Decades of unresolved boundary disputes between India's northeastern states often lead to ethnic conflicts, and the October 17 flare-up on the Assam-Mizoram border was no exception.
In the latest incident, violence erupted over a Covid-19 testing centre set up by Mizoram — within territory claimed by Assam — to sample Mizoram-bound truckers and other people, NDTV reported.
A group of youths from Mizoram’s Kolasib district came to Lailapur in southern Assam’s Cachar district and allegedly attacked truck drivers and villagers before setting ablaze shops and houses, locals claimed.
Tension was defused following the intervention of the Centre and the stranded trucks were allowed to move.
In another incident, Mizoram and Tripura locked horns over the construction of a temple by a Bru organisation in the bordering Zampui Phuldungsai village, which both states claim as part of their territory. There was no report of any clash in the area though.
Perhaps this incident could have been avoided if the Tripura government had paid heed to Mizoram’s plea to reconsider the plan for settlement of displaced Brus in the Mizo-inhabited Zampui Hills and surrounding areas. In May this year, Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga had written to his Tripura counterpart Biplab Kumar Deb as well as union home minister Amit Shah highlighting this issue.
More than 30,000 Bru tribals have been living as refugees in Tripura since they fled Mizoram in 1997 following ethnic clashes with the Mizos.
According to an agreement signed on January 16, 2020, by Bru representatives, the Centre, Tripura and Mizoram governments, all displaced Bru tribals will permanently settle in Tripura.
Genesis of boundary disputes
The ‘Seven Sisters’, as the NE states are collectively known, are notorious for their interstate boundary disputes. Assam has a long history of land tussles with states such as Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh which were once part of it. For instance, Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills in undivided Assam; it was given the status of a union territory in 1972 and then became a full-fledged state on February 20, 1987.
However, Assam does not have any boundary conflict with Manipur and Tripura. The two former princely states were annexed to India after its independence and both attained full statehood on January 21, 1972, according to the provisions of the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971.
The latest Assam-Mizoram border clash was a result of conflicting territorial claims that have persisted for over two decades. Similar incidents of violence were reported in 1994, 2007, and, more recently, in March 2018. According to the Land Conflict Watch portal, the current dispute can be traced back to an 1875 notification of the Government of India.
Mizoram, which shares a 164-km border with Assam, apparently refuses to accept the present boundary and suggests that the Inner-Line Reserve Forest, as described in the 1875 notification under the East Bengal Frontier Regulation of 1873, should be the basis of delineating the border.
The Mizoram government had in 2012 constituted a 5-member committee to resolve the matter, but its request to the Centre to form a boundary commission has not yielded any result yet.
The deadliest attacks
Among the NE states, the boundary dispute between Assam and Nagaland is the most prominent one with a long history of violence. Thousands of hectares of land spread across three upper Assam districts of Jorhat, Golaghat and Sivasagar are allegedly under the occupation of Nagaland.
In August 2014, at least 16 people lost their lives, and thousands fled their homes following attacks by suspected Naga militants along the Assam-Nagaland border in Golaghat district. Prior to that, as many as 100 people were killed, allegedly by Naga miscreants in separate attacks in 1979 and 1985.
The Centre’s attempts to resolve the dispute through commissions – the KVK Sundaram Commission in 1971 and then the Shastri Commission in 1985 – failed. Assam then moved the Supreme Court seeking a permanent injunction restraining Nagaland from encroaching upon its land.
Last month, a high-level meeting took place between the governments of the two states in a bid to find a permanent solution to their boundary dispute.
According to revenue records of the Assam government, Nagaland encroached upon 19,819.62 hectares of its land, Arunachal Pradesh 5,756.02 hectares and Meghalaya 65.62 hectares since 2001.
(The author is a senior journalist and writer based in Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)