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Assam and Meghalaya governments must not let the recent violence derail the border talks between the two states

There is a concern in Delhi that Tuesday's incident could derail the dialogue. Assam and Meghalaya must guard against that.

Assam Meghalaya peace talks, Assam, Meghalaya, Assam Meghalaya tensions, Assam and Meghalaya unrest, Conrad Sangma, Assam bjp, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Indian express, Opinion, Editorial, Current AffairsIn recent times, Assam's BJP government has come under fire for a high number of “encounters” involving alleged lawbreakers such as drug peddlers, poachers and smugglers.

Less than eight months after Assam and Meghalaya agreed to hold talks to resolve their five-decade-long border dispute, an untoward incident is threatening to disturb the fragile peace in the region. On Tuesday, six persons including a forest guard were killed in a clash between the Assam police and a mob in the area bordering West Karbi Anglong district of Assam and Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills. Reports indicate the incident was triggered by an alleged incident of timber smuggling and the Assam Police seems to have opened fire in self-defence. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma has, however, accused the security forces of “unprovoked firing” and has sought a probe by central agencies. The state will constitute a judicial commission and a Special Investigation Team to probe the incident, he said. The Assam government has also formed a one-member commission and asked for its report within three months. It has also issued a border alert. The two governments must exercise caution and do nothing that will make matters boil over.

In recent times, Assam’s BJP government has come under fire for a high number of “encounters” involving alleged lawbreakers such as drug peddlers, poachers and smugglers. Years of fighting insurgency may have given Assam Police a sense of immunity in using extra-legal means. The Gauhati High Court is currently hearing a PIL on encounter killings. According to an affidavit submitted by the state government to the court in July, 51 people have been killed and more than 70 injured in police action between May 2021 and June this year. The state government maintains that law-enforcing authorities do not cross boundaries. But CM Himanta Biswa Sarma’s — who also holds the home portfolio — frequent statements about the state’s zero-tolerance policy towards criminals have invited criticism about the Assam government encouraging a trigger-happy attitude in the police force.

Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972 on the basis of the Assam Reorganisation Act of 1969, but governments in Shillong have always contested the border-related provision of this legislation. In 2011, Meghalaya identified 12 disputed stretches along the 880-km border between the two states. Since July last year, Sarma and Sangma have been in talks to solve the dispute. The second round of talks that begin in March is scheduled to begin at the end of this month. There is a concern in Delhi that Tuesday’s incident could derail the dialogue. Assam and Meghalaya must guard against that.

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First published on: 24-11-2022 at 06:35:18 am
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