What ideas does the Member of Parliament from Dharwad have to fix the regional imbalance in Karnataka?
Why does North Karnataka lag behind other regions of the state in almost all developmental indices? Why does it seem like governments in Bengaluru discriminate against the region? Does the geographic spread of particular castes have something to do with it? Why does the Krishna river not get attention similar to that spared for the Cauvery? What is the way in addressing this gross regional imbalance?
All of these are questions of profound importance to any public representative from North Karnataka. Swarajya spoke to Pralhad Joshi, Member of Parliament (MP) for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from Dharwad, to get some answers to these questions.
How do you view the economic divide between North Karnataka and South Karnataka and the present government’s attitude towards it?
Except for five years of the BJP government, the Congress and Janata Dal have governed the state since the 1956 reorganisation. During our tenure, we started implementing the recommendations of the High Power Committee, which was set up under the chairmanship of noted economist Dr Nanjundappa but was languishing for years. During his five-year stint, then chief minister Siddaramaiah didn’t take the implementation of the report seriously. The present government of H D Kumaraswamy is also very anti-North Karnataka.
As far as the central government is concerned, it is doing a lot including setting up of two new IITs, in Dharward and Raichur, one IIIT in Raichur. The problem of poor road infrastructure is being addressed after a long time. Last time the BJP was in power at the Centre, the region benefited from the construction of NH4 stretch connecting Bengaluru to Belagavi. It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who brought the South-Western Railway Headquarter to Hubbali. H D Deve Gowda as prime minister had tried to shift it to Bengaluru. They have always been allergic to north Karnataka.
The Constitution was amended in 2013 introducing Article 371J to give special status to six districts of Hyderabad-Karnataka region and create a development board to address the regional imbalance. But five years later, it has hardly changed anything for the region.
First, this article doesn’t make it binding on the government to commit a certain share of finances for the development of the region. We have been demanding it from day one. Second, in the last five years, even one-tenth of the earmarked funds have not been used. Third, there is no political will shown by the government in filling government vacancies as per Article 371J. Earlier, it was stuck in courts where the government didn’t show willingness to fight to lift the stay. Now, that court case is resolved, it’s still not showing any urgency in filling the vacant posts.
You are saying the present government is anti-North Karnataka. Some in your party have made similar accusations. In the north, many have even made calls for a separate state to be carved out to get justice. If we look at history, Hubbali-Dharwad used to be the centre of the Karnataka Ekikaran Movement. Compare that to the situation today, how do you view this deteriorating development?
It’s very unfortunate. We united Karnataka but these people are ignoring us. The government must work to remove the regional imbalances. At the same time, we want to make it clear we are not for a separate North Karnataka. We want the whole state to be united. But the situation is very bad today. The kind of apathy the present government has for North Karnataka and especially Hubbali-Dharwad is just unbelievable.
Is it because of the caste-composition of the regions with the Lingayats dominant in the north and Vokkaligas in the south?
Caste is one factor. But their (state government’s) attitude is, since these people (in the north) didn’t vote for us, let’s teach them a lesson. What they should do is do development work for everyone and ask the votes on basis of the performance.
In the north, there is a perception that the discrimination is not just limited to areas alone but also extends to rivers. Rivers in the north do not invite the government’s attention as much as Cauvery does.
The government doesn’t focus on Krishna river as much as it does on Cauvery basin while the former is comparatively bigger than the latter. I am not saying Cauvery basin shouldn’t be developed but at least equal treatment should be given. Raising the height of the Alamatti dam from the present 519 ft to 524 ft can alone help irrigate lakhs of acres of agriculture land in North Karnataka. But the state government is not attaching much importance to the Krishna river.
What are the roadblocks in improving the road infrastructure in northern part and especially in Hubbali-Dharwad region?
When we were in the government, we had launched Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) for twin cities (Hubbali-Dharwad) but it’s been seven years and it’s yet to be operational. The government has missed so many deadlines. Siddaramaiah government didn’t show any interest in the project. As far as the central government is concerned, we have never received so much fund for the Central Road Fund (CRF) as we have done now. Contractors are being given money directly for rebuilding roads connecting regions with Hubbali-Dharwad and those that had lost the ‘national highway’ status long back. The Centre has promised Rs 600 crore for CRF but the state government is not inviting tender, which is their responsibility. The Centre will reimburse the amount once they complete the project. I have personally met the chief minister, but still nothing is being done.
Coming to politics, did the separate Lingayat movement hurt the BJP’s prospects in the election this time?
Except M B Patil, all the Lingayat leaders who had taken the mantle of separate religion status for the community lost in the polls. Even Mr Patil won because of different reasons. Overall, I think, we performed very well in North Karnataka, especially in Mumbai-Karnataka.
But becoming a minority has many benefits especially for a community like Lingayats who have educational interests where rules favour minority communities compared to the non-minorities. That’s why there is certainly an attraction towards the minority tag. Shouldn’t that anomaly be corrected? It can be done only by the central government.
There is no procedure for declaring a new religion in our Constitution. If we go down that path, then what will be the situation of our society we must think about it. Even the minorities - the facilities they get are mostly for Muslims and Christians. Others like Jains, Sikhs have got nothing. The Lingayat separate religion movement was all a propaganda aimed at hurting the BJP as the community votes for our party.
How can the Centre and the state governments come together to help develop North-Karnataka?
First, here the road infrastructure is very poor. The central government is providing the money under different schemes but the state government has to implement on the ground.
Second, under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, Karnataka’s rural areas were completed but they aren’t in good conditions now. So, the state government should work towards better maintenance. The central government will certainly provide its share.
Third, health infrastructure is not up to the mark in the region. The Centre can provide the hard infrastructure and the state should run it professionally.
Fourth, rail infrastructure is also bad. There are so many pending projects. The previous government kept announcing new projects but didn’t finish. That’s why currently the Centre is focusing on wrapping up the old unfinished works and is not going for new announcement. I would suggest that for infrastructure, the state government should come forward and provide land free of cost and should share some burden of the project, as we had offered to do with the Manmohan Singh government when B S Yeddyurappa was chief minister.
Fifth, due to lack of infrastructure, tourism potential remains unexplored. North Karnataka has so much to offer in terms of culture and tourism. Due to UDAN, some change is now coming. But much more needs to be done.
Shreyas Bharadwaj contributed to this story.