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Assam Oppn parties slam govt proposal to resolve boundary dispute with Meghalaya

The Assam and Meghalaya governments have jointly submitted a proposal to resolve disputes along six areas along the inter-state border. CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the disputes were a result of Congress party's 'historic blunder'.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: January 23, 2022 9:17:16 pm
Assam, MeghalayaHimanta Biswa Sangma and Conrad Sarma met Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday to discuss the issue. (File photo)

Following the Assam and Meghalaya government’s joint proposal to resolve the dispute along six of twelve areas along the inter-state border, Opposition parties in Assam have termed the move “unconstitutional” and likened it to effectively “sacrificing land” to the neighbouring hill state.

Since August, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma have been in talks to solve the long-standing border dispute along its 884-km-long border, which has witnessed flare-ups frequently.

Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia of the Congress alleged that Sarma had gone ahead and submitted a proposal to Union Home Minister Shah “without even a discussion in the State Assembly.” “This is irresponsible and unconstitutional,” said Saikia, asking that the recommendations be rescinded and demanding a special session in the Assembly to discuss the issue.

Responding to Saikia, CM Sarma said it was the Congress who had made the “historic blunder”, and formed the states out of Assam “without trying to solve disputes”. “The Congress may be pointing fingers now… but as a result of their historic blunder, the people of northeast are suffering now,” Sarma said, in a press conference in Guwahati. “Not just Meghalaya, Congress was responsible for creating Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland by dividing Assam. If they had solved the boundary issues at the time of creation, there would be no disputes now,” Sarma added.

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During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which later became separate states. Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972, and has held a different interpretation of the border since.

In all, there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states. In August, Sangma and Sarma announced that six areas (Hahim, Gizang, Tarabari, Boklapara, Khanapara-Pilingkata, Ratacherra) had been selected for resolution in the first phase.

Over the next few months, minister-level committees formed by both states made visits. On Wednesday, the Assam Cabinet approved the recommendations, which proposed that out of the 36.79 sq km of disputed area taken up for settlement in the first phase, Assam will get control over 18.51 sq km and Meghalaya over 18.28 sq km. Both Sangma and Sarma met Union Minister Shah on Thursday.

Regional parties Raijor Dal (RD) and Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), too, have criticised the recommendations. MLA Akhil Gogoi of Raijor Dal alleged that Sarma had “rushed” through the process to “show that he was an effective CM”. “This is a constitutional boundary and only the Parliament can change it with the assent of the President,” said Gogoi.

The AJP’s Jagadish Bhuyan said that the interests of the people had not been kept in mind before making this decision. “There have been many instances of encroachment of Meghalaya into Assam. Now, it seems that the encroached land has been given away to Meghalaya…even we want an agreement with our neighbours. But agreement and sacrifice are two different things,” he said.

On January 18, Sarma had held separate meetings with leaders of different political parties as well as various students’ unions on the issue. In a PowerPoint presentation by the state government, it was said that the recommendations were made using five mutually agreed principles including historical perspective, ethnicity of local population, contiguity with boundary, peoples’ will and administrative convenience.

BJP’s Pijush Hazarika, who headed one of the committees from the Assam side, said that the Opposition “did not want a solution”. “They are not concerned about the people who continue to suffer. We took into account many factors including administrative convenience and people’s sentiments before making the recommendations. We also visited the sites multiple times,” he said, adding that in the first phase the division was roughly fifty-fifty. “But in the second phase, Assam may gain more land,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sarma on Sunday said that the state government had submitted the report, and the ball was in the Centre’s court.

He said, “If states fight amongst themselves, we can’t go to Delhi and ask for something together as a region. Without losing land, if we can come to an agreement, what is the problem?”

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