Rising boundary disputes

Monday Musing

[ Junroi Mamai ]

Recently, there was a meeting of various stakeholders of Changlang district, including MLAs, members of community-based organizations and government officials, to discuss the issue of boundary demarcation between Arunachal and Assam.

The meeting was held against the backdrop of intermittent encroachment carried out by the forest and police department officials of the government of Assam within the areas of Namtok, Manmao, Bordumsa and Kharsang circles in Changlang district. Over the last couple of years, there have been reports of sporadic incidents of Assam’s forest officials encroaching on and erecting landmarks within Phinbiro-I village in Manmao circle of the district. On 10 May, 2020, forest officials from Lekhapani (Assam) allegedly trespassed into Arunachal’s territory and damaged the foundation stone of the rural works department marking the interstate link road, and removed a PHED ODF signboard nearby. An FIR was also lodged by the Changlang district administration against unidentified persons at the Manmao police station. Later, a meeting was also scheduled between the deputy commissioners of Tinsukia (Assam) and Changlang, but nothing came of it. Most recently, on 19 December, 2021, Assam’s officials erected several vertical concrete structures within Phinbiro-I village, which the locals destroyed immediately.

Similar acts of encroachment by Assam government officials have been reported from various parts of the state, like Papum Pare, Kamle, East Kameng, Lower Siang, Longding and other districts, for many years.

Even as talks and rounds of meetings are ongoing, the big question is whether there will be an amicable solution which is acceptable to both parties. It is known to all that Assam has a refugee problem which has been continuously pushing at Assam’s heartland. This has left the Assam government with no option but to shift this huge burden of migrant population towards its boundaries with its neighbouring states of Arunachal, Mizoram and Nagaland. Apart from this, there are issues like the flood resettlement programme of the Assam government, which has shifted population from Assam into these boundary areas. These areas near the boundaries usually have rich forest covers and rivers and are fertile enough for people to settle there.

For example, a couple of years back, the Assam government resettled its flood-affected population near Changlang’s Kharsang circle. Newly settled villages have come up adjacent to Kharsang’s inner line permit Namchik check gate. With only the nearby Burhi Dihing river serving as the boundary between Arunachal and Assam, there is a possibility of further shifting of population towards Arunachal’s boundary. We have seen how the Chakma and Hajong population, which was only a few thousand on their first arrival in the district, have now increased to lakhs as per unofficial reports.

These issues have put a strain on the cordial Arunachal-Assam relationship which they have maintained since ages. There was a time when people from Arunachal were cultivating the plains of Assam till the creation of the NEFA. Things became complicated after the one-sided demarcation of the boundary by the Bordoloi Committee, and the people of Arunachal refused to accept the decision as it was taken without consulting them.

With all the recent talks going on between the state governments as per the directives of the central ministry of home, it is expected that Assam, being the eldest of the seven sister states, will adopt a more benevolent stance and approach this sensitive issue with a positive political will.