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Explained: What is Andhra govt’s VMRDA order on non-tribal mandals, and why are activists opposing it?

The Andhra Pradesh government has issued orders to expand the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Development Authority (VMRDA). Why is this controversial?

Written by Sreenivas Janyala , Edited by Explained Desk | Hyderabad |
March 25, 2021 2:26:20 pm
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy (Twitter/@AndhraPradeshCM)

The Andhra Pradesh government has issued orders to expand the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Development Authority (VMRDA). The move to include 13 non-tribal mandals under the VMRDA has met with opposition from several organisations. They say including these villages would deprive the tribals of their constitutional rights.

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What is the government order on non-tribal mandals?

The government issued an order on March 23 for inclusion of 13 non-tribal mandals covering 431 villages into (VMRDA). The government is of the opinion that Visakhapatnam city is expanding rapidly and the jurisdiction of VMRDA has to be expanded to include these 13 non-tribal mandals to provide better services. Out of 43 mandals in Visakhapatnam district, 11 mandals are tribal mandals. Of the remaining 32 non-tribal mandals, 19 were already in VMRDA.

As per the government, due to rapid urbanisation of Visakhapatnam city, a significant urban sprawl has been detected in the fringe areas of existing VMRDA limits towards western corridor of Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region. In order to reduce pressure on urban infrastructure of the city, and to ensure planned development in the fringe areas by curbing unauthorised constructions, the said 13 mandals have been brought into VMRDA. These mandals are said to be ‘contiguous in nature’, having the potential to develop as urban areas.

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What is the controversy? Why are organisations opposing the move?

Organisations like Human Rights Forum (HRF) are of the opinion that expanding the area under the VMRDA to include 13 non-Agency mandals within it is a reckless move because tribals live in many of the villages and they have been demanding to be declared as Scheduled villages. They especially point to the inclusion of six villages in Nathavaram mandal in the list of the 13 mandals. These six villages – Dharmavaram Agraharam, Chammachinta, Sarugudu, Kuruvada, Kalavavoddhu Sarabhavaram and Pottinagannadora Palem- are clearly mentioned as Scheduled villages. As per the Constitution, the Fifth Schedule area is of a unique and exceptional nature and is endowed with explicit Constitutional recognition. Including these villages would mean they are deprived of rights and authorities bestowed upon them by the Constitution. In other words, merger of these villages in the VMRDA directly infringes upon the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) as well as The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, (FRA of 2006) that grant special and exclusive powers to Adivasi gram sabhas. The Government Order, activists say, is plainly violative of these seminal statutes.

What are the other concerns?

Activists are also concerned that several villages that are predominantly Adivasi and are seeking inclusion in the Fifth Schedule since many decades have also been included in the list of mandals to be merged in the VMRDA. Activists say that there are 553 such Adivasi villages in Andhra Pradesh that ought to have been included many decades ago in the Fifth Schedule, but were kept out due to political indifference and bureaucratic apathy. These villages have been rendered ‘Non-Scheduled’ and Adivasis residents have been deprived of Constitutional protections meant for tribals all these many years. Adivasis of these villages have been seeking inclusion in the Fifth Schedule but to now include about 90 such villages in the VMRDA, they say, is historic injustice.

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