The Northeast region suffers from two distinctive predicaments in relation to its borders – the problem of jurisdiction as well as the problem pertaining to illegal immigration leading to population explosion.

Both the problems are highly debated at different levels, but in recent times, it is the border dispute between two Northeast states – Assam and Meghalaya – that grabbed headlines both nationally and internationally.

Assam and Meghalaya signed a pact on March 2022 to resolve the five-decade-old border dispute in six of the twelve contested locations. But unfortunately again on November 23, 2022, the borders of Assam and Meghalaya had to be sealed because of unsettled border demarcations, leading to five Meghalaya residents and one Assam forest guard being killed in Mukroh Village. The conspicuous fact is that along the 884-km-long border, the two states have twelve disputed stretches. 

Also Read | Mukroh ground report: ‘Assam Police killed five farmers, not smugglers’

During the British rule, Assam was undivided and it was only in 1972 when Meghalaya became an independent state. The boundaries of Meghalaya were demarcated according to the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969, but this demarcation has still not been accepted by the residents of Meghalaya.

The branches of the border dispute started with the recommendations made by a 1951 committee headed by the then Chief Minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi. The committee had recommended that Block I and II of Jaintia Hills (falling in the jurisdiction of Meghalaya) be transferred to the Mikir Hills situated at Karbi Anglong and some other areas of Garo Hills to the district of Goalpara in Assam. In fact, the 1969 Act, which demarcated the boundaries of Meghalaya, was based on this committee’s recommendations.

This demarcation led to border disputes in areas like Langpi, Upper Tarabari, Gazang reserved forest, Hahim, Borduar, Boklabara, Nongwah, Matamur, Khanapara-Pilangkata, block I and block II of Deshdemoreh, Khanduli and Retacherra. The historic MoU that was signed between the Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya on March 29 somewhat brought a closure to the disputed areas that included Tarabari, Gazang, Hahim, Boklabara, Khanapara-Pilangata and Retacherra, but the rest of the areas are still disputed even as the two states decided to form three regional committees to solve the issues on August 22, 2022.

Also Read | Assam-Meghalaya border dispute: Gorkhas, Khasis, Garos fight for Lumpi

However, a major concern in Assam-Meghalaya border dispute is the district of Langpi in the West Garo Hills, which borders the Kamrup district of Assam. During the British rule, Langpi, also known as Lumpi, was a part of the Kamrup district, but became a part of the Garo Hills post Independence. While Assam considers Langpi to be a part of Mikir Hills, Meghalaya questions Blocks I and II of the Mikir Hills, which are considered part of the erstwhile united Khasi and Jaintia Hills district by the people of Meghalaya.  

A lot of steps have already been taken to resolve the disputes. But neither of the two states have arrived at an appropriate solution till date to close the chapter of border dispute once for all.

A joint official committee that was formed in 1983 to solve the border disputes recommended that the Survey of India remap the border by taking opinions from both the states. In 1958, an independent panel was set up, headed by Justice Y. V. Chandrachud, to resolve the border dispute. Meghalaya, however, did not agree with the report of the committee, and hence, no solution could be formulated to solve the issues. 

About 100 km of the border was demarcated with the help of Survey of India in 1991 but even that demarcation was rejected by the Meghalaya government, calling it “to be a game of “foul play”. In 2011, another attempt was made to resolve the border dispute when the Meghalaya Assembly passed a resolution desiring Central intervention for the establishment of a Boundary Commission. Even that did not yield any fruitful results. In 2019, the Meghalaya government’s plea in the Supreme Court of India to instruct the Centre to resolve the dispute was also turned down.

Therefore the pertinent question that still lies unanswered is: Can the border disputes be resolved once for all?

Also read | Solution to Northeast border conflicts lies among locals, not in Delhi

Factors like historical accounts, administrative mobility, sentiments of the people, ethnicity, along with the states’ geographical position with its borders and its boundaries encircled by rivers, streams, hills etc are taken into account while resolving border disputes.

But on a critical note, it is easy to observe and analyse that political manifestos that display one’s regional supremacy over the other cannot solve the age-old border dispute not just between Assam and Meghalaya but across all of Northeast India. The political angle to the border dispute over time has only worsened the situation and as such, the aspirations of the people residing in Assam and Meghalaya must be given precedence in solving such disputes. 

An analysis of the history of the Assam-Meghalaya border dispute also brings to the fore the fact that only alternative dispute resolution mechanisms like talks and deliberations, amicable disposition of issues pertaining to border issues as well as people’s opinion-based mediation could help. In fact, the biggest example of successful alternative dispute resolution to the border issue is the recent settlement of issues pertaining to the six disputed border areas of Assam and Meghalaya by signing of a pact between both the states. 

Also ready | Heavy security deployment, prohibitory orders continue at clash site along Assam-Meghalaya border

However, in rest of the six disputed areas, if both the states altogether cannot come to a feasible solution, then the intervention of the central government is a must. The central government should opt for the opinions of representatives from both the states and then form an expert committee to properly demarcate the borders. The same must be accepted by both the states without indulging in any kind of contradictory opinions.

For the betterment of people, it’s important that both the states come at a consensus and thereby put an end to the disputes that often lead to armed rebellions at the borders, not only killing civilians but also disrupting civil movement. Since the sentiments of the people of both the states are associated with the borders, even the central government should be careful while demarcating the borders. However, speedy disposition of the border dispute remains the need of the hour.

Bishaldeep Kakati is an advocate at the Gauhati High Court. Bagmita Borthakur is faculty at the Political Science Department, Dispur College. Views expressed are personal to the authors.

Also read | This December, spare a thought for those killed in Oting

Trending Stories

Latest Stories

Leave a comment

Leave a comment Cancel reply