Arunachal-Assam border dispute
Context: After the recent progress made in Assam-Meghalaya border dispute, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu and his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma decided to form district-level committees for settling their inter-state boundary disputes.
- This has set the ball rolling for the two States to address the issue on the basis of the “fifty-fifty” or “give-and-take” model Assam and Meghalaya followed for closure of the disputes in six of its 12 troublesome sectors.
Why does Arunachal Pradesh have a boundary dispute with Assam?
- 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.
What is the 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 regulation vaguely separating the plains from the frontier hills that were later designated as the North-East Frontier Tracts in 1915.
- 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 Pradesh has been celebrating its statehood on a grand scale with an eye on China since 1987, but what has been causing resentment is the inability of the people living in the transferred patches to join in the celebration.
- 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.
Did the two States try settling the boundary dispute earlier?
- 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 Pradesh 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 besides advising both the States to find a middle path through discussions. This did not work out.
What are the chances of a solution emerging this time?
- The Assam-Meghalaya boundary agreement has raised hopes of the Assam-Arunachal boundary dispute being resolved, especially with the Centre pushing 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 Bharatiya Janata Party with the same political dispensation at the Centre.
- Following the model adopted in the exercise to resolve the dispute with Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have agreed to form district-level committees that will be tasked with undertaking joint surveys in the disputed sectors.
- The intention is find tangible solutions to the long-pending issue based on
- historical perspective,
- people’s will
- administrative convenience of both the States.
- 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.
Connecting the dots