Other States

Demand for Union Territory for Dandakaranya tribals gains strength

In the second week of October, a small meeting was organised in the southern Odisha district of Koraput and attended by politicians from Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Though they hailed from three different State jurisdictions, they were united on a common goal – the formation of a Union Territory for tribals.

It appears curious that politicians from three different States want to carve out a separate administrative unit. But, decades of reported neglect by Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh Governments have made these politicians jointly demand the Dandakaranya Union Territory.

The Dandakaranya region, marked by poverty and underdevelopment, has been a so-called division of outlawed CPI(Maoist) rebels, who used to hold sway there almost for three decades. However, their influence is on the decline following the massive deployment of security forces there.

In the late 1950s, the Central Government had settled displaced persons from Bangladesh (East Pakistan) and created the Dandakaranya Development Authority.

Jayaram Pangi, a former Minister, four-time MLA and once Member of Parliament of Koraput, recently decided to end his association with the Bharatiya Janata Party and work towards the cause of carving out a Union Territory where tribals would have greater say in administration and decision-making on all natural resources in the region.

“Tribals who live in bordering areas of Odisha are never given due importance in policies and their implementation. Neither State nor Central Government has worked for development of tribals in the region,” said Mr. Pangi, who spearheads the movement.

An umbrella body has been formed in the name of ‘Dandakaranya Parbatmala Bikash Parishad’ (DPBP) to carry the movement forward. In the past few months, the group has been fighting for a permanent solution to the problems around Kotia Gram Panchayat in Koraput district, a contentious panchayat fought over by both the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh Governments.

The confidence of Mr. Pangi stems from the fact that majority of population in Dandakaranya area are from the tribal community. “My tribe — Kandh — constitutes 40% of the total population. They will definitely get united for a cause,” he said.

More leaders join in

When a meeting of the DPBP was convened on October 10, the group received a pleasant surprise with former Central minister and prominent Chhattisgarh tribal leader Arvind Netam and politician Gangadhara Swamy Setti, who had unsuccessfully fought the Assembly election in Araku valley in Andhra Pradesh, dropped in to extend their solidarity for the cause.

Former district collector of Koraput Gadadhar Parida, an active member of the DPBP, said, “Big dam projects in undivided Koraput district have rendered thousands of people displaced and villages submerged. The hydropower generated from here illuminated urban areas in coastal districts and other parts of the country. But, tribal power remained in the shadow of development.”

‘No local benefit’

“Similarly, the big mining industrial project by public sector NALCO and defence project by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited did not benefit the local people, who had parted with their land,” said Mr. Parida.

“The only development local tribals could see since Independence were roads, hospitals and schools meant for Bangladeshi settlers. The Sri Lankan refugees were settled in Malkangiri. But tribals felt alienated because nothing was done for indigenous people. A social unrest was inflicted on Koraput, a peaceful region. The fault line between local tribals and settlers is widening every passing day,” he pointed out.

The undivided Koraput district which was constituted around 1936 decided to stay with Odisha by giving up allegiance to the Madras Presidency, Mr. Parida recalled. About 85 years have lapsed, but neither the Odisha Government nor persons at the helm of affairs have accepted the people in the region fully.

“It is a hard reality now that the Odisha Government will not come to help us. There is no option left for us but to start demanding for Union Territory status for Dandakaranya. We don’t want to hurt Odias by demanding separate States,” said Mr. Parida.

Mr. Pangi said, “Demanding Union Territory status is the right step toward safeguarding the future of the next generation. Like the British looted valuables from the colonies, the present-day government is taking away valuable mineral resources using Gram Sabhas. The worst affected are the local people.”

Mr. Netam said, “The region comprising Odisha’s Koraput region, some districts of Chhattisgarh, including Bastar and Sukma, and parts of Andhra Pradesh have a homogeneous population. They speak Disari language and their culture is the same. I have seen as to how tribals are neglected in Chhattisgarh. We have invited the DPBP leadership to hold meetings in Chhattisgarh.”

Mr. Setti appeared to be more ambitious. “Tribals living in bordering areas of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana should have a separate State. They can decide on the abundant mineral resources available in their region. The idea has been mooted and I can foresee it will gain traction,” he said.


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