The Odisha government has been caught seriously napping on its border front. In the face of a longstanding dispute over rights on villages across many districts along the border, Andhra Pradesh has gone ahead with rural elections in Kotia panchayat of Koraput district. And when the Odisha government woke up from its slumber, it was already too late. Andhra has not only conducted polls in three villages under the disputed Kotia panchayat but also renamed them and elevated them to panchayats while declaring them part of its Salur block.
The first reaction of the Odisha administration was to transfer the collector of Koraput district where the cluster of 21 disputed villages is located. CM Naveen Patnaik unveiled a slew of projects estimated at `18 crore while promising to develop Kotia into a model panchayat. Three days before the election, the state approached the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the polls and initiation of contempt against AP for violation of status quo ordered in 1968 and agreed upon by the two states in 2006. The SC issued notice to Andhra but did not stall the polls. The opposition parties have pounced on the issue and blamed the BJD government for ceding its land to the neighbour. They have sought strong action over the administrative lapses that led to such a situation and demanded an all-party meeting to resolve the issue.
There are no two ways about the fact that the Odisha administration was clueless about AP’s plans. The poll notification was issued in March last year but it chose to do nothing. In the past, the AP administration has found its way into these villages by handing freebies and including the people in its welfare schemes. On its part, Odisha has regularly conducted polls in Kotia, which finds place in Pottangi block of Koraput in the Census 2011 report too. However, Kotia is not just about AP’s designs; it is also about absence of development in the region. Moreover, it is not the only bordering area where such an issue exists; Gajapati, Ganjam and Rayagada districts have been reporting similar overtures from across the boundary. The issue should not be allowed to fester. The Naveen government must immediately initiate talks with its AP counterpart and sort it out.