Assam-Meghalaya border dispute explained

Following an incident of violence on November 22, both governments have restricted vehicular and people movements.

On November 22, at least six people, five civilians of Meghalaya and an Assam forest guard, died following ‘unprovoked’ firing by Assam police and state forest guards.

According to Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K Sangma, the Assam Police and forest guards entered Mukroh village in West Jaintia Hills District and resorted to ‘unprovoked’ firing, killing the five civilians of Meghalaya.

“Assam Police and forest guards intercepted a truck carrying timber at Mukroh village and after that, a large number of people from the village reached the spot and surrounded the police and forest guards leading to the firing by the latter,” the Meghalaya CM said.

The following day, reacting to violence, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that police could have shown more restraint before firing bullets to quell the mob.

“Tuesday’s incident has nothing to do with the Assam-Meghalaya border issue. It was a result of a fight between two parties. Some locals and forest guards engaged in fighting which ultimately led to the incident. The loss of six lives is really unfortunate,” the Assam CM said while addressing a group of reporters.

“It seemed to be a case of unprovoked firing. We have suspended a few police and forest department officials. The Superintendent of Police of the district concerned was transferred. A judicial inquiry has already been ordered. We would like to request an NIA (National Investigative Agency) or CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) probe into the incident,” Sarma added.

Border dispute between Assam and Meghalaya

Assam and Meghalaya have a long-standing border dispute of 884 km shared border. During the British colonial rule, undivided Assam included Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Mizoram.

In 1972, Meghalaya was formed as per the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969. The act confirms the formation and recognition of Meghalaya as an Indian state carved from an autonomous state Assam.

However, both states have different interpretations when it comes to borders.

The 1951 Bordoloi Committee’s recommended that Blocks I and II of Jaintia Hills, which is in Meghalaya be transferred to Mikir Hill (Karbi Anglong) district of Assam and Garo Hills of Meghalaya be transferred to Goalpara district of Assam.

Meghalaya, however, rejects the recommendations stating that they belong to the state and not Assam. Assam, on the other hand, states that Meghalaya does not have sufficient historic proof that it belongs to them.

Attempts to resolve border issues

From there, a number of attempts were made to solve the border dispute between the two northeastern states. In 1985, under then Assam chief minister Hiteswar Saikia and Meghalaya chief minister Captain W A Sangma, a committee was formed by the then Chief Justice of India Y V Chandrachud, but no solution came out of that.

New talks resumed from 2021

In July last year, chief ministers Conrad Sangma (Meghalaya) and Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam) held several rounds of talks.

Twelve disputed areas were identified –  three areas contested between West Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya and Kamrup in Assam, two between RiBhoi in Meghalaya and Kamrup-Metro, and one between East Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya and Cachar in Assam.

After contemplating the historical reference, ethnicity, and people’s will, a joint statement between the two states was made. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on March 29 this year between the two chief ministers in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The MoU stated out of 36.79 sq km of the disputed area, Assam would get full control of 18.46 sq km and Meghalaya of 18.33 sq km. 

Second phase of talks

With six areas of disputes resolved in the first phase of talks, the two state governments sat down to resolve the remaining six which were more complicated.

The second phase of talks was supposed to take place by the end of November, which of course was disturbed due to the recent clash.

Latest developments

Following the violence on November 22, both governments have restricted vehicular and people movements.

The Assam Petroleum Mazdoor Union refused to transport fuel to Meghalaya leading to panic. On Friday this week, after the intervention of the Assam government, the mazdoor union leader told reporters that they had called off the strike with a condition that special protection is given to their drivers supplying fuel.

Internet services that were shut down by the Meghalaya government in seven districts were extended to another 48 hours on Saturday.

On Thursday (November 22), following the clash and arson, a sit-in protest and a candlelight vigil were organised in front of the Shillong Civil Hospital, but unfortunately, it turned violent. A few protestors entered the hospital premises and attacked female police constables deployed there. A few media houses reported incidents of petrol bombs and stone pelting.

A candlelight protest called by some groups in protest against violence along the
Assam-Meghalaya border on November 22 (Photo: Twitter/ANI)

There has been little coverage by the mainstream media on this topic. However, journalists, there are continuously posting the latest news on the social media platforms Twitter.

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