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Assam-Mizoram Border Row: Can The Supreme Court Find A Solution?

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Following the deadly clashes that erupted on Monday, the Assam government has decided to approach the Supreme Court for the protection of the Innerline Forest Reserve from destruction and encroachment by Mizoram.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters that Mizoram had been clearing forests for cultivation and construction of roads at Lailapur in Cachar. He added that three commando battalions would also be deployed in the border districts to curb further disturbances.

Amit Shah Had 'Resolved' to End Disputes

On Monday, five Assam Police personnel and a civilian were killed and at least 50 people were injured as policemen from the two states allegedly fired at each other in an unexpected escalation of the border row. Predictably, both state governments have put out their own explanations for the violence that broke out just two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared the Centre’s resolve to end such disputes in the Northeast.

The episode came on the heels of sporadic clashes since October last year along the 165 km inter-state border. Earlier this month, the Assam Police alleged that a mob from Mizoram triggered IED blasts after fresh attempts to encroach land.

Also Read: Border Row: Home Secy Meets Mizoram Officials, Assam Cong Team Stopped

Three districts of Mizoram — Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit — share the border with Assam’s Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts. Besides the current spot at Cachar, the two states are engaged in a dispute along the Karimganj-Mamit border as well.

Assam also has border disputes with the neighbouring states of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, which have flared up occasionally in the past several decades. In 1989, Assam had approached the Supreme Court for demarcation of the border with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, but nothing has been achieved so far.

So far, two commissions have submitted reports to the top court on the boundary disputes, but the recommendations could not be implemented due to the state governments’ reluctance to accept them.

Likewise, the proposals submitted by two commissions appointed by the Centre — the Sundaram Commission (1971) and the Shastri Commission (1985) — to settle the Assam-Nagaland border dispute were consigned to the backburner as the states were unwilling to budge from their positions.

Conflict and Constitutional Provisions

The Union Home Ministry, which has faced the ire of Opposition parties for the government’s inability to prevent the clash, has reiterated its argument in favour of “mutual understanding” and “cooperation” by the state governments to resolve the disputes. Shah also highlighted this in Shillong on July 24 while asserting that the Centre was keen to resolve all border rows in the region.

A section of people familiar with the disputes believes that the Centre ought to have stepped in to resolve the crisis.

“The Constitutional border can be determined, delineated and demarcated by reading the Constitutional provisions, underlying Acts and determining what areas constituted the erstwhile Lushai Hills District established in 1952. Using the Survey of India maps, the Home Ministry must help demarcate the border on the ground to stop the clashes at the border,” said Krishna Sarma, who was Additional Advocate-General of Assam in Supreme Court and had appeared for the state in the pending suits (with Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh) from 2001-2016. “This applies to other inter-state border disputes as well.”

Sarma’s argument of studying the Constitutional provisions and Acts is shared by an Advocate-General of a state in the Northeast, who is of the opinion that the Home Ministry should have a “proactive” role in such issues.

Assam and Mizoram Perceive the Border Differently

Mizoram used to be a part of Assam and was called “Lushai Hills”. It became a Union Territory in 1972 and a state in 1987. The dispute has its origin in the colonial era, when two border notifications were issued. The notification of 1875 drew a line between the Lushai Hills and Cachar plains, and another in 1933 demarcated a boundary between the Lushai Hills and Manipur. Mizoram believes the boundary should be fixed on the basis of the 1875 notification, while Assam feels it is the 1933 order that ought to be the basis for determining the border.

(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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