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Explained: Karnataka-Maharashtra Border Dispute

January 03, 2023 11:25 IST

The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute has resurfaced, and intensified. But what is the row about?

IMAGE: Karnataka Rakshana Vedike supporters protest over the Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute at Hire Bagewadi in Belagavi. Photograph: ANI Photo.

The decades-old dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka flared up again in 2022 when Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said the Karnataka government was considering laying claim to Jath taluk in Maharashtra, provoking an angry response in Maharashtra.

The Karnataka assembly, on December 22, unanimously passed a resolution to protect its interests and called the dispute a 'closed chapter'.

On December 27, the Maharashtra government retaliated by passing a unanimous resolution in its assembly to legally pursue the inclusion of 865 Marathi-speaking villages from Belagavi, Karwar, Nipani, Bidar, Bhalki in Karnataka into the state.

The dispute dates back to the 1960s after the reorganisation of states on linguistic lines.

Maharashtra laid claim to Belagavi, earlier known as Belgaum, which was part of the Bombay Presidency at the time of Independence, on linguistic grounds.

Currently the dispute is before the apex court after the Maharashtra government filed a plea challenging the State Reorganisation Act 1956 in 2004.


What is the case in the Supreme Court?

In 2004, the Maharashtra government filed a petition in the Supreme Court staking claim to 865 Marathi-speaking villages and 5 cities -- Belgaum, Bidar, Balki, Karwar and Nipani -- in Karnataka.

How did the Karnataka government respond?

Karnataka responded by stating in the apex court that it would not part with a single village or city from its state boundaries.

The Karnataka government referred to the Mahajan Commission report of 1967 which settled the issue permanently by giving Belgaum city to Karnataka and all those villages which Maharashtra were claiming to be theirs.

Karnataka further told the court that Article 3 of the Constitution does not give it the jurisdiction to decide the borders of the states.

In its argument, Karnataka stated that only Parliament can decide state borders.

Maharashtra's argument

The Maharashtra government invoked Article 131 of the Constitution stating that the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the state governments or between the state governments and the Government of India.

This was in contradiction to Article 3 of the Constitution which the Karnataka government used in its argument.

IMAGE: Union Home Minister Amit Shah with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, second from right, state Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, extreme right, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, second from left, during a meeting on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border issue in New Delhi, December 14, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo.

What is the Mahajan Commission?

The Mahajan Commission was formed in 1966 by the central government with representatives from then Mysore state and Maharashtra.

Under the leadership of former Chief Justice of India Meher Chand Mahajan, the commission ordered 264 villages of then Mysore state to be transferred to Maharashtra. It handed Belgaum city to then Mysore state along with 247 villages then.

On November 1, 1973, Mysore state became Karnataka.

Maharashtra outrightly rejected the Mahajan Commission report.

Is this the first time violence broke out between the two states?

Unfortunately, no.

When then Karnataka chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde tried to impose the compulsory teaching of Kannada in schools of predominant Marathi speaking areas in 1986, it resulted in riots, leaving 7 people dead.

Hegde later withdrew his proposal, but the damage was done.

Any other incidents of violence?

There have been many skirmishes, but the most low point was when then Belgaum mayor Vijay More's face was blackened by a group of Kannada Rakshana Vedike volunteers in November 2005. They tore his shirt and made him stand in his trousers with a blackened face.

The activists were angry that More had passed a resolution in the Belgaum City Corporation favouring the merger of Belgaum with Maharashtra.

The Karnataka government dissolved the Belgaum City Corporation for adopting the resolution demanding merger of Marathi-speaking areas with Maharashtra.

IMAGE: Members of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti and Nationalist Congress Party protest near the Kognoli toll plaza near the Karnataka-Maharashtra border. Photograph: ANI

Tension Day

November 1 is a tense day for citizens of Belagavi and people who live in Maharashtra-Karnataka border areas.

Marathi speaking organisations boycott Rajyotsava Day which is celebrated on November 1 to mark the formation of Karnataka state in 1973.

The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti observes November 1 as Black Day and demands the merger of Marathi speaking areas in Belagavi, Uttara Kannada and Bidar districts with Maharashtra.

Why is the situation not cooling down now?

After his ouster from power in June 2022, Uddhav Thackeray wants to score brownie points over his adversary, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.

Uddhav knows Shinde cannot do anything against the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka as he is dependent on BJP support in Maharashtra.

Though Shinde has declared that not a single inch of Maharashtra will be given to Karnataka, Maharashtrians know all three governments -- in Bengaluru, Karnataka; in Mumbai, Maharashtra; and the central government in New Delhi -- are ruled by the BJP and no solution is in sight.

IMAGE: Security beefed up at the Karnataka-Maharashtra border at Chikodi in Belagavi. Photograph: ANI Photo.

What is the likely solution?

Union Home Minister Amit Shah asked the chief ministers and BJP leaders from both states not to make any provocative remarks, but it is the Opposition parties who are putting the Maharashtra government in a fix by making headline catching statements.

'We will enter Karnataka like China entered India,' Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut declared recently.

'Declare Belagavi, Nippani and Karwar as a Union Territory till the Supreme Court order,' Uddhav Thackeray stated

In response, Karnataka Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J C Madhuswamy said, 'Mumbai qualifies to be a Union Territory considering the cosmopolitan population and contributions of people of other states.'

Until the Supreme Court steps in, the Karnataka-Maharashtra border dispute will continue to fester, as it has donen for more than half a century.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/