North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Explained: Arunachal-Assam Boundary Dispute


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Assam's border disputes with its each neighbours

Less than a month after the Union government gave the seal of approval to an agreement to partially resolve the disputed sectors on the Assam-Meghalaya border, Arunachal Pradesh CM and his Assam counterpart decided to form district-level committees for settling their inter-state boundary disputes.

Arunachal-Assam Boundary Dispute

  • Assam has had boundary disputes with all the north-eastern states that were carved out of it.
  • While Nagaland became a State in 1963, Meghalaya first became an Autonomous State in 1970 and a full-fledged State in 1972.
  • Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were separated from Assam as Union Territories in 1972 and as States in 1987.
  • None of the new States accepted the “constitutional boundary” that they said was dictated by the partisan administration of undivided Assam without consulting the tribal stakeholders.
  • They also claimed that the disputed areas were traditionally under the control of tribal chieftains before Assam, post-India’s independence, inherited the “imaginary boundaries” drawn during British rule.
  • The issue with Arunachal Pradesh has more to do with a 1951 report prepared by a sub-committee headed by Assam’s first Chief Minister, Gopinath Bordoloi.

Genesis of the dispute

  • Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have disputes at about 1,200 points along their 804 km boundary.
  • The disputes cropped up in the 1970s and intensified in the 1990s with frequent flare-ups along the border.
  • However, the issue dates back to 1873 when the British government introduced the inner-line permit vaguely separating the plains from the frontier hills.
  • This area became the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in 1954, three years after a notification based on the 1951 report saw 3,648 sq. km of the “plain” area of Balipara and Sadiya foothills being transferred to the Darrang and Lakhimpur districts of Assam.
  • Arunachal has been celebrating its statehood with an eye on China since 1987, but what has been causing resentment is the inability of the people living in the transferred patches.
  • Leaders in Arunachal Pradesh claim the transfer was done arbitrarily without consulting its tribes who had customary rights over these lands.
  • Their counterparts in Assam say the 1951 demarcation is constitutional and legal.

Earlier attempts for resolving dispute

  • There were several efforts to demarcate the boundary between Assam and NEFA/Arunachal Pradesh between 1971 and 1974.
  • To end the stalemate, a high-powered tripartite committee involving the Centre and the two States was formed in April 1979 to delineate the boundary based on Survey of India maps.
  • About 489 km of the inter-state boundary north of the Brahmaputra River was demarcated by 1984, but Arunachal did not accept the recommendations and staked claim to much of the areas transferred in 1951.
  • Assam objected and approached the Supreme Court in 1989, accusing Arunachal Pradesh of “encroachment”.
  • The apex court-appointed a local boundary commission in 2006 headed by one of its retired judges.
  • In its September 2014 report, this commission recommended that Arunachal Pradesh should get back some of the areas transferred in 1951. However, this did not work out.

Way forward

  • Following the model adopted in the exercise to resolve the dispute with Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have agreed to form district-level committees.
  • They will be tasked with undertaking joint surveys in the disputed sectors to find tangible solutions to the long-pending issue based on historical perspective, ethnicity, contiguity, people’s will and administrative convenience.
  • The two States have decided to form 12 such committees involving the districts sharing the boundary. Assam has eight districts touching the boundary with Arunachal Pradesh, which has 12 such districts.


  • The Assam-Meghalaya boundary agreement has raised hopes of the Assam-Arunachal boundary dispute being resolved.
  • This is especially in light of egging the north-eastern States to end their territorial issues once and for all by August 15, 2022, when the country celebrates 75 years of independence.
  • Moreover, there is a general belief that the region’s sister-States are in a better position to fast-track the resolution since they are ruled by the present regime with the same dispensation at the Centre.


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