Recently, the Maharashtra assembly passed a resolution over the raging border dispute with neighbouring Karnataka. The resolution aimed to pursue a legal battle in the Supreme Court and merge 865 Marathi-speaking villages with Maharashtra along with Belagavi, Karwar, Bidar, Nipani and Bhalki cities.
Incidentally, earlier, the Karnataka assembly had also passed a resolution resolving to protect the state’s interests and not to give up an inch of land to Maharashtra. The border dispute between the two states had escalated on December 6, following which the Maharashtra government suspended all bus services to Karnataka. Vehicles going from Pune to Bengaluru were stopped and trucks pelted with stones.
Recently, Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with the chief ministers of both states. Both agreed to form a joint panel to look into the issue. Controversy erupted when Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that some villages of Maharashtra would be included in Karnataka.
With the independence of India, Belagavi district of former Bombay Presidency became a part of Bombay State. In 1956, the States Reorganisation Act incorporated it into the newly formed Mysore state (now Karnataka). This placed Belagavi, with its majority of Marathi speaking people, within the Kannada-majority Karnataka. The adjoining areas with mostly Marathi-speaking citizens were incorporated into the newly formed Maharashtra state.
On June 23, 1957, the Indian government constituted the Mahajan Committee to decide on the reorganisation of Belagavi. The four-member Committee consisted of two representatives from Maharashtra and two from Mysore. However, it failed to reach an agreement.
It all started when Maharashtra leader Senapati Bapat started a hunger strike demanding that the government form a commission to address the border dispute. At Maharashtra’s insistence, the government constituted the Mahajan Commission on October 25, 1966. VP Naik, Maharashtra’s CM, announced on November 9, 1967, that the state would adhere to the Mahajan Commission’s report, regardless of the outcome. The Commission, headed by the third chief justice of India, Meher Chand Mahajan, recommended the exchange of several villages in Belagavi district between the two states, but rejected Maharashtra’s claim on Belgaum city.
The Commission received 2,240 memoranda and interviewed 7,572 people before submitting its report. Maharashtra had asked for 814 villages besides Belagavi and was given 262 villages, including Nippani, Khanapur and Nandgad. Mysore State had claimed 516 villages, of which Maharashtra admitted that 260 were Kannada-speaking ones. Mysore was awarded 247 villages including the claim to Solapur.
Maharashtra and Kerala rejected the report of Mahajan Commission and demanded a review. Maharashtra insisted that the report was against the wishes of the people of Belgaum, while Kerala refused to hand over Kasaragod to Karnataka. Karnataka continued to refuse either the implementation of the report or the maintenance of status quo. The Mahajan Commission, however, said that its decisions on the border dispute were not based on the number of Marathi schools and students in Belagavi.
Important to this issue was the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES), which was founded in 1948 with the sole objective of ensuring that Belagavi becomes part of Maharashtra. The first Belagavi City Corporation (BCC) elections were held in December 1983. The MES-dominated BCC urged for the transfer of Belgaum to Maharashtra in 1990, 1996 and 2001. More than 250 MES-dominated gram and taluk panchayats, and some other municipalities (such as neighbouring Khanapur) passed similar commitments. In 1986, the dispute led to violence and large-scale firebombing.
On October 27, 2005, the MES-controlled BCC, passed a resolution requesting Karnataka and the Supreme Court to merge the disputed border areas in the districts of Belagavi (including Khanapura, Nippani and Belagavi city), Uttara Kannada (including Karwar and Haliyal) and Bidar (including Bhalki, Aurad and Basavakalyan) with Maharashtra.
The entire opposition boycotted the meeting. On November 10, the mayor was served a show cause notice by Karnataka asking why the resolution should not be cancelled under Section 98 and 99 of the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act. On November 1, the government cancelled the resolution without waiting for the mayor’s reply. On November 17, it served another notice that sought an explanation from the mayor as to why the BCC should not be dissolved under Section 99 of the KMC Act.
After the BCC was dissolved, the MES said that it would challenge the move in the Karnataka High Court, claiming that it disfavoured Marathi-speaking people. The BCC was dissolved on several grounds, including passing a resolution seeking the merger of Marathi-speaking areas in the border district with Maharashtra.
In December 2005, attempts were also made by the centre to re-initiate discussions on the dispute between the CMs of both states and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This effort proved fruitless as Karnataka continued to press for the implementation of the report and Maharashtra continued to stake its claim on Belagavi and a few other parts of Karnataka.
Finally, on March 15, 2006, Maharashtra filed a petition in the apex court, staking claim over Belagavi City. The state claimed that the 865 disputed villages, including Belagavi, be placed under the central government’s rule until the Supreme Court’s final verdict.
On September 25, 2006, Karnataka convened a five-day assembly session (for the first time outside Bengaluru), in Belagavi to assert its hold over the city. The state government declared that Belagavi would be made Karnataka’s second capital, but subsequently, the state home minister denied it. The assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, endorsing the Mahajan Commission report which declared Belagavi a part of Karnataka.
In 2010, the Union in its affidavit stated that the transfer of certain areas to then Mysore (now Karnataka) was neither arbitrary nor wrong. It also pointed out that both Parliament and the centre had considered all relevant factors while considering the State Reorganisation Bill, 1956, and the Bombay Reorganisation Bill, 1960. And therein hangs a tale.
But this border dispute is not the only one in India. The others are as follows:
Assam-Mizoram: In 1933, a notification defined an Inner Line or Boundary Line between Assam and Lushai Hills district (Mizoram). The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, defines the boundary between both states in independent India. This is based on the 1933 notification. In 1972, Mizoram was whittled out of Assam as a Union Territory. Following the Mizoram Peace Accord in 1987, it became a state. Initially, Mizoram accepted the border with Assam, but following encroachment, it started disputing the border.
The 1875 notification differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar and the other demarcated boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur. Assam, on the other hand, wants the boundary defined in 1986 (based on the 1933 notification).
Assam-Meghalaya: Both states have a dispute in 12 stretches of their 884-km shared border. The dispute was worsened by disagreements related to the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969. The chief ministers of both the states recently held the first-ever meeting on the border dispute.
Assam-Nagaland: This dispute has a decades-old history which was exacerbated by the creation of Nagaland as a separate state in 1963. Territorial claims of Nagaland in Assam include parts of Golaghat district, Jorhat district and Sibsagar district in the Disputed Area Belt (DAB). Both Assam and Nagaland abide by informal practices in the DAB.
Assam-Arunachal Pradesh: The boundary dispute here arose after the establishment of Arunachal Pradesh as a Union Territory in 1972. In April 1951, on the recommendation of the Bordoloi Committee, 3,648 sqkm of the plain area comprising Darrang, Dhemaji and Jonoi districts was transferred to Assam.
Haryana-Himachal Pradesh: Parwanoo region has been the centre point of the dispute. It is next to Panchkula district of Haryana and Haryana has claimed parts of the land in Himachal Pradesh as its own. The row over boundaries at Sarchu between Himachal and its neighbours arose for the first time in July 2014 when the J&K Police set up its post at Sarchu.
Himachal Pradesh-Ladakh: Both have laid claim to Sarchu, an area on the route between Leh and Manali. Sarchu is between Himachal’s Lahul and Spiti district and Leh district in Ladakh. In 2016, a team of the Surveyor General of India visited the disputed border in the presence of high officials from both sides.
—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau