Andhra vs Odisha: The territorial tussle between two States

In the disputed border village of Kotia, situated between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, residents have been navigating two governments for decades. Sumit Bhattacharjee speaks to the villagers, who have availed themselves of benefits from both sides

Updated - March 05, 2024 02:57 pm IST

Published - February 23, 2024 10:56 am IST

Bone of contention: A view of Kotia village, one among the 28 villages that fall under the disputed Kotia group of villages that both Andhra Pradesh and Odisha have been claiming ownership over for the past several decades.

Bone of contention: A view of Kotia village, one among the 28 villages that fall under the disputed Kotia group of villages that both Andhra Pradesh and Odisha have been claiming ownership over for the past several decades. | Photo Credit: V. Raju

On the first Friday and Saturday of every month, there is a noticeable spring in Pangi Budri’s step. This is when the 65-year-old tribal woman from Kotia village, located in the disputed Andhra-Odisha Border (AOB) region, collects her monthly ration supplies from the fair price shops operated by both States. She also heads out to get her pension: ₹3,000 from the A.P government and another ₹500 from the Odisha government.

With the pension in hand, she heads to the weekly market to buy sweets or plastic toys for her six-year-old grandson and cosmetics for her 30-year-old daughter-in-law. She returns home in ‘high spirits’, having consumed a good quantity of mohua, a locally brewed alcoholic beverage.

It is same for people like Prasad Rao, a middle-aged farmer who doubles as a pastor at a church; Aruna Sukuru, a woman in her mid-20s, who runs a mom-and-pop store in Darlatadivalasa village; and the 500-odd families inhabiting the 28 tribal villages under the Kotia group, in the disputed border region since Independence. While A.P. claims that Kotia falls in its Parvathipuram-Manyam district (pre-district bifurcation in the Vizianagaram district), Odisha claims it is in its Koraput district.

Aruna Sukuru, a resident of Darlatadivalasa, which is part of the Kotia group of villages, showing two voter ID cards, one issued by A.P. government and the other by Odisha.

Aruna Sukuru, a resident of Darlatadivalasa, which is part of the Kotia group of villages, showing two voter ID cards, one issued by A.P. government and the other by Odisha. | Photo Credit: V. Raju

Each citizen here has two Aadhaar, voter identity, and ration cards. “What is wrong about enjoying benefits from both states, especially when they are willing to provide them? Every member of my family, including my in-laws and husband, has two cards,” says Aruna, a resident of Darlatadivalasa.

History of dispute

From the time Odisha was formed in 1936 and Andhra Pradesh in 1956, each State has included this disputed territory in their respective district administration maps. The issue gained prominence in 1968 when the Odisha government approached the Supreme Court, claiming that the 28 villages belonged to it and categorised them under the Kotia group. The same year, it filed a second suit claiming ownership of the pre-historic Borra Caves. These were earlier part of the erstwhile Visakhapatnam district; they are now located in the newly carved-out Alluri Sitharama Raju district in A.P.

A legal battle unfolded in the Supreme Court, and after a trial, the apex court disposed of the Kotia case on March 30, 2006, and the Borra Caves case on May 5, 2010. The court observed that the border case was an inter-state boundary dispute, and that, under Article 131 of the Constitution, Parliament alone had the authority to determine the territorial limits of the States. In the Borra Caves case, the SC ruled in favour of Andhra Pradesh.

While neither State has taken up the issue seriously in Parliament so far, Odisha dominates in making its presence felt in the disputed territory. The neighbouring State has made deep inroads in the area, especially in the past couple of years. It has built concrete roads connecting villages to Kotia, the main village with over 100 families. It has established schools, a Primary Health Centre, and a full-fledged outpost of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB).

“They do not allow even our district administration officials and police to move beyond Darlatadivalasa, which is located at the entry point to the Kotia group of villages [from the A.P. side],” says a senior officer of A.P. police. He claims the Odisha police and the IRB have restricted the movement from A.P. with almost every vehicle being stopped and checked at various check posts, set up over the past few years, says Prasad Rao.

