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‘Give & take’: How Assam & Meghalaya struck an agreement on a 50-year-old boundary dispute

Guwahati: After several months, the governments of Assam and Meghalaya have come up with a draft resolution to resolve their border disputes in six of the 12 “areas of difference” along the 884-km boundary. 

According to the proposed recommendations for the 36.79 square km of land, Assam will keep 18.51 square km and give the remaining 18.28 square km to Meghalaya.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma met Union Home Minister Amit Shah Thursday evening and submitted the proposed recommendations. 

Meghalaya cabinet minister Renikton Lyngdoh Tongkhar told ThePrint that “five principles” — including the will of the people living in the disputed areas — had been considered to decide which area would fall in which state. “Considering those, we have come to a conclusion,” said Tongkhar, who is also chairman of the regional committee on the border issue for the West Khasi Hills. 

Both the Assam and Meghalaya cabinets had approved the recommendations Wednesday. 

Leaders of several Opposition parties in Assam objected to the recommendations, expressing worry that their state was giving up more than Meghalaya and saying that further consultations and discussions in the legislature were necessary.

Unlike in Assam, however, MLAs of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the main Opposition party in Meghalaya, weren’t consulted. George Lyngdoh of the TMC told ThePrint that he wasn’t in the know about the contents of the proposal. He said, “We are yet to be informed about the deliberations and the proposed agreement. We do expect this (for the government to consult us) but this is left to their discretion.”

ThePrint contacted Assam cabinet ministers Pijush Hazarika and Atul Bora — who also head regional committees — via calls. Calls to Meghalaya CM Sangma went unanswered too. This report will be updated with their comments when they respond. 

Also read: TMC has stormed into Meghalaya with a bang. But these 3 factors will decide its fate there

How the resolution came about

The long-standing land dispute was sparked in 1972 when Meghalaya was carved out of Assam. The border issues came about as a result of different readings of the demarcation of boundaries in the initial agreement for the new state’s creation.

A presentation prepared by the Assam government for a meeting Tuesday states that “12 areas of differences evolved over time since 1993”. Over the years, at least 50 high-level meetings have been held to resolve these border issues.

In a meeting on 23 July, the two state governments decided to work towards the resolution of disputes in six sectors: Hahim, Gizang, Tarabari, Boklapara, Khanapara-Pilingkata and Ratacherra. 

The Assam and Meghalaya governments then set up regional committees headed by cabinet ministers from the two states to study these areas. 

The committees adopted a “five-phase approach”, which included the “exchange of records”, “joint field visits”, detailed deliberations, negotiations, and then the preparation of the final recommendations. In each of the areas, the committees would take into account the composition of the local population.

The recommendations for each of the six sectors are as follows:

Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint
Graphic: Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

Consultations, opposition to resolution

Assam CM Sarma held a meeting Tuesday on the draft agreement with representatives of the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), and the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL).

During the meeting, Opposition parties in Assam raised concerns over the “give-and-take” policy that has been recommended.

Congress MLA Debabrata Saikia, Leader of the Opposition in the Assam legislative assembly, who was present at the meeting, was of the opinion that Assam had compromised more than Meghalaya had.

Speaking to ThePrint, he said, “If we adopt this give-and-take policy, the other states (with which Assam has land disputes) will start demanding more.”

Referring to the earlier committees and discussions on the issue, Saikia said he had witnessed a heated confrontation between the two states.

“But such things were not reflected (in the resolution). Then how can we say that the resolution is impartial and it is not done under duress? It can’t easily be done, that’s what I have said,” he said.

Aminul Islam of the AIUDF, who also participated in the meeting, said the matter should be discussed in Assam’s legislature. He welcomed “the process to settle the issue”, but raised concerns that people belonging to Assam might be evicted as a result of the “give-and-take” policy.

“When other states occupy our land, the government is very soft, I can’t understand this,” he said, adding that the original constitutional boundary should be final for every state.

Meanwhile, Raijor Dal president and Sibsagar MLA Akhil Gogoi in a letter to the chief minister Thursday said that such resolutions can’t come about without consulting the state’s people.

“According to media reports, tension had prevailed during the recent minister-level meetings between Assam and Meghalaya. Media reports also stated that in some meetings, people of Meghalaya forcefully stopped the people of Assam from taking part in such meetings. In such a situation, any decision taken in a hurry would be disastrous to the interest of Assam,” Gogoi wrote.

Sarma had also held interactions with representatives of students’ organisations including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), All Rabha Students’ Union, All Assam Gorkha Students’ Union, and Garo Students’ Union.

ThePrint spoke to Samajjul Bhattacharya, chief adviser to AASU and adviser to the Northeast Students’ Organisation (NESO). He said, “AASU and NESO want a permanent solution to the border issues of the seven states. We welcome the initiative taken by the Assam and Meghalaya governments, and this should continue.”

He added, “Regarding the six areas, we want to visit the places, and all the student bodies will discuss with the people and then give our opinion to the government.”

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: Judicial probe into brutal Assam eviction hasn’t begun in 3 months, 1st staffer appointed now

Source: The Print

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