Meghalaya enters 2023 with no headway in border dispute with Assam

Inter-state border violence and dispute with neighbouring Assam, ethnic troubles, illegal coal mining are some of the major issues that dominated 2022 in Meghalaya, which however is confident of resolving the complex issues in the new year.

After the November 22 inter-state border violence that killed six people, including five villagers of Meghalaya in the Mukroh village in West Jaintia Hills District along the Assam-Meghalaya inter-state border, the much expected talks between the two states were postponed for an indefinite period.

The postponement also was caused following the order of the Meghalaya High Court which directed that no physical demarcation or erection of boundary posts in six of the 12 disputed areas for which the March 29 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Meghalaya and Assam shall be carried out “till the next date”.

The MoU was signed after several decades of inter-state border disputes. It was signed in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma and his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma on March 29 “resolving” the six of the 12 disputed areas along the two states in the first phase.

However, four traditional heads of the Khasi Syiemship and Sirdarship in Meghalaya had filed a writ petition in the High Court seeking a stay of the operation of the MoU signed by the two states.

There are 36 disputed villages in the six disputed areas — Tarabari, Hahim, Pilangkata, Khanapara, Ratacheera and Gijang — covering 36.79 square kilometres.

Of the 36.79 sq km of disputed area taken up for settlement in the first phase, Assam would get full control of 18.46 sq km and Meghalaya of 18.33 sq km.

Assam Chief Minister and the state’s Special Director General of Police (law and order), G.P. Singh claimed that the November 22 incident was not linked with the inter-state border dispute. They said that the incident purely related to timber smuggling case

“The forest department and the police would conduct a proper investigation into the incidents of smuggling of forest resources in the bordering area,” Singh had said.

Ahead of the border violence, serious ethnic troubles erupted in Meghalaya after the influential Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP) brought out a big rally in the capital city Shillong on October 28 demanding to resolve the unemployment problems in the state.

According to eyewitnesses, a section of FKJGP members, many of them masked, punched, kicked and pushed passersby indiscriminately, injuring a large number of people, mostly non-tribals, causing panic and huge traffic jams in the area.

The November 22 inter-state border violence and October 28 ethnic troubles caused serious law and order problems in Meghalaya forcing the authorities to suspend the mobile Internet data services for several days.

After these incidents movement of people, including tourists and all kinds of vehicles, including goods laden trucks were badly affected for several weeks between Meghalaya and outside the states.

Meghalaya, along with Nagaland and Tripura, are slated to go for polls in February and the inter-state border issues, illegal mining, unemployment, alleged scams among other issues likely to dominate the electioneering.

Months ahead of the crucial Assembly elections, six MLAs, including two Congress and two ruling National People’s Party (NPP), quit their respective parties and joined other parties. Four f the six joined the BJP.

In another major political development, West Bengal based Trinamool Congress became the main opposition party in Meghalaya after former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma (2010-2018), along with 11 Congress MLAs, quit the party and joined the Trinamool.

Trinamool supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, party’s National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee and other party leaders recently visited the northeastern state to rejuvenate the party.

In another development, the relations among the alliance partners of the 6-party Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government have been souring during the past several months with the BJP threatening to withdraw its support from the MDA.

With eight MLAs United Democratic Party (UDP) and with two MLAs BJP are partners of the MDA government, dominated by the NPP headed by Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma.

However, the NPP, BJP and the UDP had already announced that they are going to contest Assembly elections early next year as separate entities.

Over eight years ago the illegal coal mining, including the more dangerous practice of rat-hole mining banned by the National Green Tribunal after terming it as unscientific and most hazardous, the prohibited activities, however, continues in Meghalaya and other northeastern states despite the Supreme Court and High Court’s series of subsequent directions.

Environmental experts, activists and various NGOs have protested the illegal coal mining, saying that the illegal activities continued with the active support of a section of most powerful politicians while the law enforcing agencies remained silent.

To meet their election expenditure and to create their assets, a section of political leaders sponsors the coal mafia and coal traders of both northeast and outside the region to do the illegal trades and activities, destroying the environment and often killing poor people.

Rat-hole mining, an extremely unsafe practice in Meghalaya, Assam and other northeastern states, involves digging narrow tunnels, each of which fits only one person to enter and extract coal by poor and young people for their livelihood benefiting the coal traders.

The full bench of the Meghalaya High Court led by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee strongly criticised the state government on December 7, and said that despite several orders from the Supreme Court, High Court and the NGT, illegal mining of coal continues in the state, with possible ‘state participation and even encouragement’.

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

20221225-100403

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