Who were the protesters Assam police fired on?
They were residents of Assam’s Golaghat district protesting recent attacks from people from across the Nagaland border. Since last week, nine people have been killed in border villagers and thousands have fled. The last few decades have seen several such attacks over ownership and encroachment of land. The two states have been disputing their shared border ever since one was carved out of the other.
What is the nature of the dispute?
Ever since Nagaland was carved out of Assam’s Naga Hills district in 1963, Nagaland has been demanding some portions that the hill state believes “historically” belongs to it. 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. The Assam government’s stand is to maintain the boundary “constitutionally” as decided on December 1, 1963, when the hill state was created.
How much land is under dispute, or has been encroached?
Assam and Nagaland share a 434-km boundary. Assam says Nagaland has been encroaching upon over 66,000 hectares in Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. This includes over 42,000 hectares in Golaghat alone (the site of the recent trouble). The encroached area also includes over 80 per cent of reserved forests. Assam says Nagaland has set up three civil subdivisions on Assam territory. Nagaland, on the other hand, insists that more tracts under Assam “occupation” belong to Nagaland. The NSCN(IM), incidentally, wants the entire Assam tract south of the Guwahati-Dibrugarh railway track in these four districts in “Greater Nagalim”.
How frequent is border friction?
There has been a series of violent incidents since Nagaland was created. Two major incidents took place in 1979 and 1985, leaving at least 100 persons dead between them. On January 5, 1979, 54 Assam villagers were killed in a series of attacks by armed men from Nagaland in Chungajan, Uriamghat and Mikirbheta of Golaghat district, while over 23,500 persons fled to relief camps. In June 1985, a major flare-up at Merapani, also in Golaghat, left 41 persons dead on the Assam side. These included 28 Assam Police personnel. In both incidents, Assam claimed that the attackers included Nagaland Police personnel.
What efforts have been made to resolve this?
The two states have held a series of meetings at various levels, including that of the chief ministers. The Centre, for its part, in August 1971 appointed K V K Sundaram, then chairman of the Law Commission, as adviser in the MHA for matters of Assam-Nagaland. Sundaram suggested a joint survey of the border, which Nagaland did not agree to. The two states, however, signed four interim agreements in 1972 to maintain status quo. On January 25, 1979, the prime minister wrote to the Nagaland chief minister to take firm action against miscreants on the Nagaland side of the boundary.
In March 1981, the union home minister asked both chief ministers to resolve the issue through discussion while strictly adhering to basic constitutional aspects. In 1988, the Assam government filed a title suit in the Supreme Court to determine and delineate the constitutional boundary of each state. In September 2006, the apex court set up a three-member local commission headed by a retired SC judge to identify the boundary. The commission has submitted its report to the court, but a final decision has not yet been made.