Malappuram, the most populous district in Kerala, could seek additional resources through bifurcation, but some say the move will only further a political agenda.

The demand to bifurcate Malappuram district and the political tussle around itMap by: Rajeshodayanchal [CC BY 3.0]
Delve Governance & Policy Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - 16:44
Written by  KC Arun

The demand to bifurcate Malappuram district, the most populous district in Kerala, was first raised by the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in 2010. For the last decade, the party has conducted several campaigns and agitations, including a district hartal on September 3, 2013. The debate on bifurcation is heating up again after Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) MLA KNA Khader moved a Calling Attention motion in the Kerala Assembly on June 25.

Even though SDPI leaders claim that all parties, except the BJP and CPI(M), support the idea, Congress leader Aryadan Muhammed and IUML district secretary UA Latheef opposed the move by Khader. BJP leader K Surendran also severely criticised the idea on his Facebook page.

Those who support the bifurcation say that because of the high population of Malappuram district, resources allotted are just not enough. Smaller districts with focussed solutions to their specific problems are the answer, they say. This is a formula that many other states have tried over the decades. In the last one year, Tamil Nadu created five new districts for ease of governance.

According to the 2011 census data, the total population of the district was 41 lakh, the highest in Kerala. The second most populous district in the state is Thiruvananthapuram with 33 lakh. In 2015, the district panchayat had passed a resolution asking the government to form a new district in the region.

The SDPI district vice-president, advocate Sadiq Naduthodi, told TNM that as per the party’s estimate, the district population has now touched 49 lakh. “But the district is not getting development projects according to the population. The state government has been dividing the projects and money district-wise. During the UDF regime, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy announced a medical college for each district. That means only one medical college for 41 lakh people in Malappuram. At the same time, in the case of Pathanamthitta it is one medical college for 12 lakh people. It is a similar situation in all sectors,” he said.

“Is the state government ready to start two medical colleges in Malappuram?” Sadiq asked.

SDPI suggests that the new district be formed by carving out Thiroorangadi, Ponnani and Tirur taluks from Malappuram district, with the headquarters located in Tirur. Why Tirur? Because it is the most developed after Malappuram taluk. According to SDPI, the bifurcation will result in one coastal district and one hill district. At present, travelling from Valiyamkode in Ponnani taluk to the Collectorate in Malappuram is a tedious task for residents. 

All districts created after the formation of Kerala was based on population, Sadiq pointed out. The EMS Namboodiripad government had created Malappuram district in 1969 based on the same, he said.

Wary of SDPI’s stand

Most of the IUML leadership believes that bifurcation is an idea that the LDF government needs to mull on, however they are wary of a division based on SDPI’s demands.

MK Muneer, IUML Leader and Kozhikode South MLA cautions that the SDPI’s intention is to carve out two Muslim dominated districts, and adds that the IUML’s suggestion to the government is to look at bifurcation from a purely governance angle.

“We did not dismiss the demand just because the SDPI raised it. We understand that they have a communal agenda. However, the bifurcation that most political parties are talking about is not based on the religious composition and includes people from all communities. This should have been two districts, but the government will have to inspect the demand and decide. It should be done in such a way that we don't lose our pluralism,” Muneer says.

Ummer Arakkal, another IUML district secretary, agrees with Muneer and says that with the government unable to sanction more funds for Malappuram fearing accusations of favouritism, bifurcation is the only solution.

Ummer said when the former UDF government had tried to implement more projects in the district, it created a controversy that the government was showing undue favour to the district. He revealed that the party had conducted several discussions over the division as part of the 50th formation year of Malappuram district.

Both Sadiq and Ummer pointed out that while students in the district suffered from a lack of seats in Plus Two (12th standard), seats are vacant in districts like Pathanamthitta. If the government distributed seats based on the population, such situations can be avoided. But seats and schools are allocated per district, they explained.

The CPI(M)’s opposition

In the Assembly, replying to Khader, Minister EP Jayarajan called the division of Malappuram an ‘unscientific plan’ and added that the government was implementing ‘People’s Plan Campaign’ to solve the district’s development issues. PPC, started by the Left government in Kerala in 1996 focused on decentralisation. This plan conceived by the EK Nayanar government wanted people participation at the planning stages itself and current Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has promised to revive it.

CPI(M) district secretary EN Mohandas told TNM that the IUML had given in to the agenda of the SDPI, which is an extremist organisation, and that IUML was allowing its agenda to be decided by the SDPI. “This shows the pathetic condition of the IUML. The motion by Khader was an untimely one. It will help the communal forces in the state,” he said.

