December 25, 2023
Orissa High Court’s Rebuke of State Government’s Move to Create New Districts
- Odisha’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, had pledged to grant district status to Padampur sub-division in Bargarh district during a crucial Assembly by-election. Anticipating potential district creations before year-end, the Orissa High Court intervened, instructing the state government to refrain from finalizing any such decisions without the court’s approval.
- In response to a public interest litigation (PIL), the court, while permitting the government to continue its reorganization process if necessary, criticized the lack of guiding principles and regulations governing the creation of new districts. The bench highlighted the absence of established criteria for district reorganization, citing only historical reports like the Justice Raj Kishore Das Committee’s findings from 1975 and the 1991 Cabinet Sub-Committee Report.
Momentum for New Districts
- Naveen Patnaik’s commitment to bestow district status upon Padampur sub-division by December 31, 2023, stemmed from longstanding local demands and emerged as a prominent electoral promise during the Padampur Assembly by-election. Reports also indicated that the state government had received proposals for establishing 25 new districts.
PIL and Court’s Evaluation
- Advocate Akshaya Kumar Mohanty from Rairangpur filed the PIL, advocating for separate district status for Rairangpur in Mayurbhanj district. The division bench, comprising acting Chief Justice BR Sarangi and Justice MS Raman, highlighted the lack of explicit guidelines for district reorganization beyond the historical reports available.
Past District Reorganization
- In 1993, Odisha expanded from 13 to 30 districts, a decision made by then-CM Biju Patnaik for administrative convenience. However, this move was based on recommendations from the 1991 Cabinet Sub-Committee Report, leaving out certain larger and tribal-dominated districts like Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj, and Keonjhar.
- The opposition, represented by BJP and Congress, seized upon the High Court’s order to censure the Patnaik administration, alleging the exploitation of false promises for electoral gain. Both parties accused the government of orchestrating the PIL to prevent the creation of additional districts.
- The Odisha government is yet to review the court’s directive, intending to make an informed decision upon accessing the court order.