Assam-Mizoram Border Dispute
On July 26, violence erupted at the borders of the north-eastern states of Assam and Mizoram due to a sudden escalation of a border dispute. Five Assam Police personnel were killed and at least 60 persons were injured when Assam and Mizoram policemen allegedly fired at each other.
Almost all these border disputes in North-East India have their origins in colonial times. Discuss.
The reason behind the Assam-Mizoram Conflict:
● The history of these clashes dates back to 1972 when Mizoram was carved out of Assam as a Union Territory resulting in a border dispute. The decades-old border dispute stems primarily from a difference in perception. Mizoram goes by an 1875 notification, but Assam follows a 1933 demarcation.
● The dispute between Assam and Mizoram stems from the latter’s refusal to accept the present boundary with Assam as notified in 1933 arguing that it was a decision imposed upon them by the British.
● Mizoram suggests that the Inner Line Reserved Forest, as described in the 1875 notification under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873, should be the basis for delineating the border.
● There have been several rounds of talks between the two States since 1995, but none of them succeeded in resolving the issue.
The reason for border disputes in North-East India:
● While the States Reorganisation Commission acknowledged that Assamese “was not in fact a language spoken by a majority” up to 1931, it had gone ahead and recommended the creation of just one state, Assam, which would administer what are now Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. It allowed Manipur to be a centrally administered territory.
● Assam has border disputes with neighbouring states because most of the (north-eastern) states were carved out from it.
● When new states were carved out of Assam (Nagaland in 1963, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur in 1972, and Arunachal Pradesh in 1987), it was still not addressed.
● Colonial maps had left out large tracts of the northeast outside Assam as “thick forests” or marked them “unexplored”. Indigenous communities were, for the most part, not taken into account. It is assumed that boundaries would be drawn for administrative convenience when the “need” arose. The 1956 demarcation did not resolve the discrepancies.
● The other complexity has been terrain — rivers, hills and forests straddle two states in many places and borders cannot be physically marked.
● While the other North-Eastern states argue on the basis of their ancestral or historical boundary, Assam presses for a demarcated boundary. By historical boundaries, these states mean boundaries that existed before India’s Independence.
Efforts at Dispute Resolution:
● Inter-state border disputes can be resolved by the states themselves or by the Centre through dialogue and political settlements.
● In 2005, the Supreme Court instructed the Central government to constitute a boundary commission to settle various inter-state boundary problems in the North-East.
● The Centre had earlier constituted two commissions, the Sundaram Commission (1971) and the Shastri Commission (1985), to settle the Assam-Nagaland border dispute.
➢ These commissions, however, failed to resolve the matter as the concerned states did not accept their recommendations.
● Assam has filed cases against Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh over a border dispute in the Supreme Court. Final judgement still awaited.
● Political leaders should try to cool raging tempers and spread awareness about the benefits of settled and peaceful borders in terms of better infrastructure, connectivity and the realisation of the full potential of India's Act East Policy. At the same time, efforts should be redoubled to find a political solution, mediated by the Union government, which is binding on all the states concerned in the Northeast.
● The Setalvad Study Team on Centre-State Relationships in 1968 said that Inter-state disputes need to be settled quickly and impartially otherwise they become festering sores that create friction, prevent development, give a perverse direction to the energies of people and governments and generate hard feelings on all sides.