Belagavi district trifurcation demand resurfaces in Karnataka amid political pressure, border dispute

Currently, Belagavi is the largest district of Karnataka and has 18 Assembly segments. It also has 15 talukas and 506 village panchayats.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Aug 18, 2023 | 9:00 AM Updated Aug 18, 2023 | 9:00 AM

The map of Karnataka.

The trifurcation of Karnataka’s Belagavi district has once again taken centre stage, with several Congress MLAs raising this nearly three-decade-old demand during a recent meeting held in Bengaluru with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

Belagavi boasts a captivating geographical canvas. The landscape of this district, nestled in the embrace of the Western Ghats, is graced by the Ghataprabha, Krishna, Markandeya, and Malaprabha rivers.

The lush Western Ghats add a breathtaking backdrop, while the rivers converge to nurture its fertile lands.

Notably, Belagavi is Karnataka’s foremost sugarcane producer, enriching its agricultural legacy.

Currently, Belagavi is the largest district of Karnataka and has 18 Assembly segments — the second-highest after state capital Bengaluru City, which has 28 assembly seats. It also has 15 talukas and 506 village panchayats.

There are three revenue sub-divisional headquarters — Belagavi, Bailhongal and Chikkodi — headed by their respective assistant commissioners, according to the Belagavi District Administration.

Meeting with Siddaramaiah

On the 77th Independence Day, Karnataka’s Minister for Public Works Satish Jarkiholi, who is also the district’s in-charge minister, revealed that he and all the other Congress MLAs from Belagavi discussed the trifurcation of Belagavi with the chief minister in a 8 August meeting.

The MLAs demanded the splitting of Belagavi into three districts: Belagavi, Chikkodi, and Bailhongal. Some MLAs also demanded Athani, Gokak, and Ramdurg — in various combinations — instead of Chikkodi and Bailhongal.

In 1997, the then chief minister JH Patel trifurcated Belagavi into three districts — Belagavi, Gokak and Chikkodi. It received severe backlash from the local Kannada activists, which forced the government to revoke its order.

As the issue has once again come to the fore, the activists insist the Siddaramaiah government must tread cautiously on the trifurcation of the Belagavi district and first resolve the ongoing Karnataka-Maharashtra interstate border dispute.

The border dispute between the two states has been pending before the Supreme Court since 2004.

Explainer: What the Karnataka-Maharashtra border dispute is all about

The latest demand

Several Congress MLAs — mainly from Bailhongal, Chikkodi, Kagwad, Athani, and Ramdurg — put have the trifurcation demand before the Siddaramaiah government.

Jarkiholi told reporters in Belagavi: “The matter related to the trifurcation of Belagavi was discussed with the chief minister. We are mounting pressure on the state government to form three new districts at the earliest.”

He added: “There is a demand for separate districts for Gokak, Chikkodi and Belagavi. There are also plans — from earlier — to bifurcate the Belagavi taluka into North and South as the population is over eight lakhs.”

Jarkiholi also said that the state government would take people and all the stakeholders into confidence while deciding on trifurcation.

Admitting that the trifurcation of Belagavi was discussed with the chief minister, Congress leader and Kagwad MLA Raju Kage told South First: “It is an almost-three-decade-old demand from the people of Belagavi. We are pushing for the split of the Belagavi district because it is currently very difficult to manage in terms of administration and development.”

He added: “Belagavi is the largest district [in Karnataka] in terms of size and has 18 Assembly constituencies and 15 talukas. Its administration has become a herculean task. Athani and Kagwad are around 120-150 km away from the district headquarters.”

He also said: “People from our region suffer a lot because if there are any official or government works at the district headquarters, they need to travel around 250 km in a day. It is impossible for the common man. Hence, we have demanded the trifurcation at the earliest.”

Kage said he favoured both Athani and Chikkodi as new districts.

Congress MLA Laxman Savadi, who quit the BJP and pledged allegiance to the grand old party before the 10 May Karnataka Assembly elections, demanded a separate district for Athani in the meeting, claimed sources.

Bailhongal MLA Mahantesh Koujalagi told South First: “I demand a separate district for Bailhongal. The demand is not just mine but also of the people. Bailhongal is already a revenue sub-division.”

He added: “I could not participate in the meeting chaired by the chief minister due to health reasons. None of the MLAs discussed this matter with me. If the government wishes to continue with a united Belagavi, I have no qualms.”

Ramdurg is 97 km away from Belagavi, Savadatti is 88 km away from the district headquarters, Nippani is 74.4 km away, Chikkodi is 72.6 km away, and Gokak is 63 km away.

Also read: Dissent in Karnataka Congress over Siddaramaiah’s MLC picks

Backlash over split in 1997

The JH Patel government faced severe backlash from Kannada organisations, activists, and the people for carving Belagavi into three new districts in 1997.

On 22 August, 1997, then-chief minister Patel announced eight new districts. Udupi was carved out of Dakshina Kannada, Gadag out of Haveri, Dharwad and Koppal out of Raichur, Bagalkot from Vijayapura, Davangere from Chitradurga, and Ballari and Shivamogga. And finally, Gokak and Chikkodi were carved out of Belagavi.

Belagavi Kannada Organisations’ Action Committee President Ashok Chandaragi told South First: “In the JH Patel government, there were 11 Janata Dal MLAs in Belagavi. On their nod, the then chief minister announced two new districts along with Belagavi in 1997.”

The people of the six new districts — barring those carved out of Belagavi — welcomed the then Janata Dal government’s decision. However, it faced severe opposition from the Belagavi.

Following the division of Belagavi, various Kannada organisations — including the Action Committee of the Belagavi Kannada Organisation — staged a month-long protest against the government.

Even late two-time chief minister S Nijalingappa and writer and Kannada activist Patil Puttappa — two stalwarts in their own right — vehemently opposed the move and cautioned the Patel government.

“Several senior leaders, including late Umesh Katti, Shivanand Koujalagi, and I also opposed this back then,” he noted.

“The people of Ramdurga, Bailhongal, Hukkeri, Khanapur, and Savadatti opposed it,” added the Congress MLA.

Patel was forced to revoke the government order on the division of Belagavi due to public protests, recalled MLA Raju Kage.

“I met the then chief minister and asked him whether his government took the local people into confidence before making the decision. We opposed it tooth and nail. We launched a protest in six talukas opposing the government’s move,” said Chandaragi.

“Even former Nijalingappa and Patil Puttappa warned the government on the matter. Patel announced on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly that the government would not split Belagavi until the Karnataka-Maharashtra border dispute was resolved,” he added.

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Tread cautiously, warn activists

With the issue of the trifurcation of Belagavi once again coming to the fore, Kannada activists have again warned the Siddaramaiah government to tread cautiously on the matter.

The activists pointed out that the interstate border dispute had been pending before the apex court since 2004.

Chandaragi said: “Siddaramaiah was part of the Patel Cabinet in 1997 when Belagavi was divided. He knows in and out the demands related to the trifurcation of the Belagavi district.”

He added: “I hope he will not take any hasty decision on the division of Belagavi because several Maharashtra leaders are eagerly waiting for its division. If Belagavi is divided, there are chances of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti gaining popularity.”

Chandaragi also said: “Henceforth, the state government must stress on resolving the interstate border dispute in the Supreme Court by bringing pressure from the Union government. The border dispute has been hanging a sword on us (Belagavi).”

He also demanded that the Siddaramaiah government take Kannada organisations into confidence on the matter.