A disappointment for North Karnataka

HUBLI Oct. 13. There is a feeling of disappointment in North Karnataka even as the Congress Government led by S.M. Krishna completes four years in office and gets ready to face fresh elections in about a year's time, if not earlier.

The hopes of a new deal for this long-neglected region raised when Mr. Krishna bounced back politically, initially as the KPCC President and later as the Chief Minister in the 1999 elections, have been belied.

Mr. Krishna was a "political stranger" to North Karnataka, despite his handling of the crucial portfolio of Major Irrigation as the Deputy Chief Minister in the previous Congress dispensation.

His ability to woo North Karnataka, the support of which was crucial for the party's plans to stage a comeback, had become a subject for discussion in party circles. But Mr. Krishna proved to be a quick learner.

He allayed apprehensions about his commitment to North Karnataka. He began talking about the region, its neglect, the need for removing regional imbalances and giving it its due share in the development progress.

It sounded very nice to the people of region, who were sore with the perceived apathetic attitude of the Janata Dal Government of late J.H. Patel.

Initially, he committed a faux pas when he endorsed the statement of the former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda about the need to locate the headquarters of the new South Western Railway Zone in Bangalore rather than in Hubli. But Mr. Krishna acted quickly to make amends.

And this brought him rich political dividends. The region reposed confidence in the Congress in an overwhelming manner in the 1999 elections.

In the beginning, Mr. Krishna sounded genuine in keeping his promises to the people of North Karnataka. He gave the crucial portfolio of the Major Irrigation to H.K. Patil, who, as Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, had put the Government on the mat for neglecting the execution of the Krishna Basin projects.

On tackling the crucial problem of regional imbalances, Mr. Krishna promised to act on getting the report from a committee constituted for the purpose under the chairmanship of Y.K. Alagh, the noted economist and former Union Minister of State.

But then the drift started. For one year, nothing happened. The Alagh Committee could not start its work. Dr. Alagh could hardly spare the time. It was then that the Krishna Government chose to reconstitute the committee with D.M. Nanjundappa, the eminent economist and administrator as Chairman.

The Nanjundappa Committee, which came with some interim recommendations within a year, presented a full report two years later, which was submitted to the Government in 2002.

The committee had gone about the job systematically to give substance to what had all along remained a sentimental issue of regional imbalance, and prepared a blueprint for action indicating the investment required and sectors where a time-bound programme would help bridge the gap. For more than a year, the State Government has been sitting on the report which called for the investment of an additional Rs. 15,000 crore over a seven-year period to achieve the goal.

Then came the drought and the suicide by farmers, which surfaced in North Karnataka within a year of the Krishna Government being in office. But, the Government, after initially taking cognisance of the problem, suddenly put on hold the policy of paying compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the families of farmers who committed suicide. It took three years for the Government to take cognisance of the seriousness of the situation and revive the compensation package after farmers began to commit suicide in South Karnataka.

The promise of shifting major offices to the regional centres remains a non-starter. The bias against the region in the matter of political appointments, and in the cultural and educational fields continues unabated.

The Government's attitude on the raging controversy over the establishment of the Karnataka High Court bench in the North Karnataka is quite strange. It has needlessly allowed the two sub-regions of North Karnataka to fight it out, instead of asserting what the Cabinet had decided in June 2000, with modifications if needed to work out an amicable solution.

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