[Sansad TV] Perspective: Inter-State Border Disputes in India

Context

  • Union Home Minister held a meeting with the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Karnataka on the border dispute between the two States.
  • Both sides agreed that neither State will press their claims further till the judgement of the Supreme Court on this matter and discuss this issue in detail.

Inter-state Border Disputes in India: A Backgrounder

  • As of now, no interstate border dispute has been resolved in independent India.
  • Karnataka and Maharashtra are not the only two States involved in the border dispute.  
  • There are boundary disputes arising out of the demarcation of boundaries and claims and counter-claims over territories between-
states

[1] Karnataka-Maharashtra

  • The Belgaum district is arguably part of one of the biggest inter-state border disputes in India.
  • The district has a large Marathi and Kannada-speaking populations and has been at the centre of a dispute for a long time.
  • The area came under Karnataka in 1956 when states were reorganized and till then it was under the Bombay presidency.

[2] Assam-Mizoram

  • The border dispute between Assam and Mizoram is a legacy of two British-era notifications of 1875 and 1933, when Mizoram was called Lushai Hills, a district in Assam.
  • The 1875 notification differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar and the other demarcated boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
  • While Mizoram became a state only in 1987 following years of insurgency, it still insists on the boundary decided in 1875.
  • Assam, on the other hand, wants the boundary demarcated in 1986 (based on the 1933 notification).
  • Mizoram says the 1986 agreement is not acceptable as the Mizo civil society was not consulted at that time.

[3] Haryana-Himachal Pradesh

  • The Parwanoo region has had the spotlight over the border dispute between the two states.
  • It is next to the Panchkula district of Haryana and the state has claimed parts of the land in Himachal Pradesh as its own.

[4] Himachal Pradesh-Ladakh

  • Himachal and Ladakh lay claim to Sarchu, an area on the route between Leh and Manali.
  • It is considered a major point where travellers stop when travelling between the two cities.
  • Sarchu is in between Himachal’s Lahul and Spiti district and Leh district in Ladakh.

[5] Arunachal Pradesh-Assam

  • Arunachal’s grievance is that the re-organisation of North Eastern states unilaterally transferred several forested tracts in the plains that had traditionally belonged to hill tribal chiefs and communities to Assam.
  • After Arunachal Pradesh achieved statehood in 1987, a tripartite committee was appointed which recommended that certain territories be transferred from Assam to Arunachal.
  • Assam contested this and the matter is before the Supreme Court.

[6] Meghalaya-Assam

  • The problem between Assam and Meghalaya started when the latter challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1971, which gave Blocks I and II of the Mikir Hills or present-day Karbi Anglong district to Assam.
  • Meghalaya contends that both these blocks formed part of the erstwhile United Khasi and Jaintia Hills district when it was notified in 1835.
  • Meghalaya bases its case on survey maps of 1872 and 1929 and certain notifications of 1878 and 1951, while Assam wants to go by the rejected recommendations of the Churachand Committee.

[7] Assam-Nagaland

  • The longest-running border dispute in the North East is between Assam and Nagaland, which began soon after Nagaland became a state in 1963.
  • The Nagaland State Act of 1962 had defined the state’s borders according to a 1925 notification when Naga Hills and Tuensang Area (NHTA) were integrated into a new administrative unit.
  • Nagaland, however, does not accept the boundary delineation and has demanded that the new state should also have all Naga-dominated areas in North Cachar and Nagaon districts.
  • Since Nagaland did not accept its notified borders, tensions between Assam and Nagaland flared up soon after the latter was formed, resulting in the first border clashes in 1965.
  • This was followed by major clashes between the two states along the border in 1968, 1979, 1985, 2007, 2014 and 2021.

