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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Government having declared to conduct the Panchayat polls in the Kotia gram panchayat of 28 villages in Odisha, a peeved State government has on Tuesday decided to move to the Apex Court to seek a restraining order to maintain status quo.

The flashpoint this time around has been that the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh has accorded Panchayat status to 3 villages and had decided to hold the rural polls there on February 13 and 17.

The AP government has made three gram panchayats namely Talanga Dei Padara, Phagunaseneri and Phatusineri as a part of Salur Mandal in Vijayanagaram district.

As the poll dates are only a week ahead, will the belated legal course of action by the Odisha government yield any dividend?

Moreover, given the aggressive approach taken by the Jagan Reddy-led AP government, many a question has popped up regarding the fate of Kotia – a bone of contention between Odisha and AP.

The fears are so because State had already lost one border dispute (Borra Mutha villages) in the Apex court to the Andhra Pradesh in the past, but will Odisha pull off a smart coup here or again lose the plot?

WHY KOTIA COULD BE ODISHA’S ACHEILLE’s HILL?

Although, the (CONSTITUTION OF ORISSA) ORDER, 1936 that was published in The Gazette of India, on 19th March 1936 had clearly mentioned in the FIRST SCHEDULE, Part-I, Sl.  No.  2(iv) that the areas of new Province of Odisha shall comprise of “the areas like Jeypore (Impartible) Estate and Pottangi Taluk (not in the Estate) in the Vishakapatnam district then, a joint survey done by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and MP in 1942 had recorded only 7 villages of this Kotia gram Panchayat as revenue villages of Odisha.

GREY AREA: As the joint survey than had excluded the 21 villages, AP, post its re-organisation in the year 1955, though it didn’t carry the survey in the same 21 villages then, had put its claims on the 21 villages first in 1964.

Reports say that AP’s interest took wings after a series of surveys by the Geological Survey of India confirmed the presence of rich mineral resources like gold, platinum, manganese, bauxite, graphite and limestone in the area.

Odisha government had to deploy police in the area, the approach of AP government had been aggressive since the beginning of the dispute and it had also deployed its police forces there. The face-off between the two states continued for two years.

Taking umbrage over the AP’s continuous incursions, Odisha government had moved to the Supreme Court to take the right, title and possession of the 21 villages of Kotia Gram Panchayat. The issue remained in the dormant state in the Apex Court for nearly 20 years.

But in 1988, the SC has passed an order asking for maintain status quo and had appointed the District Judge, Koraput as Commissioner to record evidence on the disputed territory on its behalf.

The Commissioner to record evidence had submitted its report in the year 2000.

30 March 2006: SC passed a permanent injunction on the disputed area. And the Court citing its limitation under Article 131 of the Constitution had ordered that the Court couldn’t decide on the disputes of State boundaries. It said, “The matter will be resolved by the legislature only.”

Simply put, the Apex Court had then clearly said that the solution lies in the jurisdiction of the Parliament.

In this backdrop can the SC intervene now?

Though Article 131 of the Constitution vests with the Supreme Court the original jurisdiction in any dispute between two or more states, in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends, the said jurisdiction, however, shall not extend to a dispute arising out of any treaty, agreement, covenant, engagement, and or other similar instruments which, having been entered into or executed before the commencement of the Constitution, continues in operation after such commencement.

Given the clear-cut constitutional limitations, legal experts are of the opinion that the Apex Court will not adjudicate the Kotia dispute. The Court may advise the State to take up the issue with the Centre.

WHY ODISHA ON A STICY WICKET?

As per the 1955 report of the State Reorganisation Commission, the rationale of altering the boundaries or territorial adjustments will be decided by the following three criteria.

  • Geographical contiguity for administrative convenience
  • Linguistic basis
  • Wishes of people

Consider The First Criterion.

When Andhra Pradesh doctors can reach the Kotia panchayat by travelling only 15 km distance (Kundilli- Kotiya Road), Odisha team has to cover a 70km long distance through the Salur Ghat.

Sample The Second Parameter.

Linguistically speaking, this panchayat has over 5,500 people where nearly 60 per cent can speak and understand Telugu as against 40 per cent Odia speaking.

The Final Factor

In the indicator of wishes of the people residing there, it’s anybody’s guess when the fact AP government is providing electricity to double the villages Odisha could provide electricity.

Since it’s a tribal hamlet, the AP government had last year even granted land rights under the Forest Right Act to 19 families in Arjuvalsa village last year.

WHO IS TO BLAME FOR KOTIA FIASCO?

“Even as Odisha had established a primary health centre as early as 1968, set up a revenue inspector office in 1963, the lackadaisical attitude of the successive governments to crucial areas of housing, electricity, water and roads connectivity had alienated the inhabitants from the Odisha administration,” observed Anil Dhir, Historian.

He further said,

“Taking the advantage of dearth of teachers in the Schools, Andhra Pradesh has opened ten schools in the Telegu medium. Also, when the AP Government gives an assistance of Rs 90,000 for construction of Indira Awas, Odisha sanctions Rs. 45,000 per unit after paying commission to officials. Such policy lacunae had made Kotia people tilt towards the neighbouring State.”

According to Amal Mishra, History Professor, Utkal University, Odisha had ceded many of its areas to neighbouring states for lack political clout and vision.

“Be it Seraikela-Kharsawan or Kalingapatnam or Borra group of villages (BorraMutha), the State has lost many of its own areas to neighbours since independence.”

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