Former bureaucrat and social activist E.A.S. Sarma and the Human Rights Forum (HRF) have taken strong objection to the outright inclusion of 13 non-agency mandals in Visakhapatnam district in Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Development Authority (VMRDA) vide GO No. 20, dated March 23, issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD) Department. They say that the GO was issued without much thought and was issued in haste.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Sarma said though the intention of the government seemed to be to exclude villages in the Scheduled Areas of the district, there are at least six Scheduled villages of Nathavaram mandal finding their place in the list attached to the GO. The villages are Chammachinta, Dharmavaram Agraharam, Kalavavoddu Sarabhavaram, Kuruvada, Pottinagannadora Palem and Sarugudu, he said.
In principle, extension of APMRDA Act to the Scheduled Areas is violative of the provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1986 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes And Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) which have conferred special authority on the local adivasi Gram Sabhas in all matters, including decisions on projects, forestry schemes and development planning. The authority of the Gram Sabha in the Scheduled Areas overrides the authority of any other institution, said Mr. Sarma.
Fifth Schedule Area
Mr. Krishna said that the government ought to remember that 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, he said.
Mr. Sarma said that the setting up of the VMRDA is by itself violative of Article 243ZE of the Constitution which requires that any urban planning body shall have not less than two-thirds of its members elected by, and from amongst, the elected members of the municipalities and the chairpersons of the panchayats in the metropolitan area in proportion to the ratio between the population of the municipalities and of the panchayats in that area.
According to Mr. Sarma, the VMRDA is headed by officials and, therefore, its role as an urban planning and development body is patently illegal. As such, VMRDA cannot interfere with the authority of any Gram Sabha in the Scheduled Areas, he said.
Mr. Krishna said that several villages that are predominantly inhabited by adivasis and are justifiably seeking inclusion in the Fifth Schedule since many decades have also been included in the list of mandals to be merged into the VMRDA.
Mr. Sarma said that some of these villages in Visakhapatnam district find a place in the list of 800 villages that were proposed by the erstwhile undivided A.P. government for inclusion within the Scheduled Areas.
The then State government had submitted proposals on this in 1986 to the Centre for issuing a Presidential Notification under the Fifth Schedule. Those proposals are at an advanced stage of processing. And that is why the present State government, has to do some rethinking on this GO No.20, said Mr. Sarma.
In Visakhapatnam district there are 91 such villages under various mandals that find a place in the list of 800 villages.
They include Cheedikada Mandal (one village), Golugonda Mandal (8 villages), Madugula Mandal (21 villages), Nathavaram (2 villages), Ravikamatham Mandal (3 villages), Rolugunta Mandal (8 villages), Devarapalli Mandal (12 villages) and Ananthagiri Mandal (36 villages).