From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Boundary disputes in North-East
Assam and Meghalaya partially resolved a 50-year-old dispute along their 884.9 km boundary.
What is the news?
- An agreement was signed between Assam CM and his Meghalaya counterpart in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi.
- According to the partial boundary deal, Assam will get 18.51 sq. km of the 36.79 sq. km disputed area while Meghalaya will get the remaining 18.28 sq. km.
- The agreement is expected to pave the way for resolving disputes in the boundary and similar areas of difference between Assam and three other NE States.
What is the Assam-Meghalaya Boundary Dispute?
- Meghalaya, carved out of Assam as an autonomous State in 1970, became a full-fledged State in 1972.
- The creation of the new State was based on the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969, which the Meghalaya government refused to accept.
- This was because the Act followed the recommendations of a 1951 committee to define the boundary of Meghalaya.
- On that panel’s recommendations, areas of the present-day East Jaintia Hills, Ri-Bhoi and West Khasi Hills districts of Meghalaya were transferred to the Karbi Anglong, Kamrup (metro) and Kamrup districts of Assam.
- Meghalaya contested these transfers after statehood, claiming that they belonged to its tribal chieftains.
- Assam said the Meghalaya government could neither provide documents nor archival materials to prove its claim over these areas.
- After claims and counter-claims, the dispute was narrowed down to 12 sectors on the basis of an official claim by Meghalaya in 2011.
Other boundary disputes in North-East
The states of the Northeast were largely carved out of Assam, which has border disputes with several states.
During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which became separate state one by one. Today, Assam has boundary problems with each of them.
- Nagaland shares a 500-km boundary with Assam.
- In two major incidents of violence in 1979 and 1985, at least 100 persons were killed. The boundary dispute is now in the Supreme Court
- On the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary (over 800 km), clashes were first reported in 1992, according to the same research paper.
- Since then, there have been several accusations of illegal encroachment from both sides, and intermittent clashes. This boundary issue is being heard by the Supreme Court.
- The 884-km Assam-Meghalaya boundary, too, witnesses flare-ups frequently. As per Meghalaya government statements, today there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states.
How did the two governments go about handling the issue?
- The two States had initially tried resolving the border dispute through negotiations but the first serious attempt was in May 1983 when they formed a joint official committee to address the issue.
- In its report submitted in November 1983, the committee suggested that the Survey of India should re-delineate the boundary with the cooperation of both the States towards settling the dispute.
- There was no follow-up action. As more areas began to be disputed, the two States agreed to the constitution of an independent panel in 1985.
- Headed by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, the committee submitted its report in 1987.
- Meghalaya rejected the report as it was allegedly pro-Assam.
- In 2019, the Meghalaya government petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to settle the dispute. The petition was dismissed.
How was the ice broken?
- In January 2021, Home Minister urged all the north-eastern States to resolve their boundary disputes by August 15, 2022, when the country celebrates 75 years of Independence.
- It was felt that the effort could be fast-tracked since the region’s sister-States either had a common ruling party.
- In June 2021, the two States decided to resume talks at the CM level and adopt a “give-and-take” policy to settle the disputes once and for all.
- Of the 12 disputed sectors, six “less complicated” areas — Tarabari, Gizang, Hahim, Boklapara, Khanapara-Pilingkata and Ratacherra — were chosen for resolving in the first phase.
- Both States formed three regional committees, one each for a district affected by the disputed sectors.
What were the principles followed?
- These committees, each headed by a cabinet minister, were given “five principles” for approaching the issue.
- These principles are historical facts of a disputed sector, ethnicity, and administrative convenience, willingness of people and contiguity of land preferably with natural boundaries such as rivers, streams and rocks.
- The committee members conducted surveys of the disputed sectors and held several meetings with the local stakeholders.
- This paved the way for the March 29 closure of the six disputed sectors.
Issues with this settlement
- Officials in Assam said it was better to let go of areas where they did not have any administrative control rather than “live with an irritant forever”.
- However, residents in the other six disputed sectors feel the “give-and-take” template could spell disaster for them.
- The fear is more among non-tribal people who could end up living in a “tribal Meghalaya with no rights”.