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Unrest along Assam-Mizoram border

  • IASbaba
  • November 19, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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FEDERALISM/ SECURITY

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure
  • Internal Security

Unrest along Assam-Mizoram border

Context: The recent violence and tension on the Assam-Mizoram border underlines the differences the two States have about their borders.

Do You Know?

  • In 1972 Mizoram was carved out of Assam as a Union Territory.
  • Mizoram became a State in 1987.
  • National Highway 306 (Earlier NH 54) connects the State of Assam and Mizoram.
  • Mizoram ferries all its essentials, food grains, transport fuel and various other goods and machines through NH 306 and hence is called the lifeline of Mizoram

What triggered the unrest?

  • Three districts of southern Assam’s Barak Valley — Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj — border Kolasib and Mamit districts of Mizoram.
  • On October 9, a farm hut and a betel nut plantation belonging to two Mizoram residents were set on fire in an area bordering Karimganj (Assam) and Mamit districts(Mizoram)
  • Some people from Assam allegedly pelted stones at Mizoram police personnel the following day and Mizoram residents retaliated.
  • Assam-based organisations blocked NH306 and other roads leading to Mizoram. The blockade was lifted on October 22 after negotiations between the two States and intervention by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • But Mizoram police’s refusal to withdraw from the disputed areas led to another blockade from October 28. 
  • The situation threatened to get out of control when an Assamese man named Imtiaz Ali Laskar died in custody in Mizoram. While Mizoram claimed he was a drug peddler, Assam said he was a poor firewood collector.

Has the tension eased now?

  • The tension eased when personnel of the Border Security Force and Sashastra Seema Bal began patrolling three flashpoints on the border. 
  • The blockade was lifted on November 9.

Was it a one-off conflict?

  • No. The last instance of violence along the Assam-Mizoram border was in February 2018, when the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (students’ union) had built a wooden rest-house for farmers in a forest. 
  • Assam police and forest officials demolished the structure, claiming it was in Assam’s territory. 
  • Members of Mizo Student’s union clashed with Assam police personnel, which led to the escalation of tensions. The scale of the violence was larger than earlier intermittent conflicts along the border.

Is there any other border conflict of Mizoram?

  • Mizoram has also had border issues with Tripura, particularly over claims and counter-claims over Phuldungsei village in North Tripura district. 
  • The Phuldungsei issue, involving a bid to reconstruct an old temple by the Bru tribal people, had flared up almost at the same time as the 2020 Oct blockade.

What is the genesis of the trouble?

Assam’s argument Mizoram’s Argument
Authorities in Assam say the contested land belongs to Assam according to revenue records.  Authorities from Mizoram said people from Assam violated the status quo – as agreed upon between the two State governments a few years ago – in “no man’s land” to trigger the present crisis.
Officials and locals in Assam claim Mizos have been squatting in areas 1-3 km from the inter-State border. Mizoram groups disagree, claiming that the authorities in Assam have been using “illegal Bangladeshis” to move 10-12 km inside their territory
Assam follows British-era notification of 1933 for demarcation of boundaries. Mizo leaders say this 1933 notification is not acceptable as their ancestors had not been consulted. 

Mizoram insists that the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of a notification in 1875 that distinguished the Lushai Hills (present-day Mizoram and erstwhile district of Assam) from the plains of Cachar. 

The notification is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873 that makes it obligatory for Indians from outside to possess a travel document to enter Mizoram. 

Are there other boundary issues in the northeast?

  • Assam has had boundary problems with all its north-eastern neighbours, except Manipur and Tripura that had existed as separate entities. 
  • State Reorganisation Post Independence: The primary reason is that the other States, which were all part of Assam during the British rule, have contested the boundaries since they separated from Assam and became full-fledged States over a period of time (Nagaland Statehood in 1963; Meghalaya, Tripura & Manipur Statehood in 1971; Arunachal Pradesh & Mizoram Statehood in 1987)
  • Constitutional Solution Vs Historical grounds: Assam has accepted several recommendations of border commissions set up by the Supreme Court, but other States have been sticking to “historical boundaries” that go back to the period before 1826, when the British annexed undivided Assam and included the hills as its provinces. 
  • Issue of Nagaland: The Nagaland government has been insisting that a 16-point agreement of 1960, which led to the creation of Nagaland, also included “restoration” of all Naga territories that had been transferred out of the Naga Hills after the British annexed Assam in 1826.
  • Issue of Meghalaya: Meghalaya has challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1971, claiming that two blocks in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district belonged to the erstwhile United Khasi and Jaintia Hills created in 1835. 
  • Assam’s point of view: Assam says its neighbours have encroached upon more than 75,000 hectares of land. Revenue records of the Assam government say Nagaland has encroached upon 19,819.62 hectares, Arunachal Pradesh 5,756.02 hectares and Meghalaya 65.62 hectares since 2001.

Way Forward

  • Burden borne by common man: The border residents will continue to bear the brunt of the unrest unless an acceptable solution is arrived at.
  • Joint patrolling by police personnel of both the States with Central forces along the inter-State border. 
  • Maintaining Peace & Order: Apart from drawing up the standard operating procedure for guarding the contentious boundary, state governments need to strengthen coordination between the Superintendents of Police of the border districts for prompt action against criminals and anti-social activities that add to the border tension.

Connecting the dots:

  • Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Project
  • Naga Issue: Click Here and Here

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