Genesis of such disputes

  • Reorganization considerations: When India started carving out states in 1953, the States Reorganisation Commission said territorial readjustments between (states) should not assume the form of disputes between alien powers.
  • Lingual assertion: Several inter-state border disputes have their roots in the reorganisation of states in the 1950s … (which) was primarily based on language.
  • Colonial division: Many of these state demarcations were based on district boundaries created by the British. For example, partition of Bengal led to present day Assam issue.
  • Inequitable sharing of resources: These territorial contests are part of a larger set of differences over resources between states — over access to river waters.
  • Lack of constitutional mechanism: Article 262 is on the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers or river valleys. There is no comparable provision on disputes on land.
  • Political opportunism: Frankly, no serious efforts have been made to resolve the disputes. Political parties have used this for vote bank politics.

Why does NE have so many border disputes?

  • Ethnocentrism was ignored: States Reorganisation Commission went ahead and recommended the creation of just one state, Assam, which would administer what are now Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.
  • Difficult border demarcation due to terrain: The other complexity has been terrain — rivers, hills and forests straddle two states in many places and borders cannot be physically marked.
  • Primitive populations were ignored: Colonial maps had left out large tracts of the northeast outside Assam as “thick forests” or marked them “unexplored”. Indigenous communities were, for the most part, left alone.
  • Political motivations behind reorganization: Boundaries would be drawn for administrative convenience when the “need” arose. The 1956 demarcation did not resolve the discrepancies.
  • Historic discrepancies: Mizoram got its first recorded boundary in 1875 after a survey of 6,500 sq. miles of “new” territory, unmapped before, to separate it from Cachar and protect British tea plantations. When Mizoram was created, it was way smaller than the 1875 map by about 750 sq km.  
  • Apathy of centre: The Inter-State Council constituted to support Centre-state and inter-state coordination and collaboration hasn’t met for the last six years although it’s supposed to meet thrice a year.

Resolving such conflict

  • Zonal councils: The States Reorganization Act, 1956, which established the new linguistic states, also set up an institutional mechanism to settle disputes. It had set five zonal councils, each comprising the chief and two other ministers of each of the constituent states, and a central minister as chairman.
  • Dialogue: Inter-state border disputes can be resolved by the states themselves or by the Centre through dialogue and political settlements.   
  • Central commissions: The Sundaram Commission recommended a border between Assam and Nagaland (but Nagaland rejected the report).
  • Judicial intervention: Disputes can also be settled by the Judiciary. For instance, the Belgaum issue is still pending in the Supreme Court.

Issues with such disputes

  • Radicalism and Terrorism: Many terror activities in NE are triggered by the sense of alienation and demand for separate nations (as well as flags) to assert their individual identiy.
  • Secessionist tendencies and separatism: Inter-state disputes need to be settled quickly and impartially otherwise they become festering sores which create friction, prevent development, and give a perverse direction to separatism.
  • Blow to federalism: The ugly and violent clashes between the states are against to the spirit of mutual coexistence and thereby a blow to Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat.
  • Domino effect: Domino effect or chain reaction at other disputed borders or in other inter-state disputes such as river water, migration of people etc. due to trust deficit between states.

Way forward

  • Land survey-based boundary demarcation: The states must set up state committees to work with a survey of India and other neutral agencies for land surveys.
  • Involving indigenous communities: The local communities can also be engaged in this demarcation of borders.
  • Creating no-man’s land: The centre must remove the encroachments from both sides devise a “no lose” (non-zero sum) solution to territory dispute.
  • Strengthening of Inter-State Councils and Zonal Councils: Frequent meetings of thse Councils for convergence of interests between states and suggest institutional solutions to benefit both by dispute resolution.

Conclusion

  • Mutual resolution: While states decide how best to settle their disputes, India needs a national, centrally enforced moratorium on actions.
  • Stopping provocations: The Election Commission must punish parties and politicians who engage in border provocations.
  • Political restrain: Political elites must not be allowed to inflame passions along disputed borders to satiate their electoral appetites and territorial ambitions.  
  • Preventing further escalations: The task of integrating the Princely States into the Union of India was far too messier. Following in Patel’s footsteps is easier said than done.

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