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.
The Assam-Mizoram Border conflict is not a new one; the dispute has persisted for a while. Several dialogues held since 1995 to resolve the dispute yielded little result. After a massive tussle in 2018, the border row resurfaced in August last year. The matter further escalated in February but was defused after a series of parleys with the intervention of the Centre.
Before we dwell on to details about the border dispute, let's take a look at what happened today.
What were the recent clashes about?
While Mizoram on Wednesday accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kolasib district which borders Assam, officials and legislators from Assam accused Mizoram of building structures and planting betel nut and banana saplings allegedly 10 kilometres inside Hailakandi in Assam. This comes days after Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he was working to bring about settlements with all bordering states.
Here's how events panned out:
- Kolasib district's superintendent of police Vanlalfaka Ralte claimed that over a hundred officials and policemen led by Assam's Hailakandi district deputy commissioner and SP entered Mizoram's territory and have been camping there since Tuesday.
- The area, locally known as Aitlang hnar or the source of river Aitlang, is considered to be part of Mizoram and is about five km from Vairengte village in Kolasib district which borders Assam.
- However, Katlicherra's AIUDF MLA Suzamuddin Laskar alleged that residents of Mizoram have encroached around 10 kilometres of Assams land in Chuninullah, Aisonanglon villages under Dholcherra-Phaisen bordering area.
- Assam government officials added that a team from Hailakandi comprising Divisional Forest Officer Montaj Ali, Border DSP Nirmal Ghosh, and others rushed to the border but were stopped by Mizo encroachers and forced to return. The residents of Vairengte work on plantations in the area, which they claim belongs to Mizoram since time immemorial, Ralte said.
- A host of district officials and police personnel from Assam arrived and forcefully seized the area on Tuesday, he alleged. "It is pure aggression by the neighbouring state as the area belongs to Mizoram. The local farmers were forced to flee for fear of being attacked by armed personnel," Ralte, who is currently camping at the site, told PTI.
- Officials of both states held a discussion at the site on Tuesday but Assam officials refused to withdraw from the area, he alleged. Residents of Vairengte, who rushed to the site, were however sent back home to prevent violence, the police officer added.
Kolasib's deputy commissioner H Lalthlangliana is also in the area. Three districts of Mizoram — Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit — share about a 164.6 km border with Assam's Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts.
So was this a one-off conflict?
No, it's not. Assam and Mizoram share a 164.6-km state border. As mentioned in an article in The Times of India, conflicting territorial claims have persisted for a long time, and several dialogues held since 1995 have yielded little result.
The Centre, last year, held high-level talks with the two-state governments to work out a temporary solution to defuse tension brewing at both sides due to violent clashes that led to a blockade in Assam last November.
The violence took place at the Vairengte border village in Mizoram's Kolasib district. The National Highway 306 (formerly 54) passes through the village, linking the state to Assam.
The blockade, enforced by the Assam villagers demanding the withdrawal of Mizoram police personnel from areas they claimed were Assam land, had forced the Mizoram government to bring essential commodities via Tripura and Manipur. However, Mizoram refused to budge, claiming that state forces are deployed within its territory.
The border tensions were also sparked partly by claims about the presence of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the area. Mizoram's MNF MLA Lalrintluanga Sailo said that his state is not hostile to Assam or its people but is protecting its territory from infiltration by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, who are living in the border areas.
In the violent clash that lasted for several hours, many people including four from Mizoram were injured, as per PTI.
What have the two sides said?: Basically, the Assam government and the state’s border residents claim that the “main issue” is the deployment of the Mizoram police in what Assam claims to be its land. However, Mizoram insists that its state police has been deployed for the security of the local population in border areas.
How fragile is the temporary truce?: On 8 November, after a meeting between the home secretaries of Assam and Mizoram with Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Mizoram decided to withdraw the state forces, from the disputed border areas and deploy Border Security Force (BSF) personnel instead.
So following the Centre’s intervention, Mizoram did withdraw a section of its forces from “advanced” positions – but temporary Mizoram police posts remained along the NH-54, a few hundred metres behind. According to this Scroll.in report, before the row started, the state did not have a presence in these areas Mizoram insists they have been deployed for the security of the local population in border areas.
These areas are now being manned by “neutral” Central forces acting as a buffer between the police forces of the two states — the Border Security Force on the Mizoram side and the Sashastra Seema Bal on the Assam side.
Other clashes last year: The border dispute between the two states had intensified on 9 October, 2020, when a hut and plantations were destroyed allegedly by officials of Assam's Karimganj district on farmland near Thinghlun village in west Mizoram's Mamit district.
The tension further escalated when residents of Vairengte in Mizoram's Kolasib set on fire several temporary bamboo huts and stalls during a violent clash on the night of 17 October, 2020. At least seven people from Mizoram and few others from Assam were injured in the clash. Though several dialogues were held, normalcy could not be restored in the area.
How did conflict grow to be so contested?
The heart of the conflict is an unresolved border issue — a 164.6-kilometre long inter-state border, which separates Assam and Mizoram.
This border is shared by three districts of South Assam — Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj — and three districts of Mizoram — Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl. Both states, over time at some point or the other, have blamed each other for encroachment.
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.
What does Mizoram claim?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, reports The Hindu.
Kolasib Deputy Commissioner H Lalthangliana says that people from Lailapur (Assam) broke the status quo and allegedly constructed some temporary huts. Mizoram officials have this land claimed by Assam is being cultivated for a long time by residents of Mizoram.
Mizoram's claim that the land is theirs is based on an 1875 notification, which came from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873. Under this act, the British framed regulations restricting the entry and regulating the stay of outsiders in designated areas, requiring an Inner Line Permit (ILP) for Indian citizens from other states to visit or stay. The Act demarcated the hills from the plains and valleys in the North East, restricting free travel between the two zones. The hills were deemed to be “excluded areas”.
What does Assam claim?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.
As per this Print.in article, the boundary line drawn after the annexation of the Lushai Hills in 1904 went through adjustments in 1912 and later in 1930. Finally, after subsequent modifications under the Assam government, the boundary between Cachar (Assan) and Mizoram was created according to a government notification of 1933, which the Assam government currently stands by.
Officials and locals in Assam claim Mizos have been squatting in areas 1-3 km from the inter-State border. But Mizoram disagrees, claiming that the authorities in Assam have been using “illegal Bangladeshis” to move 10-12 km inside their territory.
Mizoram leaders in the past have argued against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted.
While the Government of Mizoram is of the view that the boundary should be demarcated as stated in the 1875 notification, Assam believes that the 1933 demarcation must be followed.
The historic dispute basically stems from two notifications, — one from 1875 that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar in Assam — and second from 1933 that demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills (now Mizoram) and Manipur.
What leads to these often 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.
Mizoram's Land Revenue and Settlement Department official website describes Mizoram as a “Non-land record State in terms of Land Record Management”.
The website states: “Significant developments have taken place since Mizoram attained statehood in 1987 in the implementation of Land Reforms Programme and Land Revenue Administration. The absence of correct and up-to-date land records of villages and towns has injured the interest of numerous landowners, the bulk of whom are led to unavoidable land disputes and thwarted the implementation of Land Reform Programmes."
With inputs from agencies