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Border Disputes in North-Eastern India

Border areas have their own problems and peculiarities and more often vulnerable to illegal infiltration of population, which adds pressure on their economic and environmental resources. Moreover, porous nature of the border enables easy cross border passage for insurgents and criminals including drug traffickers. Thus, governments of the states with international border are required to bear heavier burden for not only providing basic facilities to the people living in such areas but also for the broader national goal of securing the border.

The North-East region of India comprises of eight states, namely Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. This region is poorly connected to the Indian mainland by a small corridor and is surrounded by many countries such as Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and China. The region is known for a multitude of conflicts that undermines the idea of India as a prosperous and a functioning democracy.

Historical reasons for the Border Disputes in North-Eastern India

The people of the north east India are largely of Tibeto-Burman/Mongoloid stock and closer to Southeast Asia than to South Asia. It is ethnically, linguistically and culturally very distinct from the other states of India. It is interesting to know that the cultural and ethnic diversity per say are not causes for conflict but the process of delineation of state boundaries which ignored the ethnic and cultural specificities in the 1950s, giving rise to discontentment and assertion of one’s identity.

Border Disputes in North-Eastern India

The border disputes raging in the region for decades have enveloped the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland.

1. Border Dispute between Assam and Nagaland

It is the most prominent border dispute with a history of violent, clashes between border communities. Both the states have accused each other of illegally occupying each other's territories. The dispute between the two began right at the time of inception of Nagaland state in 1963.

Assam claims that more than fifty thousand hectares of its territory has been annexed by Nagaland. Whereas the Nagaland State Act of 1962 had defined its borders, according to the 1925 notification when Naga Hills and Tuensang area were integrated into a new administrative unit and made an autonomous area. Nagas did not accept the boundary delineation and demanded that Nagaland should comprise the erstwhile Naga Hills and Naga dominated area in North Cachar and Nagaon districts, which were part of the Naga territory.

Since Nagaland did not accept its notified borders, tensions between Assam and Nagaland soon flared up resulting in the first border clashes in 1965 at Kakodonga Reserve Forest. Since then, violent clashes along the Assam-Nagaland border have become a regular feature, with major armed conflicts reported in 1968, 1979 and 1985.

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2. Dispute between Assam and Meghalaya

The states of Assam and Meghalaya have been embroiled in a border dispute for decades now. It first started when Meghalaya challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1971, which gave parts of Mikir hill of Assam and those, according to Meghalaya, are parts of United Khasi and Jantia hills. However, there are regular clashes between both the sides along the border, which has resulted in the displacement of a large number of inhabitants and loss of life and property.

3. Dispute between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh

Another dispute is that of between the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh was formed on 20th January, 1972. Later when Arunachal Pradesh was carved out of Assam in 1987 as a state under the North-East Reorganisation Act, 1971, the people of Arunachal Pradesh accepted their notified borders with Assam. However, subsequent to this, there has been the issue of Assamese encroachment. Amidst the widespread sense of helplessness, there is also an overwhelming desire and force to be free from such a situation of conflict which cripples the people from all sides. At such time, we require that the government should come up with the practical and, acceptable solutions to the interstate border problems at the earlies. All states with disputed borders should first work at maintaining law and order and ensure that peace L.4 prevails in the area. So the need of the hour is to find a lasting solution to the long pending interstate border disputes in North-East disputes.

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4. Dispute between Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram

Two other states of the region that were carved out of Assam, namely, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram are also entangled in border disputes with Assam. Initially, both Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram accepted their notified borders with Assam, but later on started raising the issue of Assamese encroachment leading to border clashes. In the case of the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, clashes were first reported in 1992 when the Arunachal Pradesh Government alleged that people from Assam are building houses, markets and even police stations on its territory.

Since then, intermittent clashes have been taking place making the border tense. In 2005, for example, during an eviction drive by the Assam Government, some 100 houses in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh were allegedly set ablaze by Assam Police and forest officials. Again in 2007, tensions flared up along the Assam-Arunachal border when villagers from across the border fired at a peace meeting in Assam injuring eight people. Since then several incidents of violence and clashes took place in the disputed region.

5. Dispute between Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram

Apart from all the problems and peculiarities of border areas, the Assam-Mizoram border has remained relatively calm despite the disputed nature of the border. However, there were a few instances in 1994 and in 2007 when tensions along this border flared up. But because of timely intervention by the Central Government, a major crisis was averted and the situation was quickly brought under control. Following the 2007 border incident, Mizoram declared that it does not accept the present boundary with Assam and that the inner line of the Inner Line Reserved Forest as described in the 1875 notification under the East Bengal Frontier Regulation of 1873 should be the basis for delineating the border.

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Steps to resolve the interstate border dispute

1. If the states could treat disputed areas as neutral zones, states could organise village development councils in all the disputed areas and members of the councils should comprise of representative from both the communities.

2. States should share the financial and logistical requirements for all development activities in the disputed areas.

3. No state should claim its right to the areas and development should he the joint effort of the respective departments of both governments.

4. To restore peace in the area, it is necessary to create the atmosphere for peace and help people regain confidence. Confidence building is also another important objective if we are to bring peace in the conflict areas.

Hence, we can say there will be no peace in the North-East region if there is no solution to the interstate border disputes and the solution to the problem is not by dividing people, but by promoting peace, unity and harmony because we are all part of one country. Let us stop behaving like nations fighting for a piece of land when we are one country.

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