Pradhan, who visited the disputed Kotia area to observe ‘Utkal Dibasa’, incidentally met an official of Andhra Pradesh at Phatu Senari village and enquired about the purpose of his visit.
The official claimed that 21 villages of Kotia cluster come under the jurisdiction of AP and therefore, he was meeting people. In reply, Pradhan who hails from Odisha told him: “Go Back”.
During the Union education minister’s visit to Phatu Senari, a few policemen of the neighbouring state in civil dress were recording the event to which Pradhan raised objection and also asked them to ‘Go Back’.
Stating that Kotia belongs to Odisha and no intrusion there will be tolerated, he raised the slogan: ‘Bande Utkal Janani’ (Mother Odisha, I bow to thee).
Odisha’s ancient name was Utkal. ‘Utkal Dibasa’ is celebrated across the state to mark the formation of separate Odisha state on April 1, 1936.
“Kotia is an integral part of Odisha and Andhra officials are illegally intruding inside our territory which is not acceptable in a federal structure. Earlier, I had written to the chief minister of Andhra in this regard and will again raise the matter,” said Pradhan. Following Pradhan’s outburst on AP officials, BJP supporters accompanying the minister also raised slogans: “Andhra Go Back”.
Later, the minister interacted with students and residents of Phatu Senari who raised the problems of non-availability of mobile networks and banks in the area and the problems they are facing in availing houses under rural housing schemes of the government.
While attending the Utkal Dibas celebration programme at Kotia panchayat headquarters organised by the Kotia Gramya Samiti, the minister said Odisha was the first in the country to be formed a separate state on basis of language.
The Union minister’s visit to Kotia came a day after Leader of Opposition in Odisha Assembly Jaynarayan Mishra of the BJP alleged that the state government remained a mute spectator when the deputy chief minister and officials of AP frequently visit the disputed area and motivate them to mingle with their state.
In 2021, despite the Odisha administration’s objection citing a Supreme Court directive to maintain status quo in the disputed area, AP had conducted rural polls.
The dispute over the ownership of 21 of the 28 villages under Kotia gram panchayat had first reached the Supreme Court in 1968. In 2006, the apex court held that inter-state boundaries did not fall within its jurisdiction and only the Parliament could resolve the issue.
During his visit, Pradesh visited strawberry fields, tasted the fruit and assured the farmers to set up juice processing units at the panchayat to enhance their economy.
“Kotia has huge potential for farming and strawberries grown here are of rich quality. Establishment of a juice processing unit will strengthen the tribal economy,” he said.
He also visited the Central University of Odisha (CUO) situated at Sunabeda and said that over 100 teaching faculties will be appointed in the varsity in the next six to seven months.
The minister laid the foundation stone for a sports complex and inaugurated a workstation and language laboratory in the varsity.
The ruling BJD too organised another Utkal Dibasa function at Ganjeipadar, about three kilometres away from Pradhan’s meeting venue.
In both places, people took a pledge to protect Odisha’s boundary.