Union Government’s efforts have finally resulted in a landmark agreement between Assam and Meghalaya to resolve the five-decade-long boundary dispute
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of an united and progressive North East is finally taking its shape with the growing understanding and cooperation between the States of the region. The agreement signed between Assam and Meghalaya to resolve the decade-long border dispute is a walk towards the goal. The endeavour was started with an initiative by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah to resolve the border disputes amongst the Northeastern States. Both Assam and Meghalaya Chief Ministers appreciate the political will shown by the Union Government towards a successful conclusion of the long pending issue.
According to the MoU signed in Delhi, in presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, between Meghalaya and Assam, Meghalaya stands to gain 18.28 square kilometre, while Assam will keep 18.51 sq km out of the 36.79 sq km in respect to the 6 out of 12 areas of disputes resolved between the two States.
After several rounds of discussions between Assam and Meghalaya Chief Ministers and other officials, the MoU was finally signed between Meghalaya and Assam Chief Ministers Conrad K Sangma and Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma respectively on March 29, 2022.
Meghalaya was bifurcated from Assam in 1972. However, the boundaries of the two States were not properly demarcated by the then Government. Since then for 50 years both the States had been facing boundary disputes resulting in a sour relationship between the neighbours. Similar problems are being faced by Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram which were also bifurcated from Assam in 1970s. But the lack of political will by the previous Governments in the Centre and lack of coordination amongst the State Governments of the region led to irreconsilable differences between the two States. Violent clashes were seen between forces of Assam and Mizoram in the State border in July last year where 6 police personnel of Assam side lost their lives.
Fortunately, constant efforts have been made by the Union Government led by Home Minister Amit Shah to end the boundary disputes amongst the North Eastern States by 2023. On the other hand, all the State Governments of the region now have better coordination under the umbrella of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
Taking advantage of the newly created regional understanding, the Central Government is pushing the States to reach an amicable solution vis-a-vis their boundary disputes. This has resulted in the recently signed MoU between Assam and Meghalaya to permanently end the boundary disputes.
After the signing of the MoU, Assam CM Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “We have reached a solution on 6 disputed areas out of 12. Talks will continue to sort out the disputes in other 6 disputed areas. Initiative to find out an amicable solution with Arunachal Pradesh is in the final stages. Talks have started with Nagaland and Mizoram also. If all the boundary disputes amongst the states end in the region we will be able to work towards the economic, social and cultural development of the North East unitedly.”
The agreement was signed after several rounds of high-level committees of both the States headed by Cabinet Ministers of both the State Governments. It was also elaborately discussed in the CM-level talks held in Guwahati and Shillong. The high level committees also visited the disputed areas and discussed with the locals living in the disputed areas. Both the States also agreed that this MoU shall be full and final agreement in respect of the aforesaid six areas of difference.
The areas mentioned in the MoU are approximate and have been arrived at through exercise using spatial technologies. They will be more accurately determined during a detailed survey to be undertaken by Survey of India in presence of the representatives from both the State Governments. The sole purpose of this MoU is to settle the inter-State boundary between the States of Assam and Meghalaya in respect of 6 areas of difference out of total 12 areas of difference.
Subsequently, on August 6, 2021, it was decided that regional committees headed by a Cabinet Minister of both the States with local MLAs and other officials as members from both sides for the 6 areas of difference covering three districts each on both sides were to be constituted for jointly visiting the areas followed by their independent analysis of the areas of difference using 5 mutually agreed principles – historical perspective, ethnicity of local population, contiguity with boundary, people’s will and administrative convenience as yardsticks.
Buoyed by the agreement, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said, “This has happened due to the political will shown by the Prime Minister and initiative taken by the Union Home Minister. It has been instructed by the Central Government that boundary disputes of the region be solved at the earliest so that we can progress unitedly. We hope after this landmark agreement we will move forward to resolve the disputes in another 6 areas on the Assam-Meghalaya border.”
In pursuance of this decision, the Government of Assam and Government of Meghalaya notified three regional committees for Ri Bhoi, West Khasi Hills and East Jaintia Hills districts with terms of reference which included inter alia to coordinate with the counterpart regional committees to jointly visit the villages and interact with the local communities.
The three committees of Assam and Meghalaya conducted joint inspections, visited six areas of difference, carried out consultations not only with villagers and local communities living in the areas but also with other stakeholders like political parties and civil society organisations. Both the Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya also visited one of the disputed areas and held discussions with the locals.
Following which both the CMs held a meeting in Guwahati on December 22, 2021 and decided that the regional committees of both States will share their reports with their counterparts by December 31, 2022.
After the regional committees submitted their reports, both Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma and Conrad Sangma met Union Home Minister Amit Shah to discuss the outcome of the border dispute resolution process.The framework of the MoU was decided at that meeting. Both the Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya again met on January 12, 2022 in Guwahati along with the regional committee of both the States, wherein it was agreed upon that the reports of the regional committees will be consolidated and the joint report of both the States will be submitted to both the Chief Ministers so that the matter can be taken up with the Government of India.
The final para of the signed agreement reads, “It was decided that any other areas/villages situated outside the area of difference shown in the maps submitted by Meghalaya vide their letter dated August 8, 2011 will not be considered. Now, therefore this MoU is drawn between the states of Assam and Meghalaya to record the agreed position arrived at between the two states and to conclude the process of joint consultations.”
After the landmark agreement to resolve the boundary disputes between Assam and Meghalaya, it is said that news doors have opened towards a peaceful solution of disputes amongst the NE States related to border issues. Experts say that with bold and progressive political will, disputes can be resolved even if it is five-decade long pending one, which would be a new dawn for a united and prosperous North East India.