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Above: Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palanisami announced recently that Vellore district will be trifurcated into three new districts/Photo: UNI

Since January this year, the Tamil Nadu has added five new districts, yet demands for more continue with little thought given to requirements of infrastructure and personnel

By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai

The state of Tamil Nadu is on a division spree of its own districts. Since January 2019, the state has added five new districts to its kitty of 32 districts and now the tally has risen to 37. But the list is not going to end here. The demands for new districts are erupting day in and day out for the past few months, most of them coming from the ruling AIADMK.

Shortly after unfurling the tricolour on Independence Day at the ramparts of Fort St George which houses the state secretariat in Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisami announced that the district of Vellore will be trifurcated into Vellore, Ranipet and Tirupattur districts. “We will trifurcate the Vellore district. This was a long-pending demand of the people living in that area. Vellore has got 13 assembly segments. So, one can imagine the craving for the trifurcation of that district,” the chief minister added.

Vellore is an important district of the state and famous not only at the national level but also at the international level. The hundred-year-old Christian Medical College, one of the country’s renowned medical institutions and hospital, is located in Vellore. It also played a pivotal role in India’s freedom struggle. The famous Vellore Sepoy Mutiny (armed rebellion by the British Indian army against the Raj) took place in 1806, well ahead of the First War of Independence in 1857 against the British. The original Vellore district was carved out from North Arcot district of Tamil Nadu in 1989.

Palaniswami also announced the bifurcation of Tirunelveli district with the new district being named Tenkasi. A few months back, Tamil Nadu’s biggest district, Villupuram, was bifurcated and a new district, Kallakurichi, was born. Just a couple of months after that Kancheepuram district was bifurcated.

All these new districts came up within less than nine months, a record in the post-Independence history of Tamil Nadu.

The state has a history of either bifurcating or trifurcating the existing districts for creating new ones. Until now, this was done according to certain formulae, one of which stipulated that any new district’s border should not be less than 100 kilometres from its headquarters. Now that has been given a go-by in the latest bifurcations.

It was following this formula that Krishnagiri district was carved out from Dharmapuri in 2004, Tiruppur district from Coimbatore and Erode districts in 2009 and Thanjavur district was trifurcated into Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam in 1996.

The demand for new districts is constantly rising in Tamil Nadu. Sellur K Raju, Tamil Nadu’s co-operation minister, has recently said that Madurai district will be soon bifurcated and added that he has got adequate indications in this regard from the chief minister. The same is the story with Coimbatore and Erode districts. “Coimbatore district should be bifurcated with the creation of Pollachi as the new district and likewise Erode should be bifurcated with Gopichettipalayam as a new district,” said ER Eswaran, general secretary of Kongu Nadu Makkal Desiya Katchi (a caste outfit basically representing the issues connected with “Kongu vellalar”, a dominant backward community in the western regions of Tamil Nadu).

Demands are even coming up to bifurcate capital Chennai. A little-known outfit by the name of North Chennai People’s Welfare Association has demanded that the Tamil Nadu government bifurcate Chennai and make North Chennai a separate district. But luckily, the demand is only at a nascent stage and the decibel levels have not reached a crescendo.

Interestingly, not a single political party has raised its voice against the bifurcation or trifurcation of districts. Rather, a few more demands are coming up from a couple of political parties in support of more districts in the state. For example, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, or PMK, a state-level political party, says that every district which has got a population of 12 lakh must be bifurcated.

But observers have criticised this move and warned that this will have a severe impact on the already dwindling state’s resources, especially when the financial position is fragile. “Creation of new districts is not an easy thing. You have to spend a lot. For each new district you have to create an adequate infrastructure, a new collectorate, a new police headquarter, a new court, etc. For this, tenders have to be floated. Several crores of rupees have to be spent for creating this infrastructure. The pay and accounts department will also need to create ledgers for those government employees who will be appointed to ma­nage various departments,” said KK Eswaran, a retired employee of the state government.

“There are at least 33 government de­partments which are essential to manage a district. You have to set up those departments in the newly-created districts. Capital outlay needed is huge. So creating new districts will surely bleed the government’s exchequer,” he added.

There is a political angle, too, in the entire issue. The Tamil Nadu government has not conducted local body elections for the past three years but has assured the Supreme Court that it will conduct these polls before November.

But now comes the catch. Local body elections cannot be completed without finishing the de-limitation process. For this, the state election commission must set in motion the process of fixing the wards, councils at the local panchayat level to city level.

This is not an easy task because many issues are involved in identifying the wards, councils, etc., in the local bodies. In the newly created districts, this will take several months.

“The Tamil Nadu government can easily put forth its case before the Supreme Court by saying that since delimitation is the primary issue in conducting local body elections, it wants more time to complete the process. And the apex court cannot easily brush aside this demand. So, I think, one of the major reasons for splitting the districts recklessly in the past few months is to avoid the conduct of local body elections,” says Rajendra Parthiban, a political analyst and RTI activist based in Chennai.

Another angle to this issue is that the whole exercise is aimed at mollifying the “egos” of politicians from the ruling party. “The powers that be in the ruling dispensation have to accommodate various leaders from their own party either in the government or in the party apparatus. Creating new districts gives them a great opportunity to keep their local leaders in ‘good humour’ and to a certain extent it helps the rulers to keep certain bureaucrats too in a ‘satisfactory position of sorts’,” says SA Nathan, a political analyst and writer.

Like the government, its bureaucracy also feels that more is merrier. They feel smaller districts are easier to manage for grievance redressal and are likely to run into minimal hindrances, unlike the big districts.

The jury is still out on the matter.

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