Two years after being carved out of united Andhra Pradesh, Telangana is feeling division pangs once again.
On Friday, a highway blockade that was started by people agitating for a separate district in Telangana got out of hand when the protestors, realising that their demands may not be met, damaged two buses and set one on fire.
The protestors had blocked the Hyderabad to Warangal highway several times this week demanding that Jangaon town and its adjoining areas be carved out of Warangal district to make a new district.
The protests followed an announcement in May that the state’s 10 districts would be split further to make 24 administrative units in all. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s, popularly known as KCR, said that the new districts would be created by Dusshera, which falls in October this year.
The number 24 has been chosen not after a survey to ascertain the most efficient way to split the districts but because 2+4=6, which is Rao’s lucky number.
The Jangaon-as-district agitation is led by Ponnala Laxmaiah, former irrigation minister in united Andhra Pradesh, who is from the Congress. “KCR had himself promised that Jangaon will be made the 11th district in 2014,” said Laxmaiah. “But now he is going back on the promise. The manner in which new districts are being decided is without any transparency. We want a judicial commission to decide this instead of the whims and fancies of one person.”
There is no dispute that smaller administrative units will be easier to manage. Telangana government officials point out that an increase in the number of districts will help the state get more money from the Centre as the government of India counts districts as a unit for allocation of funds.
The problem is that though the government commissioned a scientific study to ensure that every district has four or five Assembly constituencies and 30-odd revenue mandals and to find out whether particular towns, which could become district headquarters have the necessary infrastructure to be upgraded, the final decision has largely been political and KCR’s own.
“There should be a public debate involving as many stakeholders as possible,” said political analyst K Nageshwar. “The creation of new districts cannot be the prerogative of one government. Districts are immortal while governments come and go.”
Opposition cries sabotage
Thus, in many senses, this is a political-cum-administrative exercise. Addressing the meeting of ministers and district collectors last month, KCR said: “The Centre will increase the number of Assembly constituencies in Telangana from 119 to 153. So we should also carve out new districts.”
Opposition parties allege KCR is trying to spike the political careers of his opponents by tampering with the contours of their constituencies in the garb of the creation of districts.
“He is of course trying to target political opponents,” said Laxmaiah. “Like my Jangaon constituency, may be split into two with some part going into Yadadri district and some part to Siddipet.”
Another Congress politician, Sridhar Babu, will find that his Manthani constituency in Karimnagar district in its present form will soon be history, making it tough for him in 2019.
The lack of clarity has led to speculation in the real-estate market. In Suryapet – which will become a new district carved out of Nalgonda – an acre that used to sell for Rs 15 lakh in 2014, is now going for Rs 1 crore.
It also means that Jangaon is not the only place in Telangana agitating for district status. With 14 new districts to come into existence, everyone has an opinion on whether their town should be made into a new district, or which district their town should be part of. What otherwise should have been a cold administrative exercise has now become a free for all.
For instance, the unwieldy Adilabad district is being divided into two to make it less cumbersome to govern. But both Mancherial and Bellampalli towns are fighting over which town should be the headquarters of the new district, which will be called Komaram Bheem district. Both towns claim they have the infrastructure to house the new district administration.
The temple town of Basar, which is home to one of the only two temples in India dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati, wants to exit Adilabad district and be part of Nizamabad. The argument is that Basar is just 34 km from Nizamabad and 240 km from Adilabad town.
Karimnagar district will see a three-way split into Karimnagar, Jagtial and Sircilla, which is KCR’s son KT Rama Rao’s Assembly constituency.
Warangal too will be split into three, with Mahbubabad and Bhupalapally the new units. Laxmaiah’s demand for a Jangaon district is unlikely to be accepted.
The most significant change will come in Hyderabad, which is likely to be split into two districts: Hyderabad and Secunderabad, or perhaps even three, including Cyberabad
This hasn’t gone down well in some quarters.
“No attempt should be made to break the core area of Hyderabad,” said Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi. “Every place has its history, its stories, its tales. Hyderabad’s identity should not be tampered with.”
The exercise to create new districts means that Telangana will need to create infrastructure for 14 new districts and find the right officers to govern them. Rs 100 crore is likely to be allocated to each new district. The state government has already asked the Centre to allot it more IAS officers.
While smaller districts may make the rickety delivery system more efficient, the exercise will also have other so-called benefits. More districts mean more government jobs and more government contracts. More often than not, people with the right political connections corner most of these contracts.
Given this and the speculation in real estate, once the final decision is announced, there are some who may strike pots of gold. KCR keeps promising a Golden Telangana. This Dusshera, it will come true at least for some Telanganites.