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People of disputed Kotia to cast votes in both AP, Odisha polls on May 13

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Kotia, May 11 (PTI) Armed with two voter cards issued by two states, over 5,500 electors of the disputed Kotia region are eligible to exercise their franchise in both Andhra Pradesh and Odisha elections in the fourth phase on May 13.

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Twenty-one of the 28 villages of the picturesque Kotia cluster are claimed by both states and a case over the dispute has been pending with the Supreme Court since 1968.

Due to the dispute, residents of Kotia get the best of both worlds since they have Aadhaar and ration cards issued by both states and receive the benefits of schemes announced by the two governments.

"I will vote in both states. While the Andhra Pradesh booth is nearer, the one established by Odisha for our village is at Ransingh, and to reach there we have to trek a few miles. Nevertheless, we will participate in polls of both states," Tamal Kanaya, a resident of Tadivalsa village, said.

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"We are not bothered about the dispute between the two states. We vote in both states because we benefit from the schemes of both," said Gamel Chinmoyee, another villager.

Lok Sabha and assembly elections will be held simultaneously in both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

When contacted, Odisha's Chief Electoral Officer Nikunj Bihari Dhal said, "The issue of dual voting in Kotia has not come to my attention. No one has made any formal or informal complaint so far." Requesting anonymity, an official of Odisha's Koraput district confirmed that the people of Kotia cast votes in elections of both AP and Odisha.

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"An individual has two names in voter and Aadhaar cards provided by the two states. Suppose, a man who is known as Parameswar Gamel in Odisha is named G Parameswar in his Andhra cards," he said.

Altogether 5,502 voters, including 2,913 women, reside in 21 of the 28 villages of Kotia. They cast their votes in all elections – from panchayat to Lok Sabha -- in both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Odisha has designated nine polling stations in the area, while Andhra Pradesh has three in this year's election, officials said.

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Political campaigns have been scant from Odisha parties, with visits mainly from Andhra's TDP and YSR Congress candidates.

"No party from Odisha has come to our village; we don't even know the candidates. However, TDP and YSR Congress candidates from Andhra have visited our village," said Kamati Gamel of Arajuwalasa.

Kotia falls under Koraput (ST) Lok Sabha constituency in Odisha and Araku (ST) Lok Sabha seat in Andhra Pradesh.

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The Koraput Lok Sabha seat is held by the Congress, while Araku is represented by the YSR Congress.

The main occupation of the villagers is farming on the slopes of the Eastern Ghats, while several others sell minor forest produce like broomsticks, tamarind and bamboo for livelihood.

Despite the challenges, villagers seem content with the current setup, reaping the rewards of both Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

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Twenty-one-year-old Kiran Majhi, who will be voting for the first time in the elections, prefers that the dispute remains unresolved as it benefits the villagers.

The Odisha government has bolstered infrastructure with hospitals, police stations, roads, bridges and drinking water facilities. The Andhra Pradesh administration, on the other hand, has social security schemes like old age pension.

"Kotia had recorded approximately 70 per cent polling in the 2019 general elections. We have undertaken awareness drives this time to increase the voting percentage," said Keerthi Vasan V, the district election officer-cum-collector of Koraput.

The dispute over the ownership of 21 of the 28 villages of Kotia panchayat had first reached the Supreme Court in 1968. In 2006, the apex court held that inter-state boundaries do not fall under its jurisdiction and only Parliament could resolve them. The court imposed a permanent injunction on the disputed area.

Despite the Odisha administration's objection citing the Supreme Court directive to maintain the status quo in the disputed area, AP conducted rural polls in 2021. PTI COR AAM NN ACD

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