Assam-Mizoram border dispute: All you need to know about it

In 1933, the British conducted demarcations in the northeast for separate districts based on culture, linguistic and tribal lines. This led to a new boundary separating Lushai Hills, Cachar, and the former princely state of Manipur.

What is the border dispute between Assam and Mizoram?

On June 30, Mizoram accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kola sib — one of the bordering districts. Assam, in turn, accused Mizoram of building structures and carrying out plantation of betel nut and banana saplings.

Assam-Mizoram border dispute: All you need to know about it, inter-state border dispute.

The dispute over the 165-km Assam-Mizoram border has its origin in British era demarcations and has since led to persistent conflict. Here is all you need to know about it:

In 1875, the first exercise to demarcate present-day Mizoram, then Lushai Hills, from the plains of Cachar in Assam was undertaken to introduce the inner line permit (ILP) regime. The British government demarcated the Lushai Hills under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873. The regulation introduced the ILP regime in the northeast. ILP is a document issued for allowing the travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for some time.

In 1933, the British conducted demarcations in the northeast for separate districts based on culture, linguistic and tribal lines. This led to a new boundary separating Lushai Hills, Cachar, and the former princely state of Manipur. As part of this trifurcation, some parts of Lushai Hills went to Manipur.

What happened between Assam and Mizoram on July 26, 2021?

At least five policemen have died after police from two states fired at each other. The unusual incident happened along the border between Assam and Mizoram states in north-eastern India. Officials from both sides, including chief ministers, have accused each other of provoking violence.

Mizoram backs 1875 demarcation, saying it took place in consultation with then Mizo tribal chefs. Mizoram has rejected the 1933 demarcation saying Mizo tribal chiefs were not consulted then.

Assam backs the carving of districts in north-eastern states as per the 1933 demarcation.

In 1972, Mizoram was carved as a Union territory on basis of 1933 demarcation

When Mizoram was granted statehood in 1987, Mizo tribal leaders raised the border dispute claiming that Assam had taken away their land.

In 1995, the first major skirmishes were reported in Lushai Hills along the border when the Mizoram government tried to settle people there as per the 1875 demarcation. Nearly 50 persons, including journalists, were injured in action by Assam police in 2018 after some Mizo civil society groups tried to set up a hut on the disputed boundary.

In 2019, the two states agreed to maintain a status quo and have no man’s land in the disputed area.

Skirmishes in October 2020 left several injured on both sides and resulted in a blockade of National Highway 306, the lifeline to Mizoram, for 12 days.

Days before this clash, on October 9, similar violence took place on the border of Karimganj (Assam) and Mamit (Mizoram) districts.

Assam’s other border disputes

Assam also has border disputes with Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Arunachal Pradesh, the other states carved out of Assam.

Nagaland and Arunachal border dispute cases are pending in the Supreme Court.

Over 100 people have been killed, most of them on the Assam side, in attacks by armed men from Nagaland in separate incidents in 1979, 1985, and 2014.

The Meghalaya government informed the state assembly in 2020 that 56 incidents related to the border dispute with Assam have taken place since 2017.

Earlier in June this year, two abandoned houses along the Mizoram-Assam border were burned down by unidentified persons, fuelling tension along the volatile inter-state border.

  • Now, early a month after this incident, the border dispute between the two neighbouring states has cropped up again, with both accusing each other of encroaching on their respective territories.

Recent Clashes

  • In February 2018, there was violence when students’ union MZP (Mizo Zirlai Pawl) built a wooden rest house for farmers on land that was claimed by Assam and which was demolished by Assam Police.
  • Again, in October 2020, clashes erupted twice in a week over construction of huts in Lailapur (Assam) on land claimed by Mizoram.

Immediate cause for the dispute:

According to the Mizoram side, people from Assam have violated the status quo – as agreed upon between the two State governments a few years ago – in “no man’s land” to trigger the present crisis.

About the dispute:

  • Mizoram was carved out of Assam as a Union Territory in 1972 and by 1987, it became a full-fledged state.
  • The two states have sparred over this 164.6 km long inter-state border over the past, sometimes leading to violent clashes.

The dispute stems from two notifications passed under British era:

  1. First, notification of 1875, which differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar.
  2. Second, notification of 1933, which demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.

What are the present claims?

  • Mizoram claims that the land is theirs is based on an 1875 notification, which came from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873.
  • Assam for its part claims that the land is theirs. It goes by a 1933 notification by the state government that demarcated the Lushai Hills, which Mizoram was formerly known as, from the province of Manipur.

During colonial times, Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam.

What leads to these clashes?

The border between the two neighbouring states is an imaginary line that changes with the natural obstacles of rivers, hills, valleys and forests. People of Assam and Mizoram have attributed the border conflicts to the differences over this not-so-clear boundary. Hence, often people living in the border areas cross over to the other side as they are not fully aware of the border demarcation.

What is the genesis of Assam-Mizoram boundary dispute?

  • The boundary between present-day Assam and Mizoram, 165 km long today, dates back to the colonial era, when Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam.
  • The dispute stems from a notification of 1875 that differentiated the Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933, which demarcates a boundary between the Lushai Hills and Manipur.
  • Mizoram believes the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873.
  • Mizo leaders have argued in the past against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted.
  • Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation, and that was the point of conflict.
  • According to an agreement between Mizoram and Assam, status quo was to be maintained in the no man’s land in the border area.

Are there other boundary issues in the northeast?

Assam has had boundary problems with all its north-eastern neighbours, except Manipur and Tripura that had existed as separate entities.

  • State Reorganisation Post Independence: The primary reason is that the other States, which were all part of Assam during the British rule, have contested the boundaries since they separated from Assam and became full-fledged States over a period of time (Nagaland Statehood in 1963; Meghalaya, Tripura & Manipur Statehood in 1971; Arunachal Pradesh & Mizoram Statehood in 1987)
  • Constitutional Solution Vs Historical grounds: Assam has accepted several recommendations of border commissions set up by the Supreme Court, but other States have been sticking to “historical boundaries” that go back to the period before 1826, when the British annexed undivided Assam and included the hills as its provinces.
  • Issue of Nagaland: The Nagaland government has been insisting that a 16-point agreement of 1960, which led to the creation of Nagaland, also included “restoration” of all Naga territories that had been transferred out of the Naga Hills after the British annexed Assam in 1826.
  • Issue of Meghalaya: Meghalaya has challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1971, claiming that two blocks in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district belonged to the erstwhile United Khasi and Jaintia Hills created in 1835.
  • Assam’s point of view: Assam says its neighbours have encroached upon more than 75,000 hectares of land. Revenue records of the Assam government say Nagaland has encroached upon 19,819.62 hectares, Arunachal Pradesh 5,756.02 hectares and Meghalaya 65.62 hectares since 2001.

Way Forward

  • Burden borne by common man: The border residents will continue to bear the brunt of the unrest unless an acceptable solution is arrived at.
  • Joint patrolling by police personnel of both the States with Central forces along the inter-State border.
  • Maintaining Peace & Order: Apart from drawing up the standard operating procedure for guarding the contentious boundary, state governments need to strengthen coordination between the Superintendents of Police of the border districts for prompt action against criminals and anti-social activities that add to the border tension.

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