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AP's reply on Odisha's contempt plea for notifying Panchayat polls in its villages sought by SC

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New Delhi, Feb 13: The Supreme Court on Friday asked Andhra Pradesh to file its response on a plea filed by Odisha seeking contempt action against senior officials of the southern state, for notifying panchayat polls in three 'disputed area' villages of the petitioner state.

A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Aniruddha Bose said it will not pass any order Friday and would like to consider the reply of Andhra Pradesh on February 19.

APs reply on Odishas contempt plea for notifying Panchayat polls in its villages sought by SC

During the brief hearing, senior advocate Vikas Singh and advocate Sibu Shankar Mishra, appearing for Odisha, said AP is conducting the panchayat elections in the disputed area controlled by it.

The bench asked Advocate Mahfooz A Nazki, standing counsel for Andhra Pradesh, to file the state's response on the plea of Odisha.

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The bench granted liberty to the counsel for Odisha to serve an advance copy of the petition to the counsel for AP and listed the matter for further hearing on next Friday.

More than five decades since the first status quo order on the territorial jurisdiction dispute with AP over 21 villages, Odisha has moved the top court once again seeking contempt action against officials of the southern state for notifying panchayat polls in three of its villages.

The Naveen Patnaik government has said the notification amounts to invading Odisha's territory.

The dispute over territorial jurisdiction over 21 villages popularly called as Kotia Group of villages first reached the top court in 1968 when Odisha on the basis of three notifications -- issued on December 1, 1920, October 8, 1923 and October 15, 1927 -- claimed that Andhra Pradesh had trespassed into its well-defined territory.

During the pendency of the suit filed by Odisha, the top court had on December 2, 1968 directed both the states to maintain status quo till the disposal of the suit and said, there shall be no further ingress or egress on the territories in dispute, on the part of either party .

The suit filed by Odisha under Article 131 (the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction over any dispute arising between the states or between the centre and state) of the Constitution was finally dismissed on technical grounds by the top court on March 30, 2006, and with the consent of both the states it directed that status quo be maintained till the dispute is resolved.

Now, the Odisha government has sought contempt action against AP's three senior officials -- Mude Hari Jawaharlal (contemnor-1), collector of Vizinagaram district; Adityanath Das, Chief Secretary of AP (contemnor-2), and N Ramesh Kumar, State Election Commissioner of Andhra Pradesh (contemnor-3).

Apparently, the said notification issued by contemnor number 1 in unison with contemnor number 2 and 3 is to invade into the territory of the petitioner state at the cost of wilful violation of order of this court. Therefore the contemnors are to be called upon to explain as to why contempt proceedings shall not be drawn against them and appropriate punishment shall not be awarded to them, it said.

The Odisha government has sought notice to the contemnors as to why contempt proceedings not be initiated against them for wilfully violating orders dated December 2, 1968 and March 30, 2006 passed by the court in the original suit.

The petitioner state of Odisha is invoking the contempt jurisdiction of this court against the alleged contemnor for having wilfully and deliberately violated the order dated December 2, 1968 and the judgement dated March 30, 2006 passed by this court in original suit filed by State of Orissa and State of Andhra Pradesh, the plea said.

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    The Odisha government further claimed that administratively and otherwise, it has been in control of these villages but of late clandestinely the contemnors have entered into the impugned act of contempt by which the order of this court has been violated .

    It further said Jawaharlal had on March 5, 2020, issued various notifications to conduct local body elections in the Vizinagaram district in which Salur is one of the Mandals, where the Panchayat election was also notified to be held on the schedule date.

    In the notification deliberately the contemnor number 1 roped in three villages from the Kotia Group of villages' falling under the territory of Koraput district of Odisha into Salur Mandal of Vizinagaram district (AP). Clandestinely the contemnors changed the name of the three villages of Kotia Gram Panchayat, the state government alleged.

    It said, Tactfully the contemnors converted these three villages of one Gram Panchayat falling under territory of Odisha to three different Gram Panchayats. The three Gram Panchayat created by the contemnor were made part of Salur Mandal.

    Odisha said although the notification was issued on March 5, 2020, the contemnors "made sure that it was kept a deadly secret so that local authority of the Petitioner State shall not get to know about it .

    It added that for these three self-created Gram Panchayats, nomination centre has been kept 20 kilometres away in the district of Vizinagaram (AP) from these villages.

    That the contemnor tactfully issued the impugned notification and attempted to conduct election during the pandemic time when the entire state machinery was engaged to fight COVID-19 pandemic," it said.

    It said the attempt on the part of the contemnor to conduct election in the newly self-named three villages pertaining to the territory of petitioner state is nothing but a wilful attempt to sabotage the dictum of this court.

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