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SC refuses AP’s request to dispose contempt of court proceedings

The Supreme Court was informed that the Chief Ministers of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh met on November 9 and agreed to constitute a committee to look into the controversy related to a territorial jurisdiction dispute over 21 villages. 
 
The Odisha government, which has filed a plea in the apex court seeking contempt action against some senior officials of Andhra Pradesh for notifying panchayat polls in three ‘disputed area’ villages, told the top court that “some positive development” has happened in the matter.
 
“The two chief ministers met on November 9, 2021 and they have agreed to constitute a committee to look into this matter,” senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Odisha, told a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and C.T. Ravikumar.
 
The counsel appearing for the Andhra officials said while the meeting happened in a very cordial atmosphere, the “looming specter” of contempt can be avoided. He said the court can close the contempt and leave it open for the petitioners to approach the court again. 
 
“The contempt action has to be taken forward, what is the difficulty. If settlement does not happen, the contempt has to proceed. There is a clear direction of maintaining the status quo. If that is breached, that is the grievance. We have to deal with it if you are not able to resolve,” the bench observed.  
 
Urging the bench that the matter be deferred for some time, Singh said the pendency of this matter would help resolve the controversy. “The state authorities are interacting at the highest level to find an amicable solution. We will defer hearing about this matter till the first week of January 2022,” the bench said in its order.
 
More than five decades since the first status quo order on the territorial jurisdiction dispute with Andhra Pradesh over 21 villages, Odisha has moved the top court seeking contempt action against some officials of the southern state for notifying panchayat polls in three villages.
 
The Naveen Patnaik government has said the notification amounts to invading Odisha's territory. The dispute over territorial jurisdiction over 21 villages popularly called as “Kotia Group of villages” first reached the top court in 1968 when Odisha on the basis of three notifications -- issued on December 1, 1920, October 8, 1923 and October 15, 1927 — claimed that Andhra Pradesh had trespassed into its well-defined territory.
 
During the pendency of the suit filed by Odisha, the top court had on December 2, 1968 directed both the states to maintain status quo till the disposal of the suit and said, “there shall be no further ingress or egress on the territories in dispute, on the part of either party”.
 
The suit filed by Odisha under Article 131 (the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction over any dispute arising between the states or between the Centre and state) of the Constitution was finally dismissed on technical grounds by the top court on March 30, 2006, and with the consent of both the states it directed that status quo be maintained till the dispute is resolved.
 
“The petitioner state of Odisha is invoking the contempt jurisdiction of this court against the alleged contemnor for having wilfully and deliberately violated the order dated December 2, 1968 and the judgement dated March 30, 2006 passed by this court in original suit filed by State of Orissa and State of Andhra Pradesh,” the plea said.
 
The Odisha government further claimed that, administratively and otherwise, it has been in control of these villages but of late “clandestinely the contemnors have entered into the impugned act of contempt by which the order of this court has been violated”.
 
The Andhra Pradesh government had told the apex court that there was no breach of its direction and it had been duly administering its own territories and did not infringe upon neighbouring Odisha's area.
 
Seeking dismissal of the contempt plea filed by Odisha, the Andhra government has said in its affidavit that Odisha is seeking to achieve indirectly what it failed to achieve directly as the apex court in its 2006 judgement dismissed the suit filed by Odisha on the ground that it was not maintainable under Article 131 of the Constitution.
 
"Without prejudice to the above, it is most respectfully submitted that assuming that there was any undertaking given to the court by the parties, it is settled law that an action for contempt can only be taken in respect of a breach of undertaking if the court has passed an order on the basis of such an undertaking. There was no such undertaking in the present matter," the state government has said in its affidavit.
 
"It is most submitted that the State of Andhra Pradesh has not taken any step in violation of any agreement/ direction. The State of Andhra Pradesh has been duly administrating its own territories and has not infringed upon the territory of the petitioner," it said.

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