Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Suspending the Free Movement Regime: India’s Border Policy with Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Free Movement Regime

Mains level : Read the attached story

Free Movement Regime

Central Idea

  • On January 2, the Indian government announced plans to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the Myanmar border.
  • Residents in border areas, previously able to cross freely, will now require visas.

About Free Movement Regime

  • Initiated in the 1970s, the FMR allowed people living within 16 km of the India-Myanmar border to travel up to 16 km into the other country without a visa.
  • India shares a 1,643 km-long border with Myanmar, which passes through the States of Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km), and Mizoram (510 km).
  • This regime recognized the deep-rooted familial and ethnic connections between communities on either side of the unfenced border.
  • The FMR was last revised in 2016, aligning with India’s Act East policy. However, it was suspended in Manipur since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reasons for the Policy Shift

  • Security and Illegal Activities: The FMR has been under scrutiny for facilitating illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and insurgency.
  • Refugee Influx Post-Coup: Following Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021, over 40,000 refugees entered Mizoram, and around 4,000 entered Manipur, exacerbating security concerns.
  • Local Government Stance: Manipur’s Chief Minister urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to cancel the FMR and complete border fencing, linking ethnic violence in the state to the free movement across the border.

Implications of Scrapping the FMR

  • Impact on Local Communities: Ending the FMR could significantly affect the daily lives of border residents, who depend on cross-border access for various needs.
  • Cultural and Social Disruption: The policy change might strain the cultural and social fabric of communities with shared ethnicities across the border.

Way forward

  • Border Fencing: The government plans to fence about 300 km of the border, with a tender expected soon.
  • Regulatory Revisions: Experts suggest refining the FMR to better regulate movement while maintaining cross-border ties.
  • Infrastructure and Trade: Enhancing infrastructure and formalizing trade at designated entry points could mitigate some negative impacts.
  • Community Engagement: Involving border communities in decision-making is crucial for effective and sensitive border management.

Conclusion

  • Balancing Security and Community Needs: The decision to end the FMR requires a nuanced approach that considers both national security and the rights of border communities.
  • Diplomatic Engagement: Strengthening diplomatic relations with Myanmar is key to managing this transition effectively.
  • Future Challenges: As India navigates this policy change, it faces the challenge of securing its borders while respecting the socio-economic realities of border populations.

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