Patil expanded the ambit of the project by drawing water to Gadag and Betageri, the political leaders of Koppal failed to implement the project.

A 7 km pipeline has been drawn and a pumphouse has been set up at an estimated cost of Rs 10 crore. However, so far not a drop of water has flown to the 12 beneficiary villages. Similarly, the elected representatives of Koppal have not taken steps to implement the Krishna-B Scheme project, which could have irrigated parts of Yelaburga taluk.

Shortage of skilled manpower in various departments is another issue common to all these new districts.

Delay in land acquisition, particularly in Haveri, is another issue stalling progress. Farmers' prior experience receiving poor compensation has made them reluctant to part with their lands for industries.

The setting up of Gadag Institute of Medical Science, State Rural Development and Panchayat Raj University and other private education institutes have helped Gadag city grow. However, its rural areas continue to wait for meaningful development.

“Farmers in Nargund have been agitating for the implementation of the Mahadayi project to get drinking water to two taluks over the last three years. But so far, the successive governments have only concentrated on urban-centric development,” said Ambarish Hiremath, an advocate.

However, former minister H K Patil said that bifurcation has helped the district get additional funds to implement the 24X7 drinking water project in Gadag-Betageri city. The project will soon be expanded to other parts of the district as well.

Continued dependence

Meanwhile, even after bifurcation, some of these districts continue to depend on their mother districts to this day.

“Yagdir got all the irrigated land, while Kalaburagi had all the educational and medical institutes. Even after separation, the people of Yadgir are forced to depend on Kalaburagi. This is not an ideal situation to be in,” said Kalaburagi-based economist Sangeetha Kattimani.

Even Chamarajangar continues to be seen as an extended part of Mysuru, despite being bifurcated from the district nearly 25 years ago.

As Chamarajanagar does not have quality education institutes, students here prefer going to more reputed institutions in Mysuru. Even for regular shopping, the people here rush to Mysuru rather than the district headquarters.

And despite its proximity to the Bengaluru-Chennai industrial corridor, Chamarajanagar has failed to take off economically and its cascading effect is seen on other development indicators too.

A vice-chancellor of a university, on condition of anonymity, said that most of these districts failed to take off as the government did not upgrade democratic institutions, administrative machinery and basic facilities. 

The division should have been based on equal distribution of natural resources and opportunity, which would have prevented stress on one area while neglecting the other.

He added that ideally, the district headquarters should not be more than 60 km away from the border village so that the district officials and police machinery can reach the last village within an hour of natural or other disasters. “But most of these districts are demanding a river after constructing a bridge,” he said.

However, for Former Additional Chief Secretary V Balasubramanian, the entire process of creating a new district is a futile exercise in the age of technology. “This only increases the number of bureaucrats and their privileges,” he said and added the government should bring in more efficiency in the bureaucracy.

“Why should a farmer, businessman or common person travel to district headquarters to get their work done? Why not bring the system that addresses their issues at either gram panchayat or taluk level?” he questioned. 

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