How reorganisation of AP into 26 districts could violate Adivasis’ rights

The AP government has issued notification to carve out 26 new districts from the existing 13.
Photo of CM Jagan with the map of Andhra Pradesh in the background
Photo of CM Jagan with the map of Andhra Pradesh in the background

On January 26, the Andhra Pradesh government issued a draft notification to reorganise the districts in the state. The government proposed to create 26 new districts from the existing 13 districts. The newly created districts include NTR district with its headquarters at Vijayawada, Sri Satyasai district headquartered at Puttaparthi, Annamayya district headquartered at Rayachoty, and Sri Balaji district with its headquarters at Tirupati, among others. The existing 13 districts will retain their names.

While the prospect of better governance due to decentralisation is being appreciated, there are questions over the mechanism of carving out new districts. The objection to the move is primarily from Adivasis in the state who have been apprehensive that the formation of new districts could potentially dilute their rights and also threaten their culture and tradition.    

Former IAS officer EAS Sarma, who had worked as the principal advisor in the National Planning Commission, said that the formation of new districts will have a profound impact on Adivasi regions. “While decentralisation is a good thing, it is also necessary to preserve the sovereignty given to the tribal village councils in accordance with the Constitution under Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), and the Forest Rights Act. The government has not considered this. Only if they had given prominence to this, we can call it decentralisation,” Sarma said.

PESA legally empowers Adivasis to govern themselves in their own system of self-governance through gram sabhas. It also acknowledges their rights over natural resources. Under PESA, the gram sabhas have the authority to approve development projects taking place in the ‘Scheduled Areas.’ Scheduled Areas are specially protected tribal areas that are given autonomy under Article 244 of the Indian Constitution.   

Stating that the Andhra Pradesh government has violated the rights of the Adivasis without considering their concerns regarding the reorganisation of the districts, Sarma said, “It is necessary to discuss the reorganisation of the states with the Adivasis in advance in accordance with the PESA Act at the level of gram sabhas in the Scheduled Areas and take their views into consideration. Failure to do so is tantamount to violating the PESA Act.” 

He added, “They should also take the advice of the Tribal Advisory Council before enacting a law.” 

How reorganisation could impact Adivasis

In his election campaign in 2019, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised that he would carve out new districts based on the Parliamentary constituencies. Subsequently, in July 2020, after the YSRCP came to power, the state Cabinet approved the formation of a committee headed by the Chief Secretary to work on the reorganisation of the districts in the state in 2020. While the decision was intended to decentralise governance, which would lead to effective governance and better implementation of schemes, activists have slammed formation of the districts with Lok Sabha constituencies as its co-terminus. 

Adivasi activist Ramarao Dora, Visakhapatnam District Convenor of the Adivasi Joint Action Committee (JAC), noted that Araku parliamentary constituency alone has Scheduled Areas spread across Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts at present, falling under various Integrated Tribal Development Agencies. 

“It is not practical to manage the administration if they are all brought under one district for Araku,” he said. 

Because of the formation of new districts, tribal villages will be cut off from the district headquarters, Sarma said. Giving an example, he said that Adivasis from Seeleru in Gudem Kotha Veedhi mandal in Visakhapatnam will be spending 5-7 hours if they have to travel all the way to Araku. “What is the use of reorganisation if it increases the distance to administrative offices?” Sarma asked. 

Threats to Adivasi traditions

The reorganisation also poses a threat to the culture and traditions of Adivasis, Sarma pointed out. “The creation of new districts will result in an increase of the population density at the headquarters in the Scheduled Areas. The large-scale influx of non-tribals will disrupt the tribal culture and traditions there. There is also a possibility of non-tribals occupying tribal lands in violation of the Land Change Prohibition Act,” Sarma said. Other Adivasi activists in the state have also expressed the same concern. 

Human Rights Forum (HRF), a civil rights organisation, also questioned the rationale applied in the formation of new districts. “The exercise seems to have been done in a very cavalier manner and is bereft of basic geographic sense. If it is passed, it will result in several places across the state either remaining at considerable distances from the proposed district headquarters or the distance even increasing further than before.”

“For example, the newly proposed Alluri Sitharama Raju district with Paderu as headquarters includes the Assembly segment of Rampachodavaram. This would render Yetapaka, a revenue divisional headquarters in the Rampachodavaram constituency, 277 km awayfrom Paderu. The travel time taken would be well over seven hours. Likewise, most mandals in Rampachodavaram like Kunavaram, VR Puram, Devipatnam and Maredumilli, would be more than 240 km from the district headquarters,” HRF said in a statement. 

HRF said that reorganising districts with Parliamentary constituencies as criteria was “fundamentally flawed.” 

HRF proposed that each district must be carved out into at least three new districts. “This trifurcation of existing districts would mean that the state will have 39 or 40 districts. It would do well to remember that Tamil Nadu, which has 38 districts within a geographical spread of 130,058 square km, is less than Andhra Pradesh’s area of 1,60,205 sq km. Odisha with an area of 1,55,707 sq km has 30 districts while Telangana reorganised districts in 2016 carving out 33 districts from 10. Telangana’s geographical spread is less than Andhra Pradesh at 1,12,077 sq km.”

They said that while choosing the new district headquarters, preference must be accorded to backward regions by also keeping in mind the proximity and geographical contiguity.

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