Shillong: The vexed inter-state boundary row between Assam and Meghalaya continues to have an adverse effect on people residing along the disputed areas. To understand the ground reality, the Ri-Bhoi District Congress Committee on Friday visited Jatalong, a remote village located along the disputed areas of the two states.
The interactive session was attended by various stakeholders including village headmen and traditional heads from 18 villages under Raid Nongtung.
The visit was led by the president of the Ri-Bhoi District Congress Committee, MLA Mayralborn Syiem, and was accompanied by Umroi MLA George Lyngdoh, Member of District Council (MDC) of Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) Charles Marngar (Mawhati constituency) and MDC Balajied Ranee (Nongpoh constituency).
Tucked away in the most remote areas of the Ri-Bhoi district in Meghalaya, Jatalong village consists of 63 households with a population of over 300 people. The village has been mapped under the Survey of India under the Assam government, which has declared Jatalong as a forest reserve area.
Following the session, MLA George Lyngdoh said that the problems of the people there were not new. “Whatever the committee is seeing now is a continuous kind of harassment that these people have been facing from time to time. Access to livelihoods, healthcare, development and especially to proper and safe governance has been far from ever witnessed,” he said.
“There has been a ‘dispute’ for blocks 1 and 2, but these areas actually belong to Meghalaya. We have been seeking the retransfer of these areas since 1950 and all the subsequent governments have been harping on this particular issue to retransfer these areas. But over the years the population and demography have changed. So how are we going to take this forward? So, this session was to understand the ground realities and also the aspirations of the people,” said Lyngdoh.
Nongpoh MLA Mayralborn Syiem, who has time and again been very vocal about the boundary issues between Assam and Meghalaya, felt that the issue is sensitive and is a continuous process.
Syiem mentioned that it has been headed by past leaders including chief ministers. He recalled that there have been 22 chief ministerial-level talks between Assam and Meghalaya till today.
“We hope that this time, before completing 50 years of statehood, as desired by each and every citizen, there will have a peaceful relationship with regards to the border issue,” said Syiem.
He further urged the government that this time they should hold very serious talks with the Assam government so that the issue can be resolved once and for all.
Mawhati MDC Charles Marngar said that he has been raising this issue several times in the sessions of the KHADC. “Today, I am happy that the leaders from Ri-Bhoi have come here to meet with the traditional heads. I hope that they will take up this matter especially with the existing government to solve the problem,” said Marngar.
MDC Balajied Ranee informed that during the interactive session, it was learnt that the traditional and local heads have already submitted important land documents to the KHADC. Ranee said that now it is upon the state government to thoroughly study these documents and get clarity to hold talks with the Assam government.
Meanwhile, the residents and the local heads had expressed their longing to live a life free from any conflicts. The residents said that they have been waiting for a solution so that they can forever be citizens of Meghalaya.
The challenges faced by the 18 villages are numerous when it comes to development projects. According to B Sohtung, president of Synjuk Ki Rangbah Shnong from Block 2, the forest department from the Assam government would normally stop any kind of development work saying that the area is forested land and no work can be done.
“Another challenge concerning farming activities since we cultivate wheat, ginger and broomsticks, is whenever we have to transport our produce, there would be these ‘Mohaldars’ sent by the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council (KAADC) and they would collect money from us. Farmers here end up paying them Rs 8,000 per pick-up truck. So, this kind of harassment is faced by many of us living here in the border areas,” stated Sohtung.
All the local heads have appealed to the Meghalaya government that all the villages falling under the Raid Nongtung boundary should be under Meghalaya. They felt that if the ‘give and take policy’ is discussed then they will have to discuss which area belongs to which state.
This correspondent, who visited the area, noticed that the roads leading to Jatalong were in a bad condition. The village had no proper network connectivity and the two schools there had the look of an abandoned site. It was also noticed that the nearest Meghalaya police outpost was only at Mawlasnai, which was some distance away from Jatalong, given the bad road.
Taking a detour from Jatalong to a toll gate at Sabuda (Block II) inside Meghalaya, the roads inside Sabuda were in a good condition. Some of the residents had lamented that this is the strategy of the Assam government. What was surprising was an office of the Forest Beat Officer under the West Karbi Anglong (Assam) that has already been set up in the area.