Mohandas said the government was distributing projects according to population, and that the district’s 16 MLAs and three MPs can do the development work. Mohandas firmly believes that communal harmony would be destroyed by the demands to bifurcate Malappuram.

He added that demands from districts in Mavelikkara, Vatakara, Moovattupuzha and southern parts of Thiruvananthapuram were emerging. “The decision to form new districts should be taken carefully. It should be done based on proper scientific study and policies of the state government. The financial side also should be considered for bifurcation,” he said.

BJP leader K Surendran alleged that the aim of bifurcating Malappuram was to eventually form the Malabar state. “First, the SDPI mooted the idea. Now IUML is supporting it. If development is the issue, then Kozhikode, Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram can be divided,” he posted on Facebook.

Data shows Malappuram needs to get more

According to the data collected by Muslim League as part of their seminars on the bifurcation of Malappuram during the Golden Jubilee celebrations, there are 135 villages in the district. This means one village for 3,60,450 people. At that time, in Kottayam and Thrissur it was one village for 2,000 people.

The number of village and taluk offices, which are part of the revenue system, is important because these directly connect the government to the people. The public depends on these offices daily for various purposes.

In the case of taluks, there are seven taluks in the district. The average population in each taluk is 5.87 lakh. In Pathanamthitta, the average population in a taluk is 1.99 lakh and in Idukki, it is 2.76 lakh.

The total population in Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Wayanad and Kasaragod districts put together is equal to that of Malappuram district. This means that Malappuram district has been getting only one-fourth of the distribution.

Those supporting bifurcation say that if the government cannot redraw boundaries, then it should provide funds equivalent to four districts to Malappuram and only then would it be justifiable.

An imbalance in the number of hospitals, specialist doctors and beds also exists, which has been affecting the drives conducted by the health department. The state’s average is 1,286 beds for one patient. But in the case of Malappuram, the number shoots up to 2,927 beds for one patient, says IUML. Around 12.31% of Kerala's population lives in Malappuram district. But in the case of number of beds, only 5.41% of the state’s total beds are in Malappuram.

“The number of staff in the hospitals is allocated based on the number of beds. So, the lesser number of beds directly affects the staff strength of the health department,” said Ummer.

IUML Leader Munner points out that Malappuram holds the record for having the most number of people ailing from various medical conditions. “When the government disburses money to every district, Malappuram does not get enough. But if there are two districts, there will be two Collectors, two District Medical Officers etc and it will make everyone’s job easier. I think the people who will benefit the most are the SC/ST communities,” he said.

As per the data available with the Directorate of Health Services (DHS), 131 hospitals, including taluk hospitals, primary health centres, community health centres and TB treatment centres, function in the district. As per the 2011 census, the population of Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta is 21 lakh and 11 lakh respectively. The number of health centres in these districts is 88 and 63 respectively. Compared to these districts, Malappuram is far behind in the health sector.

As per the data available with the Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA), the doctor-patient ratio in Malappuram is the worst in the state. For the 41 lakh people in the state, only around 500 doctors are working in the government sector. The doctors in primary health centres do check-ups for around 600 patients per day. The Government Modernisation Programme suggests that a doctor should spend 10 minutes for one patient. Sources in the health sector said that due to the extensive area, large population and lack of staff, health workers are not able to reach out to all the people when programmes such as vaccination drives are conducted.

Another critical area is education. Of the total students studying in Class 1 to 10 in the state, 17.39% students are in Malappuram. But only 11.64% of schools are present in the district. One high school is available for 344 students on average in the state. At the same time, in the district there is only one high school per 553 students.

The Muslim League calculates that the district needs an additional 115 high schools to be on par with the state. In the case of Upper Primary schools, the state average is one school for 368 students while the district average is one school for 660 students. The district needs 291 UP schools to fill the gap.

In the case of Lower Primary schools, the state average is one LPS for 133 students while the district average is one school for 211 students.

“As per this data, Malappuram needs 908 schools to equal the state average,” said Ummer.

Kerala has 163 education sub-districts that take care of the administration of school education. Under one sub-district, 59 primary schools are functioning. The average number of schools in 17 sub-districts in Malappuram is 72. To equal the state average, the district needs three new sub-districts.

In the last academic year, 47,664 students qualified for higher education. But only 4,056 seats are available in the government schools in the district.

Though the demand for Malappuram’s bifurcation is mired in politics and accusations of communalisation, the data is evident to show that the district needs to get many more resources from the state government. 

Map in main image: Rajeshodayanchal [CC BY 3.0]

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