The winter session of the Karnataka Legislature, scheduled from October 10, will be held in Bengaluru (Vidhana Soudha) instead of Belagavi which has been the practice for the last seven years.
With rains and floods causing large-scale damages in northern districts in August, the state government cited administrative difficulties for not holding the session in Belagavi.
“The idea was to allow officials to focus on flood relief work instead of the legislature session in Belagavi. We decided based on the reports submitted by the district officials, and it’s in the interest of flood-affected victims,” Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs JC Madhuswamy said.
The Congress party, however, alleged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was afraid of facing the wrath of flood victims and distressed farmers.
Dismissing the criticism, Madhuswamy said the opposition’s charge “that we are trying to hide from protests in Belagavi makes no sense”.
“Whether in Belagavi or Bengaluru, the MLAs attending the sessions are the same. They can raise the same questions they want to here (Bengaluru) too,” he said.
As many as 84 people have lost their lives in the floods which affected seven lakh people in 22 districts across the state and damaged about 2.47 lakh houses. The state had initially estimated the loss to be around ₹38,411 crore, but later excluded private buildings and revised the estimate to around ₹3,290 crore.
The first Assembly session outside state capital Bengaluru was held in 2006 when the then-chief minister HD Kumaraswamy held a five-day session in Belgaum (now Belagavi) to instill a sense of belonging among people of the region. Kumaraswamy had promised to strive for the development of the neglected north Karnataka region and promised to build a Suvarna Soudha, a mini state-secretariat, in Belagavi.
Subsequently, in 2007, the BS Yediyurappa government allotted funds to build the new legislature building in Belgaum on the Bangalore-Mumbai highway. The work, however, got completed in 2012, with the cost shooting to ₹390 crore, double the initial estimate.
Ever since the inauguration of Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, the state government holds the winter sessions of the Assembly in Belagavi. The sessions in the northern region has witnessed protests from farming community on contentious issues.
Farmers’ protests in 2014 and 2016 threatened the then-ruling Congress government led by Siddaramaiah, but the Congress government did not withhold the state legislature from being held in Belagavi, and made preventive arrests, while assuring farmers waivers on farm loan.
The sessions in Belagavi are only symbolic to mark the neglected region of the state, and it doesn’t yield any cost advantage if the sessions were held there.
A key issue concerning Karnataka is that Belagavi has a sizable Marathi speaking population. The district was the regimental centre of Maratha Light Infantry Regiment, which shares a deep cultural connect with the Marathas in the region.
Maharashtra, which is locked in a dispute with Karnataka over the region, wants the Marathi speaking areas of Belgaum to be merged with it.
The Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP in Maharashtra, vehemently opposed any move by the state to recognise Belagavi as the second capital of Karnataka, as proposed by Kumaraswamy last year. In 2012, the Maharashtra Assembly even passed a resolution demanding the Centre to declare Belgaum and other disputed border areas in the region as Union Territory.
Maharashtra Assembly elections are scheduled to be held on October 21, and the BJP, which rules both the states and is fighting the polls in alliance with Shiv Sena, would not want to let anything go amiss.
Opposition ready to charge
Attacking the Yediyurappa government for holding the sessions in Bengaluru and not in Belagavi at a time it was required the most, opposition Congress mocked the ruling party for neglecting flood victims.
Coming against the backdrop of a two-month delay in announcement of relief measures, the opposition parties will keep the heat up against the BJP.
The Centre had announced ₹1,200 crore interim flood relief for the state after weeks of repeated requests from party leaders.
“Holding a session in Belagavi will not only speed up the much-delayed relief and rehabilitation work in north Karnataka but also instill hope among those affected,” Congress leader Siddaramaiah said.
Soon after the Yediyurappa government took over, the Chief Minister who also holds the finance portfolio had sought a vote on account to spend from August 1 till October 31. Now, the BJP government may present a supplementary budget with a few modifications during the winter session.