A British Raj legacy, the worst is over for Assam-Mizoram border row

The decades old Assam-Mizoram inter-state border dispute, which was created mainly due to the erstwhile British government notifications under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) in 1875, seems to be waning following the intervention of the Centre and the Chief Ministers of the two states.

A series of skirmishes have taken place since 1994 along the 164.6-km-long Assam-Mizoram border which became frequent since 2018.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga held a second Chief Minister-level meeting in New Delhi on September 21 and decided to resolve the situation much like the Assam-Meghalaya and Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border disputes have been. It was decided to form a few committees which will visit ground zero and will put up their recommendations for a permanent solution to the vexed border issue.

The worst-ever violence happened on July 26 last year when the police forces of the two states exchanged fire on the disputed area near Vairengte village on the National Highway-306 that left six Assam Police personnel dead.

Around 60 people from both states were injured in the fierce clash, which was

followed by a blockade organised by the residents of Assam’s Lailapur village on the National Highway-306, the lifeline of mountainous Mizoram for nearly a month forcing the latter to procure medicines, essentials and transport fuels through other routes and alternative arrangements.

The unprecedented tension and various other troubles were resolved after a few weeks with the intervention of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Home Ministry officials and Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga.

The first Chief Minister-level meeting was held in New Delhi in November last year in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah while two ministerial-level meetings led by Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana and Assam Border Protection and Development Minister Atul Bora were held in Aizawl and it was resolved to settle the border disputes amicably.

The border dispute between the two states is a long standing issue, which remains permanently unsettled yet.

With a population of 1.1 million (2011 census), India’s second least populous state Mizoram was one of the districts of Assam until 1972, when it was carved out as a Union Territory. After the signing of the Peace Accord, the Memorandum of Settlement in 1986, which ended two decades of strife and insurgency, the mountainous Mizoram became the 23rd state of India on February 20, 1987.

The border dispute mainly came out of two colonial notifications, the inner line reserved forest notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) in 1875 and the boundary indicated in the Survey of India’s Map in 1933.

While Mizoram claimed the 509 square miles stretch of the inner line reserved forest as its actual boundary, Assam said the 1933 boundary is its constitutional boundary.

The border has been witnessing skirmishes especially since 1994 and it has become frequent since 2018.

Prior to 2020, though a border dispute existed, the situation along the Assam-Mizoram border had remained relatively calm, barring a few instances in 1994 and in 2007.

Following an incident along the inter-state border in 2007, Mizoram claimed that it does not accept the present boundary with Assam and that the inner line along the Reserved Forest as described in the 1875 notification under the BEFR of 1873 should be the basis for delineating the border and not the 1933 district boundary demarcation which Assam wants to be enforced.

The 164.6-km inter-state border separates Assam and Mizoram, with the three Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj sharing a border with Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts of Mizoram.

Further, the boundary between Mizoram and Assam follows naturally occurring barriers of hills, valleys, rivers and forests, and both sides have attributed border skirmishes to perceptional differences over an imaginary line.

In the Northeast’s complex boundary equations, clashes between Assam and Mizoram residents are less frequent than they are between other neighbouring states of Assam, like with Nagaland.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

20220924-185002

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