The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute – the past and the present

Earlier this week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar released a book published by the state government, titled ‘Maharashtra-Karnataka Seemavad: Sangharsh Aani Sankalp’ (Maharashtra-Karnataka Boundary Dispute: Struggle and Pledge). The book is a collection of articles, news, and other material on the demand that Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka should be integrated into Maharashtra.

Until the Supreme Court gives is verdict on the dispute, the areas should be declared Union Territory, Thackeray said.

Pawar was more circumspect, saying that the government must make all legal efforts to ensure a favourable verdict in the apex court.

The matter has been in the Supreme Court since 2004.

The dispute

This long smouldering inter-state dispute resurfaces from time to time, rather like the issue around the demand for the renaming of Aurangabad. Maharashtra has staked claim to over 7,000 sq km area along its border with Karnataka, comprising 814 villages in the districts of Belagavi (Belgaum), Uttara Kannada, Bidar, and Gulbarga, and the towns of Belagavi, Karwar, and Nippani. All these areas are predominantly Marathi-speaking, and Maharashtra wants them to be merged with the state.

The genesis of the dispute lies in the reorganisation of states along linguistic and administrative lines in 1956.

The erstwhile Bombay Presidency, a multilingual province, included the present-day Karnataka districts of Vijayapura, Belagavi, Dharwad, and Uttara Kannada. In 1948, the Belgaum municipality requested that the district, having a predominantly Marathi-speaking population, be incorporated into the proposed Maharashtra state.

However, The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 made Belgaum and 10 talukas of Bombay State a part of the then Mysore State (which was renamed Karnataka in 1973). While demarcating borders, the Reorganisation of States Commission sought to include talukas with a Kannada-speaking population of more than 50 per cent in Mysore. But the opponents of the region’s inclusion in Mysore have maintained that in 1956, Marathi-speakers outnumbered Kannada-speakers in those areas.

Political parties in Maharashtra are united on the merger of the border areas with the state. The dispute features in every election manifesto of the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, and BJP Over the last six decades, every Governor’s address (which outlines the state government’s policies and programmes) to the joint session of the Maharashtra Assembly and Council has mentioned the border dispute to loud applause from members across parties.

Recent incidents

This is not the first time that this matter has arisen in the last 13 months of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition government.

Bus services between Kolhapur (Maharashtra) and Belgaum (Karnataka) had to be suspended for a few days following tensions that flared on both sides of the border after Chief Minister Thackeray referred to the contentious areas as “Karnataka-occupied Maharashtra” in the Assembly.

He also named two senior ministers, Eknath Shinde and Chhagan Bhujbal, to a co-ordination committee to oversee the expeditious resolution of the case in favour of Maharashtra in the Supreme Court.

Late last year, the Maharashtra government asked all ministers to wear a black band on November 1, which is celebrated in Karnataka as Rajyotsava or state Formation Day, to express support for Marathi-speaking people in Karnataka.

Thackeray reiterated his commitment to redrawing Maharashtra’s borders to include areas that now lie in Karnataka on January 17, which is observed in Maharashtra as Martyrs’ Day, while paying tributes to those who died in the 1956 border struggle to join Maharashtra.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar echoed the pledge.

The Mahajan Commission

The BJP government in Karnataka has accused Maharashtra of seeking to incite violence on the border dispute, and Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has vowed he would “not part with an inch of land”. The Mahajan Commission had “long ago settled the dispute”, Yediyurappa said, condemning Maharashtra.

The Mahajan Commission was set up by the Government of India in October 1966 to look into the border dispute. In its report submitted in August 1967, the Commission, led by former Chief Justice of India Mehr Chand Mahajan, recommended that 264 villages should be transferred to Maharashtra, and that Belgaum and 247 villages should remain with Karnataka.

Maharashtra rejected the report, calling it biased and illogical, while Karnataka welcomed it. Despite demands from Karnataka, the Centre never implemented the recommendations of the report.

Earlier this week, Sharad Pawar said the report was “100 per cent against Maharashtra”.

