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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Border disputes between states in focus after Amit Shah’s NE visit

In his address a day earlier at the NEC plenary, the Union home minister mentioned that border dispute between the northeastern states is a “big issue” and stressed, the “time has come to rise above it”.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2019 16:40 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Union Home Minister Amit Shah being felicitated by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal during the 4th Conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in Guwahati on Monday.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah being felicitated by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal during the 4th Conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in Guwahati on Monday. (PTI PHOTO.)
         

During his two day visit to Guwahati that ended on Monday, Union home minister Amit Shah repeatedly urged all the eight states in the northeast to solve the long-pending border disputes amongst them.

The issue was raised in his addresses both at the 68th plenary session of North Eastern Council (NEC) on Sunday and at the 4th conclave of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP-led front of anti-Congress parties in the region, on Monday.

Also Read I ‘Will expel all illegal immigrants from entire country, not just Assam’, says Amit Shah

‘We want the border disputes in the northeast to get resolved soon. If the border dispute between India and Bangladesh can get solved, why can’t we find a solution to border disputes between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh or Assam and Nagaland?” questioned Shah in his address at the NEDA conclave.

In his address a day earlier at the NEC plenary, the Union home minister mentioned that border dispute between the northeastern states is a “big issue” and stressed, the “time has come to rise above it”.

The Assam connection

The border disputes in the region mainly involve Assam and the four other states—Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya—that were carved out of it over the years.

Assam shares an 804-km long boundary with Arunachal Pradesh. Though there was no dispute initially, allegations of residents of one state encroaching land on the other over the years have led to disputes and violence. A suit has been pending in Supreme Court since 1989 on the issue.

Similarly, Nagaland and Assam share a 434-km boundary and a dispute that’s going on for over five decades. Nagaland has been claiming some portions of Assam as its own while the latter is accusing the former of encroaching thousands of hectares of its land.

Both states have refused to accept recommendations of the two commissions set up by the Centre to solve the issue and a suit is pending in Supreme Court on the issue since 1988.

Also Read I ‘Will not alter Article 371 in any way’: Amit Shah assures Northeast

There have been several violent clashes on the issue. Over 100 people have been killed, most of them on the Assam side, in attacks by armed men from Nagaland in separate incidents in 1979, 1985 and 2014.

The Assam-Meghalaya border dispute is over four decades old and there is contention between both the states at 12 points along the 733-km boundary they share. Several rounds of talks, including the last one held at the chief secretary level in June this year, have failed to solve the issue.

On Monday, Meghalaya deputy chief minister Prestone Tynsong informed the state assembly that there have been 56 incidents of disputes at the boundary between both states since 2017.

Mizoram and Assam share a 164-km long boundary. Mizoram hasn’t accepted the present boundary and flare-ups keep taking place once in a while.

The last one was in March 2018, when supporters of Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a powerful student body of Mizoram, were baton-charged and allegedly fired at by Assam police when they were protesting demolition of a rest house constructed at the boundary.

The NEDA solution

With the power equation in the region changing drastically in the past three years, the decades-long disputes could see an end.

Since 2016, when a BJP-led coalition formed the government in Assam, the Congress has been wiped out from the region. The BJP is heading governments in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and is part of the ruling coalition in Meghalaya and Nagaland.

In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front (MNF), which is a constituent of the NEDA, a political alliance formed in 2016, is in power.

“We have achieved our political objective 100%. We should now use the NEDA alliance in a positive manner and solve our internal border issues,” said NEDA convener and senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Addressing the media after the NEDA meet on Monday, Sarma said Shah asked the chief ministers to address the border disputes in a “time-bound manner” before India celebrates 75 years of Independence in 2022 and Union government would take “pro-active” step on the issue.

Echoing Shah’s view, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu said the border dispute with Assam is “hampering development in the foothills” of the state and appealed to all his counterparts to “seriously take up the issue for a lasting solution”.