Maharashtra wants Belgaum to be declared union territory

In a new dimension to the Maharashtra-Karnataka boundary dispute, the Maharashtra assembly Friday passed a unanimous motion urging the centre to declare Belgaum in Karnataka as a union territory till the Supreme Court delivers its final verdict on the dispute.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was replying to an adjournment motion on the issue moved by Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai, also assured the house that he would lead an all-party delegation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.

However, Speaker Dilip Walse-Patil declined the adjournment motion and said that an all-party meeting with the government would consider all the views on the contentious issue.

After uproarious scenes leading to four adjournments on the issue, the assembly met again to debate the matter. Desai, who had proposed the earlier adjournment motion, said that the Karnataka government was deliberately suppressing the voice of the Marathi-speaking people of Belgaum and surrounding areas and subjecting them to "atrocities."

The assembly unanimously demanded that the central government should take appropriate action against Karnataka for dissolving the Belgaum City Corporation Council (BCCC) Thursday and appointing an administrator.

The assembly members said Karnataka must immediately re-instate the BCCC, which has nearly three-and-a-half-years of its tenure remaining.

Karnataka's action came ostensibly since the BCCC is controlled by the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi (MES) which has been demanding merger of the Marathi-speaking areas of the region with Maharashtra.

Speaking on the debate, Chavan said that the Karnataka government's drastic step against a linguistic minority was "unjust and unfair" and its step had led to consternation among the people of Maharashtra.

The three-point resolution finally adopted by the assembly unanimously has demanded: Belgaum and surrounding areas must be declared as union territory till the final verdict of the apex court, the BCCC should be re-instated and an all-party delegation would meet President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.

Though some Congress and Shiv Sena members demanded that the central government should dismiss the Karnataka government on this issue, the point did not figure in the final resolution adopted by the assembly, as it was opposed by members of the the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the state.

The Karnataka government's step has been severely castigated by all political parties in Maharashtra and evoked a sharp reaction from Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

The Maharashtra-Karnataka border dispute has been simmering since 1948, and erupted into a major political controversy from 1956 after Belgaum was included in the neighbouring state.

Maharashtra has been demanding the inclusion of Belgaum and other surrounding areas into this state (Maharashtra) as the majority population there comprised Marathi-speaking people.

It has also moved a petition in the Supreme Court demanding the inclusion of Belgaum and other areas since the Marathi-speaking people there felt "insecure". The apex court's verdict is awaited.

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