Carving Out New Districts In AP: Making LS Constituency The Basis Is Absurd

The formation of new districts in Andhra Pradesh is overdue. Given its geographical spread, the State now has a very low number of districts, just 13 and each one of enormous size, and the need for smaller districts is apparent. The Human Rights Forum (HRF) has been calling for the creation of smaller districts since some time.

However, the reported preference of the State government to re-organise districts so that they are co-terminus with Parliamentary constituencies is unsound. To take the most obvious example, the Araku Lok Sabha constituency spans four districts – stretching from Rampachodavaram Assembly segment in neighbouring East Godavari district to the very faraway Palakonda Assembly constituency in Srikakulam district. While Palakonda is 157 km away, Rampachodavaram is about 283 km from Araku! There are mandals in these Assembly segments that are located even farther away from Araku. What is the point of the re-organization exercise at all if it does not shorten distances and ends up increasing existing long distances?

There are many such incongruities. To take an example from the plain areas, Ongole Parliamentary constituency is a behemoth stretching all the way from the coast to the arid, backward western parts of Prakasam district like Giddalur and Markapuram. In fact, a new district there with Markapuram as headquarters is necessary. HRF is of the opinion that making the Lok Sabha constituency the basis for carving out new districts is a pointless exercise that makes absolutely no sense. It is an impractical proposition devoid of rationality and defeats the purpose for which the re-organisation of districts is to be carried out.

HRF is of the view that most, if not all existing districts in the State ought to be re-organized into at least three new districts each. Districts like Anathapuramu, the largest in the State and East Godavari, can be re-organized into four districts each. 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 AP’s area of 160,205 sq. km. Odisha with an area of 155,707 sq. km has 30 districts while Telangana reorganized districts in 2016 carving out 33 districts from 10. Telangana’s geographical spread is less than AP at 112,077 sq. km. In the choosing of new district headquarters, preference must be accorded to backward regions also keeping in mind proximity and geographical contiguity.

With respect to the Fifth Schedule region, HRF is of the view that each of the existing Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) headquarters can be constituted into a new district. This would mean Seethampeta in Srikakulam district, Parvathipuram in Vizianagaram, Paderu in Visakhapatnam district, Rampachodavaram in East Godavari, Kota Ramchandrapuram (located in Buttaigudem mandal) in West Godavari district and the recently created Chintur ITDA in erstwhile Khammam district. Chintur district can include the mandals of Velerpadu and Kukkunur across the Godavari river as well. These new districts in the Fifth Schedule region can be named after legendary adivasi personalities like Gantam Dora, Tammanna Dora.

Constituting these new districts makes eminent sense given the unique and exceptional nature of the Fifth Schedule area that has been endowed with explicit Constitutional recognition. Importantly, there are a total of 553 Adivasi villages that ought to have been included many decades ago in the Fifth Schedule but were kept out due to political indifference and bureaucratic recklessness. Consequently, these villages have been rendered ‘Non-Scheduled’ and Adivasis resident in them have been deprived of Constitutional protections meant for tribals all these many years. This is immense historic injustice. We strongly urge the State government to take up this issue with the utmost urgency and forward the proposal to the Centre without further delay and see that these villages are given Scheduled Area status and included in the freshly created districts in the Fifth Schedule.

We hasten to add that care must be taken to ensure that the formation of these new districts in the Fifth Schedule region does not lead to a lot of non-tribals entering the area since this will be to the detriment of Adivasis. Three years down the line, in the newly constituted tribal districts in Telangana, there is a disquieting trend of non-Adivasi business and real estate interests making forays into tribal villages. There is apprehension that setting up of new offices in the Fifth Schedule areas in AP, after formation of new districts, will result in non-tribal influx leading to land grab and assorted activities that will dispossess the Adivasis. This has distinct potential of jeopardising the interests and rights of Adivasis.

We also wish to point out that at present, the government has not taken measures to strictly enforce provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) which have assigned a special role to the Gram Sabhas. Both FRA and PESA are being violated in letter and spirit and Gram Sabhas have been disempowered. What is called for is sincere enforcement of protective legislation meant for Adivasis including the land transfer laws, concrete steps to halt encroachment by non-tribals and restoration of illegally usurped lands back to the Adivasis.

The formation of new districts would decentralise administration, take it closer to people and provide them relief from having to undertake punishing distances in order to access welfare and get their grievances addressed. It is a significant initiative that calls for extensive consultations with the public. We hope that the committee, constituted recently to look into the matter, conducts a thorough exercise. There is no tearing hurry to finalise and conclude the whole thing in a rush. An important matter such as this needs genuinely transparent and broad-based democratic debate and discussion. HRF will, in due course, be submitting its views to the committee.

VS Krishna 
(HRF Coordination Committee member
TS & AP)

 A Chandrasekhar
(HRF Coordination Committee member
TS & AP)


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