Activists seek exclusion of tribal villages from Vizag Metropolitan Region

Andhra Pradesh recently issued orders to add 13 more mandals to Visakhapatnam’s civic body.
Araku valley
Araku valley
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In a move to ensure “planned development” on the fringes of Visakhapatnam city as it witnesses “rapid urbanisation”, the Andhra Pradesh government recently issued orders to add 13 more mandals of Visakhapatnam district, under the purview of the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA). These 13 mandals, the government order claimed, were non-Agency mandals, which do not fall under the Integrated Tribal Development Agency area. However, tribal rights organisations and activists from the region have contested the move. They have pointed out that six of the 431 villages which have now been brought under the VMRDA are already identified as Fifth Schedule villages, while 91 others have been part of a long-pending demand for the scheduled status, as they have a predominantly tribal population.

Several rights organisations, including Andhra Pradesh Adivasi Joint Action Committee, Girijana Sangham Andhra Pradesh State Committee, and Human Rights Forum, have pointed out that the VMRDA expansion order mentions six villages of Nathavaram mandal — Chammachinta, Dharmavaram Agraharam, Kuruvada, Sarugudu, Pottinagannadora Palem and Kalavavoddu Sarabhavaram — which are currently recognised as Fifth Schedule villages.  

Merging these villages under VMRDA would mean the tribal communities residing there will be deprived of rights and authorities bestowed upon them by the Constitution, activists note. In a press statement, Human Rights Forum noted that merging these scheduled 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. 

Apart from these six scheduled villages, another 91 villages with predominantly tribal populations that have been seeking inclusion in the Fifth Schedule for decades now have also been merged with VMRDA. If their demands are met, the tribal communities living in these 91 villages of eight mandals — Cheedikada mandal (one village), Golugonda mandal (8 villages), Madugula mandal (21 villages), Nathavaram mandal (2 villages), Ravikamatham mandal (3 villages), Rolugunta mandal (8 villages), Devarapalli mandal (12 villages) and Ananthagiri mandal (36 villages) — will have special protective measures under Fifth Schedule to the Constitution. 

There are around 553 such tribal villages in the state whose demand to be included under the Fifth Schedule has been delayed for years. “Consequently, these villages have been rendered ‘Non-Scheduled’ and adivasis residing in them have been deprived of Constitutional protections meant for tribals all these many years … To now include about 90 such villages in the VMRDA compounds the injustice that should have been remedied many years ago,” HRF said. 

The Visakhapatnam district unit of the Andhra Pradesh Adivasi Joint Action Committee, and the Girijana Sangham Andhra Pradesh State Committee, have written to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes Assistant Director V Ashok Vardhan, seeking exclusion of the villages under question from the purview of VMRDA. 

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