Karnataka holds on to Belgaum with second secretariat



Belgaum: By getting President Pranab Mukherjee to unveil Karnatakas second state secretariat Suvarna Soudha in this northern city on Thursday, the government has sought to consolidate its stranglehold on the border area to which Maharashtra has long staked claim.

Mukherjee is on his first visit to Karnataka after becoming the President in July.

"The historic event fulfils a long-pending demand of the people in the region, as the new secretariat brings governance to their doorstep and hopefully puts an end to the border dispute with the neighbouring state," a senior official told a news agency in Belgaum, about 500 km from the state capital Bangalore.

Built at a revised cost of Rs 391 crore on a 127-acre sprawling land atop a hillock on the city's outskirts, the magnificent structure is a replica of the imposing Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, which was constructed in the Indo-Saracen style in 1956 by Kengal Hanumanthaiah, second chief minister of the erstwhile Mysore state.

The decision to build the second secretariat was taken by the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government in 2006 to provide administrative services to the people of the 12 northern districts and hold the winter session of the state legislature there every year.

Shifting the building location from the city to outskirts and delays in execution escalated its initial cost from Rs 230 crore when the foundation was laid in January 2009 by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa.

"As this city is centrally located in the region, the people of north Karnataka need not travel to far away Bangalore, which is tucked in the southern corner of the state, to meet their public representatives or top officials for their requirements. The new secretariat will save their time, energy and money," the official pointed out.

Suvarna Soudha boasts of a 450-seat central hall on the lines of one in parliament in New Delhi, with state-of-the art lighting, sound systems and electronic gadgets.

"As a four-storeyed structure for executive and legislature under one roof, the secretariat also has a 300-seat assembly hall and a 100-seat council hall for the lawmakers and two conference halls of 350 and 150 seat capacity. About 1,000 officials can function with their support staff to address the people's needs," said the official, who was closely associated with the project.

Belgaum is the fourth largest city in Karnataka after Bangalore, Hubli-Dharwad and Mysore. It was carved out of the Bombay Presidency/State and merged into Mysore state during the reorganistion of the states on linguistic lines in 1956 along with 262 villages bordering Maharashtra.

When a defiant Maharashtra staked claim to Belgaum and the dominant Marathi-speaking villages, the federal government set up a four-member commission in June 1960 under the chairmanship of Mehr Chand Mahajan, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, to resolve the border dispute between the two warring states.

The Mahajan Commission, however, rejected Maharashtara's claim on Belgaum but recommended in its report exchange of several villages between the two states after eliciting the opinion of the people in the border areas to settle the dispute.

Maharashtra not only rejected the commission's report even after it was tabled in parliament in 1966, but dragged the border dispute to the Supreme Court where the case is pending for arguments and disposal.

Though the jury is still out, Karnataka remains unfazed by the legal wrangles and is going ahead with efforts to establish the second seat of power at Belgaum for providing administration and governance to the people.

IANS