(This explainer was originally published on 28 January 2021 and is being reposted in light of simmering tensions between Karnataka and Maharashtra over Belagavi.)
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray saying his government is committed to incorporating areas of Karnataka where Marathi-speaking people are in majority into his state has added fuel to a controversy that has been simmering for the last six decades.
Belgaum or Belagavi, which has a large Marathi-speaking population, is currently part of Karnataka and is claimed by Maharashtra. While Maharashtra has gone to the Supreme Court over this land dispute, Karnataka has declared Belagavi its second capital.
So why are the two states at loggerheads?
Origin of the Problem
Belgaum, which was later renamed Belagavi, is located in the northern part of today’s Karnataka and shares a border with Maharashtra’s Kohlapur district. The district has both Kannada and Marathi speakers. During the British Raj, the Belgaum region was part of the Bombay Presidency, which included Karnataka districts such as Vijayapura, Belagavi, Dharwad and Uttara-Kannada.
Following the implementation of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, Belagavi became part of Karnataka. In 1957, Maharashtra objected to this and submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs, demanding 2,806 square miles that included 814 villages, and three urban settlements of Belagavi, Karwar and Nippani, to be added to Maharashtra.
Talks to Resolve the Dispute
As the dispute was raging on, both states decided to resolve the matter through talks. In 1960, both states decided to set up a four-member committee with two members from each state, to study and submit a report.
During this process, Maharashtra offered to transfer 260 Kannada-speaking villages in return for its demand for 814 villages and three urban settlements. However, both states could not come to any consensus following the findings of the committee.
In the years that followed, several talks were held between the two governments, which ended without a resolution.
The Mahajan Commission
Following the protest from Maharashtra government, in 1966, the central government formed the Mahajan Commission under former chief justice Mehr Chand Mahajan. He submitted his report to the Union government in 1967 and the commission’s report was placed in Parliament in 1972.
The commission rejected Maharashtra’s claim over Belagavi city while recommending the transfer of about 260 villages in the border to Maharashtra and about 250 villages in Maharashtra to Karnataka.
Maharashtra rejected this report.
Case in Supreme Court
In 2007, the Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court. In its petition, the Maharashtra government claimed that the Marathi-speaking population in Karnataka was being sidelined and that there was a feeling of ‘insecurity among them.’
Maharashtra asked that 814 villages in Belgaum, Karwar, Bidar and Gulbarga districts in Karnataka be moved under their jurisdiction since it had a majority of Marathi-speaking people.
That case is still being heard by the Supreme Court.
As the legal battle continues, Karnataka declared Belagavi its second capital and changed the name of Belgaum to Belagavi. Meanwhile, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appointed ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Eknath Shinde as co-coordinators to oversee his government's efforts to expedite the case relating to the boundary dispute.
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