Nearly ten months before the assembly elections, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced that the Congress-led government will create 19 new districts and three more divisional headquarters in the state.
Soon after the announcement during his address in the Assembly, Congress and independent legislators sloganeered in his support, ‘Gehlot ji Zindabad, wapas aayenge chauthi baar’ (Gehlot will form a government for the fourth time).
Gehlot mentioned that the increased number of districts and divisions will serve the needs of people who live far away from the divisional headquarters. Citing Rajasthan’s geographical boundaries as the major reason for adding more districts to benefit the common man and maintain effective law and order, and better administration, Gehlot's move is being seen as a ‘political gain’, who in his third term as CM is leaving no stone unturned for his re-election bid.
The opposition BJP, including the vice president and former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, criticized the announcement and accused Gehlot of fulfilling his political ends.
Calling the move an administrative challenge and putting economic structure at stake, Raje said, “The announcement of new districts has put the state’s budget and economic structure at stake. It will end up increasing administrative challenges. Also, certain issues have been ignored before announcing the new list of districts."
Referring to the example of Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state by area which has 52 districts, and West Bengal, Gehlot said, “Other states in the country have been ahead of Rajasthan in creating new districts including Madhya Pradesh with an estimated population of 72 million. Therefore Rajasthan, which also has a population of around 78 million now has 52 districts. Also, West Bengal, which is geographically smaller than Rajasthan, announced seven new districts."
Another BJP leader and deputy leader of the opposition, Rajendra Rathore criticized Gehlot’s move. “The budget has been made keeping an eye on the polls. It will not help the people of Rajasthan but will prove to be a financial burden”. Gehlot proposed a budget of Rs 2,000 crore for infrastructure development and human resources in the first phase of creating the new districts.
New districts created after 15 years
Rajasthan currently has 33 districts and seven divisional headquarters. The increase in the districts is being done after fifteen years. In 2008, Raje’s first tenure as the Chief Minister was when she created Pratapgarh as a district, situated in southern Rajasthan. It was carved out of Udaipur, Banswara, and Chittorgarh.
The three new divisional headquarters are Pali, Sikar and Banswara. The new districts are Anoopgarh, which was part of Ganganagar; Balotra (Barmer), Beawar (Ajmer), Kekri (Ajmer), Deeg (Bharatpur), Deedwana-Kuchaman (Nagaur), Dudu (Jaipur), Gangapur City (Sawai Madhopur), Jaipur North, Jaipur South, Jodhpur East, Jodhpur West, Kotputli-Behror (Jaipur-Alwar), Khertal (Alwar), Neem Ka Thana (Sikar), Phalodi (Jodhpur), Salumber (Udaipur), Sanchore (Jalore) and Shahpura (Bhilwara).
The state capital, Jaipur will now be divided into four smaller districts: Jaipur, Jaipur North, Jaipur South, and Dudu.
A long pending demand
The demand for creating new districts had been coming in for several quarters for a long time. In February 2022, Congress MLA from Pachpadra in Barmer, Madan Prajapat said that he will walk barefoot till the demand of making his constituency Balotra a district is not met.
According to the sources in Congress, CM Gehlot will make use of the new district formation announcement and visit all of these to enhance the excitement and momentum in public.
“Whether it is a fifth budget with no new tax burden on people, Rs 25 lakh package of the Chiranjeevi Health Insurance Scheme, urban MNREGA, a subsidized Rs 500 gas cylinder, and the return to the Old Pension Scheme, the Congress government is pulling all strings to be re-elected for a fourth time. The increase in the districts has been in the election manifesto and the Congress government fulfilled it. This is also the last hard-hitting strike by Gehlot for a comeback”, a senior Congress leader told Outlook.
A committee headed by retired IAS officer Parmesh Chandra was also appointed in 2014 during the previous BJP regime to form new districts. However, there was no progress after it submitted its report. The eligibility criteria included geographical area, population, distances within the existing districts, and administrative requirements.