Assam-Meghalaya: The North-Eastern region faces two specific problems with regard to its borders – the issue of jurisdiction as well as the problem of illegal immigration which leads to population growth.
Both the issues are heavily debated at various levels, but in recent times, it is the border dispute between the northeastern states – Assam and Meghalaya – that has grabbed the headlines nationally and internationally.
Assam and Meghalaya signed an agreement in March 2022 to resolve the five-decade-old border dispute at six of the twelve disputed points. But unfortunately again on 23 November 2022, Assam and Meghalaya borders had to be sealed due to unscheduled border demarcations, resulting in the death of five Meghalaya residents and an Assam Forest Guard in Mukroh village. The obvious fact is that there are twelve disputed areas between the two states on the 884 km long border.
During British rule, Assam was undivided and it was only in 1972 that Meghalaya became an independent state. The boundaries of Meghalaya were demarcated as per the Assam Reorganization (Meghalaya) Act 1969, but this demarcation has not been accepted by the people of Meghalaya yet.
The ramifications of the border dispute began with the recommendations of 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 (under the jurisdiction of Meghalaya) along with Makir Hills in Krabi Anglong and some other areas of Garo Hills should be transferred to Goalpara district of Assam. In fact, the Act of 1969, which determined the boundaries of Meghalaya, was based on the recommendations of this committee.
This demarcation has led to border disputes in areas like Langpi, Upper Tarabari, Gasang Reserve Forest, Hahim, Borduar, Boklabara, Nongwah, Matamur, Khanapara-PilangKata, Block I and Block II Deshdemoreh, Khanduli and Retacherra. The historic MoU signed between the Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya on March 29 resulted in some closure of the disputed areas including Tarabari, Gazang, Hahim, Boklabara, Khanapara-Palangata and Retacherra, but the rest The territories are still disputed. The two states even decided to form three regional committees on August 22, 2022 to resolve the issues.
However, a major concern in the Assam-Meghalaya border dispute is Langpi district in the Western Garo Hills, which borders the Kamrup district of Assam. During British rule, Lingpi, also known as Lumpi, was a part of Kamrup district, but became part of the Garo Hills after independence. While Assam considers Langpi to be part of the Mikir Hills, Meghalaya questions blocks I and II of the Mikir Hills, which the people of Meghalaya consider part of the erstwhile united Khasi and Jaintia Hills districts.
A number of steps have already been taken to resolve the conflict. But neither of the two states have reached a proper solution till date to close the chapter of the border dispute forever.
A joint government committee set up in 1983 to resolve border disputes, the Survey of India, took input from both states and recommended redrawing the border. In 1958, an independent panel was set up, headed by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, to resolve the border dispute. However, Meghalaya did not agree with the report of the committee and hence no solution could be found to resolve the issues.
About 100 km of the border was demarcated in 1991 with the help of the Survey of India, but this demarcation was also rejected by the Meghalaya government as a game of “foul play”. In 2011, another attempt was made to resolve the border dispute when the Meghalaya Assembly passed a resolution calling for central intervention to set up a boundary commission. This too did not yield any substantial results. In 2019, the Meghalaya government’s plea to the Supreme Court of India to direct the Center to resolve the dispute was also rejected.
Hence the pertinent question that remains unanswered: Can border disputes be resolved forever?
Factors such as historical accounts, administrative movements, sentiments of the people, race, geographical position of the states along with its borders and its boundaries surrounded by rivers, streams, hills etc. are taken into account while settling border disputes.
But at one point, it is easy to observe and analyze that the political manifestos showing territorial supremacy over each other cannot resolve the age-old border dispute not only between Assam-Meghalaya but across Northeast India. Over time the political angle of the border dispute has worsened the situation and thus the aspirations of the people living in Assam-Meghalaya should be prioritized in resolving such disputes.
An analysis of the history of the Assam-Meghalaya border dispute also brings to light the fact that alternative dispute resolution methods such as dialogue and deliberation, amicable resolution of border issues, as well as public opinion Mediation can help. In fact, the best example of successful alternative dispute resolution of the border issue is the settlement by signing of an agreement between the two states regarding the six disputed border areas of Assam and Meghalaya.
However, in the remaining six disputed areas, if the two states cannot come up with a workable solution, the intervention of the central government is necessary. The central government should take the opinion of the representatives of the two states and then constitute an expert committee to determine the exact boundaries. Both states should accept it without any conflicting views.
For the betterment of the people, it is imperative that the two states come to an agreement and thereby end the conflicts that often lead to armed insurgencies at the borders, which not only kill civilians but also disrupt civilian mobility. There is a disturbance. Since the sentiments of the people of both the states are attached to the borders, the central government should also be careful while demarcating the borders. However, immediate resolution of the border dispute is the need of the hour.