According to police officials, an Anganwadi centre built by the A.P. government near Neralavalasa village was reportedly demolished by earthmovers brought in from the Odisha side. When Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, an Odisha native, visited Kotia village in April last year, he pushed A.P. police officials and shouted ‘Go Back Andhra’ slogans.

Beesetti Babji from the Lok Satta party, who has been raising the border dispute issue at various forums, filed a police complaint in response. “Gone are the days of ‘Simon go back’. How can a Union Minister raise such a slogan in democracy? Unfortunately, no leader from A.P., be it from the present YSR Congress government or of the previous TDP regime, raised their voice or put forth the issue in Parliament. There is a big question mark over why A.P. is soft-pedalling the issue,” he says.

However, District Collector of Parvathipuram-Manyam, Nishant Kumar, says that efforts are on to resolve the issue. Recently, the Odisha government filed another petition in the Supreme Court, Kumar points out, adding, “We have sent all required documents to the authorities concerned in the government to file a counter.” Both States claim to have documents and maps to prove that the region belongs to them.

At loggerheads

However, the question remains: why has it not been settled yet? The hills in this region are rich in minerals like bauxite and manganese. According to senior geologists of Andhra University (AU), there is substantial evidence of precious and semi-precious stones and graphite, listed as a critical mineral.

While the presence of minerals is confirmed, their quantity is yet to be assessed as the Supreme Court has ordered a status quo, explains Professor Yugandhar Rao from the Department of Geology at AU, noting that any kind of survey or mining activity is prohibited.

The villages are located amid the picturesque hills of the Eastern Ghats and the tribes inhabiting them depend on the sale of adda leaves (Bauhinia vahlii), used for disposable plates. They also indulge in podu cultivation (shifting slash-and-burn agriculture). They grow cashew and at least two paddy crops a year. The forest is blessed with abundant jackfruit trees, so food is plentiful.

While there are some benefits for the tribes living in the area, forest roads leading to the villages are narrow, allowing just one four-wheeler to pass at a time. For any medical emergency, people rush to Salur or Vizianagaram, 30 km away, or Koraput, 50 km away. The last bus stops at Darlatadivalasa, and the children from some of the interior villages have to trek at least 4-5 km to reach the nearest school either at Kotia or Darlatadivalasa.

The tribals from the villages vote for the Araku MP on the Andhra side and for the Koraput MP on the Odisha side. Coming to MLAs, they vote for Pottangi MLA on the Odisha side and Salur MLA on the Andhra side. The 28 villages come under six panchayats and both Odisha and AP hold the local body elections. Hence, each village has two panchayats, one from Odisha and the other from Andhra.

Divided they stand

Till about seven or eight years ago, this region remained off-limits for both governments due to a strong Maoist presence. Mining activity in the pristine hills was is confined within the corridors of power and among lobbyists.

However, the dynamics shifted after the Ramaguda exchange of fire in October 2016 in the AOB region between Maoists and the elite anti-Naxal force of Andhra Pradesh – the Greyhounds. In the encounter, about 31 Maoists were killed, leading to the decimation of the entire leadership of the Malkangiri Koraput Visakhapatnam Border division and the Nandapur and Laxmipur area committee. It was only after the encounter that things began to intensify again as both States sought to stake their claim over the minerals, says Babji.

The community predominantly consists of people from tribes like Jatapu, Konda Dora, Gadaba, and Mukka Dora. They communicate in Telugu, Odia, and a tribal dialect known as Kui. “There is no dispute among us; it is merely a disagreement between two governments. We are content, receiving benefits from both administrations. However, when it comes to benefits, we get more from Andhra Pradesh. We avail all welfare schemes listed under Nava Ratnalu (nine gems),” says Prasad Rao.

In villages though, some ration shops bear pictures of A.P. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy while others display life-size posters of his Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik. While the villages down the hill are more tuned towards A.P., those up the hill have a clear leaning towards Odisha, as they say their culture is closer to that of tribals of Koraput district.

A senior officer from the Odisha government, who was conducting a State-sponsored programme at Kotia when The Hindu team visited the village, said the group of villages belongs to Odisha. Mincing no words, he warned the team to retrace their steps: “People of this region do not like strangers, especially if they are from the A.P. side.”

(Inputs from K. Srinivasa Rao)

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