Fight over regional resources drive demand for new states

Linguistic and cultural identity, which defined state boundaries in the initial years after Independence, take secondary place

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Published: Monday 15 July 2013

Slogans like “Divide Assam 50-50” are a common sight on the streets of Kokrajhar district (photo by Arnab Pratim Dutta)

The United Progressive Alliance's decision to endorse creation of the new Telangana state on Tuesday is likely to lead to more strident demands of separate statehood from other regions in the country. The agitations, in fact, have already picked up in several regions.

Darjeeling has been shut for the past two days to press the demand for carving out Gorkhaland from West Bengal. Leaders of Bodoland have announced a series of agitations, starting August 2, to demand for a separate state of Bodoland by bifurcating Assam, and the pro-Vidarbha leaders have announced a sit-in agitation at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on August 5, to press for separation of Vidharbha from Maharashtra. Bundelkhand, which is proposed to be created by merging parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and Purvanchal and Harit Pradesh, proposed to be carved out from Uttar Pradesh, could be next in line.

A similar trend was observed in 2000 when the three new states Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarkhand were formed. The movement for separate Telangana state, which was crushed in 1969, was, in fact, revived in 2000 when these three states were created.

It is not known how the creation of Telangana will affect India's future political map, but the current demand for new states in the country shows a very important shift. All these demands are from regions which are poor in spite of being rich in natural resources and disputes exist over sharing and utilisation of natural resources with the mother states. Linguistic and cultural reasons, which were the primary basis for creating new states in the country, have now become secondary in most of these cases.
Post Independence, it was people speaking the same language who had got together to raise demands for new states. States such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana were born as a consequence of the demand for separate statehood  based on language. Even Andhra Pradesh, which is reluctant to part with Telangana, was created by re-adjusting the boundaries of the Telugu-speaking parts of the erstwhile Madras presidency with the Nizam's dominions or Telangana.

But language was not the basis for the formation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand in 2000 and now Telangana.

All the three states formed in 2000 were much more rich in natural resources than their mother states but were more backward. Uttarakhand had a forest cover of 43 per cent, Chattisgarh 42 and Jharkhand has 25 per cent of the states' land area. Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand were extremely rich in mineral resources and Uttarakhand had huge growth potential to tap from its river systems. It was political apathy of the mother states that forced people in these regions to demand for separate states. Similarly, Telangana has 45 per cent of Andhra’s forest cover, 68 per cent of the catchment area of the Krishna river and 79 per cent catchment area of the Godavari river, but people complain they have hardly got a share of benefit arising out of the development of Andhra Pradesh.

Bundelkhand: neglected during droughts

Other regions which are demanding statehood have similar complaints. The 13 districts of Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have been experiencing severe environmental degradation for the past several decades. The governments of the two states have paid little heed to the plight of people in the region. In the last 12 years, the region has suffered seven droughts. This despite the fact that average rainfall in the region is comparable to many of the well endowed states in terms of rainfall.

Vidarbha: water deprived

In Vidarbha, the biggest grouse of the people relates to water resources. Thirty-six per cent of the country’s dams are in Maharashtra, but Vidarbha faces drought almost every year, leading to farmers committing suicide. Politically and financially powerful groups almost always grab the lion’s share of water in the state.

Disunited states of Uttar Pradesh 
Similarly, the demand for Purvanchal and Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh  are primarily base on demand for development. Purvanchal, the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, falls in the Gangetic plains and is rich with fertile soil, but it is not as developed as the western part of state proposed as Harit Pradesh. While successive state governments in Uttar Pradesh have demarcated funds for development of Purvanchal, the region's power and infrastructure is one of the worst in the country. People in Purvanchal think the benefit of the green revolution was reaped by western Uttar Pradesh and they have gained very little.

Land alienation angers Bodos

The demand for Bodoland, a separate state in Western Assam, is also primarily based on the conflict over land resources between the ethnic Bodos and other communities in the region; the Bodos are also demanding statehood based on ethnic identity. The Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), an autonomous area for the Bodo tribals created in western Assam under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, has seen at least four bloody confrontations between the Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslims, considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, in the past two decades. In the 19th and early 20th century, policies of the British administration on land utilisation and settlement of people brought from outside Assam to work in tea plantations and farmlands led to massive demographic changes in the region.

The Bodos and adivasis practised shifting cultivation or jhum, but the migrants from East Bengal knew modern methods of farming using a plough. They were settled in what the British had termed as wasteland. But the land was actually grazing reserves and jhum land. Since the 1960s, there has been a demand for a separate state of Bodoland after regulations failed to protect the Bodos from land alienation.


Justice Srikrishna Committee report on Telangana

How SKC Report tried to suppress truth and deceive Telangana

The States Reorganisation Act, 1956

Exploring the demand for new states

Questioning borders: Social movements, political parties and the creation of new states in India

Evolution of centre-state relations in India

A state in periodic crises: Andhra Pradesh

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