Regardless of opposition from the Odisha government, Andhra Pradesh on Saturday conducted gram panchayat polls in disputed Kotia area of Koraput district, the region on which both the states have been staking their claim for decades.
Even though District Magistrate of Koraput Abdaal Akhtar wrote a letter to his Vizianagaram counterpart requesting not to conduct elections in the region as the matter is sub-judice in the Supreme Court, the Andhra government set up polling booths at Potu Senari and voting was held under a thick security cover, official sources told PTI.
"Our poll was conducted peacefully and out of 1025 voters as many as 615, including 306 females, exercised their franchise," said a polling official from Andhra Pradesh. The second phase of polling for 2,786 panchayats took place in Andhra Pradesh during the day.
Meanwhile, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Sunday expressed concern over the matter and cautioned the state government that situation may aggravate if required pre-emptive measures were not taken to resolve the inter-state dispute.
Pradhan in a statement said that though the Odisha government has taken legal recourse to resolve the border discord, it should be taken to a conclusive end. "We may encounter worse situations if timely measures are not taken at the proper time," he said, adding the AP holding panchayat polls in the border villages by including people of Koraput, Ganjam and Gajapati, has certainly created bitterness between the two states.
Pradhan, who hails from Odisha, said the state government should give utmost priority to the border villages by implementing welfare schemes.
"It is our responsibility to protect the boundary of our state and ensure that our brothers and sisters living in the border villages avail all the benefits of the welfare schemes of the state government," Pradhan said. He also urged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to seriously take up the matter and do the needful at the earliest before it is too late.
The Odisha government had approached the Supreme Court against Andhra Pradesh for holding panchayat polls in Kotia and the Apex Court had on Friday served notice to the Andhra government and posted the case for February 19.
While the Kotia panchayat comes under Pottangi block of Koraput, the Andhra government has divided the 21 disputed villages into three panchayats namely Ganjaibadra, Pattuchennuru and Paguluchinnru under Salur Mandal by changing the names of villages identified in Odisha as Talaganjeipadar, Potu Senari and Phagun Senari. Whereas the sarpanches at Talaganjeipadar and Phagun Senari were elected uncontested, the Andhra conducted election for Potu Senari where two women candidates are in the fray for the post of sarpanch.
Both the Odisha and Andhra government have been engaged in a five-decade-long tug of war over the ownership of 21 out of the 28 villages in the Kotia panchayat and the case is with the apex court since 1968.
(With agency inputs)