District Restructuring in Rajasthan: A Step Towards Better Governance or Mere Political Maneuvering?

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot
Rajasthan CM Ashok GehlotGraphic- The Mooknayak

The largest state in India in terms of area, is now the third largest in the country in terms of number of districts. The Congress Goverment announced 19 new districts and 3 divisional headquarters. Now Rajasthan will have 50 districts and 10 divisional headquarters. Salumber is the new district in Udaipur and Banswara would be the divisional headquarter having control of Dungarpur & Pratapgarh districts.

Rajasthan— The recent restructuring of state administrative structures, which involved the creation of new districts and divisional headquarters, has been met with mixed reactions. While some members of the populace have expressed their satisfaction with the changes, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party appears perplexed, and the academicians and political analysts seem to be skeptical that any substantial improvements will be made to the lives of the people, especially the Scheduled Tribes that have been living in miserable conditions of extreme poverty, lack of education and health facilities and above all awareness.

To gauge the impact of the restructuring on the marginalized communities, especially the scheduled tribes who have been suffering for decades in the South Rajasthan area, The Mooknayak spoke to legislators, administrative officers, academicians, and activists to get a deeper insight on the issue.

Ex MP & member of Congress Working Committee Raghuveer Singh Meena greeted by party workers in Udaipur
Ex MP & member of Congress Working Committee Raghuveer Singh Meena greeted by party workers in Udaipur

Long standing demand fulfilled

Raghuveer Meena, a veteran politician and former minister, who had been elected thrice as an MLA from Sarada and served as an MP in the 15th Lok Sabha from the Udaipur constituency, is thrilled with the recent announcement regarding the restructuring of the state administrative structure. Speaking with The Mooknayak, Meena expressed his excitement, stating that Salumber, a pure tribal area, has been elevated to district status. He believes that this change will undoubtedly address the issues faced by tribal people and facilitate significant progress in the area.

Tribals in an Udaipur forest area
Tribals in an Udaipur forest area (File pic)

Meena also noted that, following the large area taken away from Udaipur, the remotely situated Kotra and Jhadol will benefit as they will receive better attention from Udaipur administration and increased budget allocation. Meena himself was elected from Salumber in 2008 but vacated the seat after his 2009 election to Lok Sabha. His wife, Basanti Devi, took over the seat following his victory in the by-elections.

Despite being part of the opposition party to the government, Amritlal Meena, MLA Salumber, is ecstatic with the recent announcement of the inclusion of Salumber as a new district. Meena considers this to be a 40-year-old dream come true and acknowledges that they have been demanding it for many years, even before Pratapgarh and Rajsamand were established as districts in 2008 and 1991, respectively, which were carved out of Udaipur.

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Meena further adds, "I have lost count of the number of questions and applications filed, as well as the opposition raised in the assembly over this issue". However, the legislator is happy to see that his persistent efforts and those of his colleagues have finally been recognized and addressed. Meena's excitement and positive response demonstrate the significance of this announcement and its potential impact on the region.

A Futile Exercise? 

While Amritlal Meena's positive reaction can be attributed to his current position as the MLA, other legislators in the saffron party have expressed skepticism towards Gehlot's move, citing political intentions and a useless exercise, particularly just a few months ahead of the state elections in December. According to Samaram Garasiya, the BJP MLA Pindwara - Abu, "It is just a publicity stunt and to get applause from MLAs likw the one who had pledged to remain barefoot. If the Congress government really wanted to work for the people's good, they should have done it two years ago. Now, with no budget and no time left for restructuring and implementation, what is the use? They are just hollow and ornamental acts to divert people's attention from real issues."

Garasiya also expressed disappointment that Kotda and Jhadol, the remotely situated tehsils, were not added to his constituency despite their proximity. However, he noted that even if they were added, the problems of the tribal population in both sub-blocks would remain the same. This skepticism highlights the political tension and potential motives behind Gehlot's decision, with some viewing it as a mere election strategy rather than a genuine attempt to address the issues faced by the marginalized community.

Effective implementation & monitoring

Mahaveer Kharadi, a seasoned administrative officer with firsthand knowledge of the problems faced by tribal communities as he belongs to one himself, stated that the establishment of a new divisional headquarters in Banswara would lead to more effective oversight of government policies and their implementation.

Kharadi, who is currently serving as the Revenue Appellate Authority in Bikaner, believes that smaller districts are better suited to address the concerns of the people in a timely and efficient manner. Prior to this restructuring, impoverished individuals had to travel 100 kilometers from Banswara to Udaipur Divisional Headquarters to meet with higher officials, but now, with the establishment of a closer divisional headquarters, they can save valuable time.

