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Fluid boundaries: On border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra

  • Published
    21st Dec, 2022

The Karnataka-Maharashtra Border Dispute has escalated with reports of violence in both States, attacking vehicles and other conflicts amongst the people of states.

  • The dispute began when the erstwhile Bombay Presidency had present-day Karnataka districts of Vijayapura, Belagavi (then Belgaum), Dharwad, and Uttara-Kannada.
  • In 1948, the Belgaum municipality requested that the district be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state.
  • But with the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, Belgaum and 10 talukas of Bombay State became a part of the then Mysore State.
  • This happened because states were divided based on linguistic and administrative lines.
  • This long-smoldering inter-state dispute resurfaces from time to time.

Maharashtra’s Position:

  • Maharashtra’s claim to seek the readjustment of its border was based on contiguity, relative linguistic majority, and wishes of the people. If the claim over Belagavi and surrounding areas was based on Marathi-speaking people and linguistic homogeneity, it laid its claim over Karwar and Supa where Konkani is spoken by citing Konkani as a dialect of Marathi.
  • Its argument was based on the theory of villages being the unit for calculation and enumerated linguistic populations in each village. Maharashtra also points out the historical fact that the revenue records in these Marathi-speaking areas are also kept in Marathi.

Karnataka’s Position:

  • Karnataka has argued that the settlement of boundaries as per the States Reorganisation Act is final.
  • The boundary of the State was neither tentative nor flexible. The State argues that the issue would reopen border issues that have not been contemplated under the Act, and that such a demand should not be permitted.

Reasons for the Inter-State Border Disputes:

  • Colonial Cartographies: Most states' boundaries have been constructed out of colonial cartographies based on host states. They rarely recognize the socio-cultural liminality of borders.
  • Complex Topography: On maps, colonial cartographers often labeled enormous tracts of land as “thick forests” or “unexplored.” Indigenous communities were, for the most part, left alone.
  • Linguistic Identities: Several inter-state border disputes have their roots in the reorganization of states in the 1950s, which was primarily based on language; language is now tied to the State identity.
    • As a result, there have been border disputes between Karnataka and Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Telangana, and so on.
  • District Boundaries: Many of these State boundaries were based on district boundaries established by the British instead of village boundaries. If a map is not laid out in minute detail where the administrative border stands, it can lead to a disagreement.

Implications of the Inter-State Border disputes:

  • Neglect of Disputed Regions: Uncertainty about the status of the disputed regions in the future generally deters the State Governments from undertaking development activities in these regions. There is an infrastructure deficit, a lack of investments as well as neglect of basic facilities. This also leads to poor human development.
  • Trust Deficit: It leads to a trust deficit between leaderships of the disputing States. It prevents cooperation and hampers the spirit of Cooperative Federalism.
  • Politicization of Disputes: Inter-State Border Disputes become an avenue of political mobilization. Political parties raise popular passions to reap electoral benefits. It becomes beneficial for parties to prolong the dispute, which hampers efforts for a peaceful settlement.
  • Law and Order: Often political mobilization results in violence among the communities in border areas e.g., in the ongoing Karnataka-Maharashtra Border Disputes, buses/vehicles from the other States were targeted in both States. Blockades and restrictions on the free movement of goods from other States have economic implications as well.
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