The BJP’s dilemma

At a time when the BJP has tried to corner Thackeray on the issue of renaming Aurangabad, challenging him to act on the old promise, the border row has handed the Shiv Sena an opportunity to hit back at its former ally.

The Maharashtra BJP had lain low for long, shying away from saying anything that would pit it against its own government and party in Karnataka. However, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has now said that the Maharashtra BJP wants that the predominantly Marathi-speaking border areas should be merged with Maharashtra.

“Irrespective of the party in power, both states have from the beginning struck to their positions. The Maharashtra BJP’s stand remains unchanged,” Fadnavis has said.

What are Canada’s new Covid-19 travel restrictions

To address the threat posed by new and more infectious variants of the novel coronavirus, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday unveiled a fresh set of Covid-19 restrictions for travellers who are planning to visit the country. “New variants of Covid-19 pose a real challenge to Canada,” Prime Minister Trudeau said at a press conference. “That’s why we need to take extra measures.”

The new restrictions are aimed at minimising the impact of the deadly disease ahead of the upcoming holiday season.

From suspending flights to a number of popular destinations, to making Covid PCR tests mandatory upon arrival — the Trudeau administration announced a slew of strict new measures to crack down on the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

What are the new travel restrictions Canada PM Trudeau announced?

Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the country’s main airlines — Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, and Air Transat — are suspending all flights to the Caribbean and Mexico from April 30. The airlines are in the process of “making arrangements with customers who are currently on a trip in these regions to organise their return flights,” Trudeau said at the press conference on Friday.

In addition to this, all international flights will only be permitted to land in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto from next week onwards. Travellers arriving in the country will also have to take compulsory Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. While awaiting their results, they will be required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel at their own expense. According to Trudeau, the cost for this is “expected to be more than $2,000.”

“Those with negative test results will then be able to quarantine at home under significantly increased surveillance and enforcement,” he added. But those who test positive, will have to quarantine in a designated government facility to ensure that they are not carrying “variants of potential concern”.

He also urged Canadians to avoid all forms of non-essential travel. Trudeau said that nonessential travellers will soon have to present a negative Covid-19 test before entering the land border with the US.

“By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time, when we can all plan those vacations,” the Canadian Prime Minister said.

Non-essential travel to Canada by foreign tourists has been banned since the country first began reporting coronavirus cases in March, last year. Earlier, anyone entering the country for essential travel was required to undergo a mandatory self-quarantine period of two weeks. Travellers had to provide a negative Covid-19 test, taken within three days of their departure time, before boarding a Canada-bound flight.

What has led to the new restrictions?

Trudeau’s recent announcement follows weeks of furore in Canada’s provinces, where local authorities have been urging the Prime Minister and his administration to introduce stricter travel regulations to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

According to latest statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency, over 6.3 million travellers who entered the country since the onset of the pandemic did not have to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine, Global News reported. The figure includes truck drivers and others involved in cross-border transportation of goods. A number of these workers travel to and from the United States — the world’s
worst-affected country — regularly.

But during his press conference yesterday, Trudeau noted that only 2 per cent of Covid-19 cases in Canada are due to incoming travellers — which he claimed was evidence of the effectiveness of the country’s strict coronavirus restrictions.

What sort of travel is permitted and what is not?

While tourism has not been allowed since the very onset of the pandemic, visitors are permitted to travel to Canada for ‘family-reunification’ in some cases. Most permitted travel is exclusively reserved for Canadian citizens and permanent residents only. Foreign nationals will only be permitted to enter if they are protected workers, asylum claimants, or if they have applied to travel to the country on other compassionate grounds.

While healthcare workers have strongly advised against non-essential inter-provincial travel, residents are permitted to visit most Canadian provinces, other than the Atlantic provinces and Arctic territories. Here, authorities have banned the entry of people from the rest of Canada, unless they are travelling for essential reasons, such as for school or work.

So far, Canada has reported over 7.74 lakh Covid-19 cases and 2.2 lakh deaths.