Context: Karnataka Chief Minister recently condemned comments by Maharashtra Deputy CM, over the border dispute between the two states as an attempt to “incite fire”.

More on the news:

  • Maharashtra Deputy CM sparked a controversy when he called the incorporation of Belgaum (Belagavi), Karwar and Nipani areas of Karnataka into Maharashtra.
  • Recently the Maharashtra government asked all its ministers to wear black bands on November 1, which is celebrated in Karnataka as state Formation Day– to express support for Marathi-speaking people in the region.

Origin of the dispute:

  • British era status: The erstwhile Bombay Presidency, a multilingual province, included the present-day Karnataka districts of Vijayapura, Belagavi, Dharwad, and Uttara-Kannada.
  • Post-independence demand: In 1948, the Belgaum municipality requested that the district, having a predominantly Marathi-speaking population, be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state.
  • State reorganization: Ultimately, the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, which divided states into linguistic and administrative lines. It made Belgaum and 10 talukas of Bombay State a part of the then Mysore State (which was renamed Karnataka in 1973).

The Mahajan Commission report

  • Background: While demarcating borders, the States Commission of Reorganisation sought to include talukas with a Kannada-speaking population of more than 50 percent in Mysore. 
    • On the other hand, opponents of the region’s inclusion in Mysore argue that Marathi-speakers outnumbered Kannadigas who lived there in 1956.
    • Later on, in 1957, the Bombay government echoed their demand and lodged a protest with the Centre, leading to the formation of the Mahajan Commission under former Chief Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan in October 1966.
  • Recommendations: The Commission submitted its report in August 1967,
    • It recommended that 264 villages be transferred to Maharashtra (which formed in 1960) and that Belgaum and 247 villages remain with Karnataka.
  • Aftermath:
    • Maharashtra: It rejected the report, calling it biased and illogical, and demanded another review. 
    • Karnataka: It welcomed the report, and has ever since continued to press for implementation, although this has not been formally done by the Centre.

Recent developments in the matter

  • The Maharashtra government continues to claim over 814 villages along the border, as well as Belgaum city, which is currently part of Karnataka. 
  • A pending case in SC: In 2004, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court for a settlement of the border dispute under Article 131(b) of the Constitution.
    • It demands 814 villages from Karnataka on the basis of the theory of village being the unit of calculation, contiguity and enumerating linguistic population in each village. 

Tensions have escalated in the border region later and bus services between Kolhapur and Belgaum were suspended after Kannada organisations staged a protest in Belgaum

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