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However, Kharadi maintains a neutral stance on the issue, asserting that there has not been a significant transformation in the lives of the tribal people in the last two decades. According to Kharadi, the only significant change has been a rise in awareness among the tribal population due to the emergence of educational institutions. "Our people have started making demands, but unfortunately, these demands remain unfulfilled," he stated.

Will Strengthen Law & Order

Dr. TC Damor, a retired IPS officer, views the restructuring of districts and divisions in South Rajasthan as a positive move aimed at controlling the law and order situation in areas where smuggling and trafficking are rampant. He believes that the most marginalized communities would have better access and approachability to senior officers from civil and police administration, and that the establishment of an IG office in Banswara would benefit the poor who would no longer have to spend their meager resources on transportation to Udaipur or fall prey to middlemen in the course. The creations of more police stations and chowkies too, he claims would lay effective check on the rising crimes on women and children.

However, he also believes that the answer to the question of whether restructuring would benefit the people ultimately depends on the commitment and sensitivity of the officers in charge. "In my personal opinion, the smaller administrative units might pose a disadvantage for academic growth among tribal families and their environment. The young students from tribal communities should move out to study and work, and gain exposure to acquire a real and broader understanding of knowledge, which is one of the reasons why we see no tribal IPS officers from South Rajasthan" Damor says, who also had served as the Vice Chancellor to the only Tribal University of the state that was shifted from Udaipur to Banswara some years back. He asserts that the tribal communities in the region should encourage their young students to gain exposure and education outside of their home environment.

Commitment & Sensitivity in Redressing Complaints

According to senior litigator Arun Vyas, the addition of new districts in Rajasthan will not bring about significant change unless there is a fundamental shift in the behavior towards marginalized communities. He says," Jab tak salook nahi badlega, saleeka bhi nahi badlega chaahe kitne badlaav aap jilon me kar dein (Unless the behaviour towards the people change, the system would remain unchanged irrespective of the changes in the numbers in districts). The lawyer says that if the trajectory of progress is analysed for the past districts constituted, no major transformations would be seen worth mentioning and hence this exercise too would prove a means to accommodate new officers and influential families to get political positions.

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot
55-yr old tribal man helping villagers cross river on a handmade bamboo raft with tyres-tubes

Vyas, who has dealt with numerous cases related to SC/ST atrocities, believes that this move is merely a means to accommodate new officers and influential families in political positions. He points out that past districts constituted have not brought about major transformations, indicating that this exercise may be largely symbolic. Vyas further highlights the need for a High Court bench in Udaipur, which has been a long-standing demand, as tribal litigants have to travel to Jodhpur for justice, putting a strain on resources.

Banswara: A Real Tribal Area

Activist working for tribal upliftment see it as a an encouraging move  and significant development that could potentially address the longstanding issues of marginalization and lack of access to government policies and programs.

Jayesh Joshi, the secretary of Vaagdhara, an NGO that has been working in Banswara for two decades to augment livelihood sources and options through improving traditional agricultural practices among the tribal population and other marginalized groups, has expressed positive feedback on the move. "Banswara would be the first real tribal divisional headquarters with the majority of the tribal populace covered in South Rajasthan. The main problem faced by the people here is their marginalized land, where high investments in agriculture aren't possible. Since they do not get much from farming, people migrate to Gujarat or Maharashtra to work as laborers. Now, we hope that with the establishment of divisional-level offices, government policies would reach the root level, and more people would benefit from concerted efforts," he said.

The New Districts

Jodhpur will also be divided into Jodhpur East, Jodhpur West and Phalodi. Other new districts, with the existing district they are in, will be Anupgarh (Ganganagar), Balotra (Barmer), Beawar (Ajmer), Deeg (Bharatpur), Deedwana – Kuchaman (Nagaur), Gangapur City (Sawai Madhopur), Kekri (Ajmer), Khairtal (Alwar), Neem ka Thana (Sikar), Salumber (Udaipur), Sanchore (Jalore), and Shahpura (Bhilwara). Additionally, the three new divisions will be Banswara, Pali and Sikar.

The demand for creation of new districts had been coming in from several quarters since long.

Tribes in Rajasthan

The population of Rajasthan in 2011 was 68,548,437 Of this 9,238,534 persons belong to one of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) constituting 13.48 per cent of the total population of the state. The state has registered 30.2 per cent decadal growth in the Scheduled Tribe population between 2001-2011.

There are twelve (12) notified Scheduled Tribes in the state, which are Bhil, Meena, Damor, Dhanka, Garasiya, Kathodi, Kokna, Koli, Naikda, Patelia, Koli, Seharia.

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