Finally, the State government has set the ball rolling on the idea of carving out a third district for the State. On Thursday, a seven-member committee under the chief secretary was constituted to assess the need for a third district and assigned the task of assessing whether a third district will lead to better development and welfare of the people, especially the backward classes. The panel is also tasked with evaluating the benefits, and costs involved in the exercise, demarcation of boundaries considering the population, economic status, availability of infrastructure and public opinion.
The idea of creating a third district has been on the mind of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant since 2020 when he first came out in public that it would be formed within a year. In January 2021, Ponda MLA and current Civil Supplies Minister Ravi Naik moved a private member’s resolution in the Legislative Assembly demanding the constitution of a third district comprising Sattari, Ponda and Dharbandora. The proposal has also been endorsed by Power Minister Sudin Dhavalikar.
The State government is empowered to decide on the creation of new districts and, if it so decides, can take the executive route by issuing a notification in the official gazette after necessary clearances are obtained from various departments like Earth Sciences, Intelligence Bureau, Posts, Geographical Survey of India, and the Railway Ministry. However, it has to be a studied call because such a decision has major financial implications.
A third district could bring significant infrastructural development and, to a certain extent, better delivery of services in far-flung or remote areas, besides creating more employment opportunities. The idea will hold a high level of optimism in areas on the periphery which feel the need for better administration and an upgrade of services like health, power, education, transportation, etc, triggering an overall development.
Several States in the recent past have carved out smaller districts with the argument that it would lead to better administration and governance. In 2016, the Assam government upgraded the Majuli sub-division to Majuli district citing “administrative expediency”. Census data of 2011 shows that between 2001 and 2011, as many as 46 new districts have been created by various States. States like Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and others have created new districts with an objective of serving people better. The difference here is that the size of the existing districts was massive.
A major concern, however, is that creating a new district involves a huge burden on the State treasury, which could eventually lead to social unrest in the existing districts, completely defeating the purpose. In a tricky financial situation that Goa is currently in, the government will have to leverage its finances and cut corners to fulfil its objective. At a time when the government is struggling to meet its financial obligations, and showing hesitancy in opening up jobs due to financial worries, investing in creating a new district could worsen the situation, taking the State into a further downward spiral. On the flip side, the BJP government will have a political advantage — an added parliamentary seat and possibly additional seats to satisfy political commitments.
There are no strong and justifiable reasons why Goa should have a third district for now, since constituencies have been well represented, especially areas like Sattari, Ponda and Dharbandora which are wrested by the ruling dispensation, unless there is another argument that those representing these constituencies feel that are unable to do justice to their people.
The seven-member committee has a job cut out. However, what we need here is a larger public discourse that involves the entire Goa, including the areas which are to be proposed in the new demarcation. A decision of this scale needs to be people-inclusive and transparent, if it is intended towards the greater good of everyday citizens.