Koraput (Odisha), Apr 9 (PTI) The Kotia panchayat here is an integral part of Odisha and would continue to remain so despite “attempts by Andhra Pradesh to stake claim over the area”, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said today.

He advocated for joint efforts by the state and the central governments to bring about development in the region.

“Kotia was always an integral part of Odisha. It continues to be an inseparable part of our state. Any attempts by Andhra Pradesh to stake claim over Kotia will go in vain,” the Union petroleum minister asserted while addressing people of the disputed area today.

The Odisha and Andhra Pradesh governments have been engaged in a battle over the ownership of 21 out of the 28 villages of Kotia panchayat since 1968. The Supreme Court had ordered a status quo in the region in 2006.

In the past three months, the Andhra Pradesh officials have toured Kotia several times to implement their government’s welfare programmes.

Andhra would never be allowed to succeed in its “evil design” as far as Kotia is concerned, Pradhan said.

“I will apprise the Prime Minister of the situation in Kotia and all efforts will be made to ensure the development of the 28 villages.”

The villagers, through a memorandum, have sought the establishment of post office, banks, health and education facilities and BSNL mobile towers, the minister said.

“Whatever is possible will be done by the Centre for Kotia’s development. Some demands of the villagers require Centre’s intervention,” he explained.

Asked about his visit to Kotia, just days after the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh snapped ties with the NDA, Pradhan said the BJP-TDP alliance would not have collapsed had the Centre provided funds for Polavaram multi-purpose project.

Earlier in the day, the minister visited a temple, a residential school, the panchayat office in the area and interacted with the local people.

Given that Kotia falls in the Maoist corridor, elaborate security arrangements were put in place for the minister’s visit today.

Pradhan also visited Musaguda village in the district and interacted with family members of a minor girl, who was allegedly gang-raped inside a forest at Kunduli on October 10.

The girl committed suicide on January 22 this year.

Attacking the Odisha government over the incident, he said the culprits are still roaming free, even after six months of the incident.

The state government has been harassing journalists in an attempt to gag them in this case, Pradhan added.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.