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Kotia projects gather pace

Bhubaneswar: The state government on Thursday decided to expedite over-all development of the disputed Kotia group of villages on the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border.

"The picture of the area will change within six months," said revenue minister Maheswar Mohanty after reviewing the progress in implementation of the action plan for the area.

It was decided to appoint nodal officers for each project and instructions were issued to officials to make regular field visits, said Mohanty. Land measuring 1.5 acres has been identified for the construction of police station in Kotia. Similarly, a banking outlet has been opened in the area.

A regular block development officer and tehsildar have been appointed in Pottangi tehsil, he said. The meeting decided to make VSAT available through joint collaboration of the state government and the BSNL to provide Internet connectivity to the area. Besides, Kotia primary health centre is being upgraded to a 10-bed hospital at an estimated cost of Rs 2.82 crore and the tender has been floated, said Mohanty.

Both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have been entangled in a legal battle since 1968 over the ownership of 21 out of the 28 villages under Kotia gram panchayat. On March 30, 2006, the Supreme Court ordered status quo at the disputed villages.

Nestled on the Deomali hill range, the 21 villages with population of 4,448 (according to the 2011 census) are battling an identity crisis for the past five decades. The people, mostly belonging to the Kondh tribe, continue to remain below the poverty line with small-time farming, horticulture, fishing and collection of minor forest produce.

The patch was wallowing in neglect till the early parts of this year. The state government woke up following reports about the Andhra government laying roads and its officials distributing Aadhaar cards, blankets and other things in the area.

In January, it had come to the state's notice, that the Andhra Pradesh government was constructing a road at Ganjeipadar. Local people had alleged that the Andhra government was also undertaking Aadhaar registration in the area. On January 10, some officials from Andhra Pradesh, accompanied by the Vijayanagaram collector, reportedly distributed blankets and solar lights in Kotia and nearby villages.

Following media reports, the state government held a meeting on January 31 to review the status of border disputes, with focus on disputed Kotia cluster of villages in the wake of the alleged move of Andhra officials to construct roads and take up projects.

An inter-departmental committee was formed, which subsequently visited Kotia and submitted its field-visit report. On April 6, the committee under Mohanty's chairmanship met and chalked out a 15-point action plan.

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