In a move to improve relations after a deadly border clash, the Assam government indicated it had managed to clear an unofficial blockade on Mizoram by negotiating with angry residents of the border towns.
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, dispatched two ministers Saturday to pacify locals who had been preventing cross-border vehicular movement. Sarma is also due to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah — who had stepped in earlier as well to convince two states to allow neutral Central forces to patrol border — on Monday.
A ground report in Hindustan Times claimed that the blockade involving hundreds of trucks carrying essential supplies such as food, potable water, oxygen and medical supplies have slowly been able to resume movement since Sunday.
However, the state of Mizoram is yet to officially confirm this development.
What's happening at Assam-Mizoram border?
Notwithstanding a peace deal and positive communication from both sides after an interstate clash in India's North East, the state of Mizoram had alleged that an unofficial blockade perpetuated by Assam has squeezed its supplies at a time when it's dealing with its worst bout of coronavirus pandemic.
Following the violence which claimed the lives of six Assam Police personnel and one civilian, the Assam government had issued a travel advisory to its citizens against visiting the neighbouring state, indirectly perpetuating a border blockade. But that was removed officially on 6 August.
However, top officials in the Mizoram government told ANI as recently as on Saturday that vehicular movement had not started on the ground despite assurances from the Assam government and a written affirmation from Mizoram promising protection to all vehicles and truck drivers entering the state.
As most of Mizoram's supplies come via Assam through the NH-306, the no movement of vehicles for the last two weeks has hit the resources, including essential items, they said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party rules Assam, and the Mizo National Front, a part of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance, is in power in Mizoram.
Blockade amid COVID surge hit Mizoram hard
Since the 26 July clashes on the Assam-Mizoram border that killed seven people, nearly a hundred of trucks are stranded at Assam's Cachar and Mizoram’s Kolasib district due to protests and stone-pelting on the Assam side, reported Hindustan Times.
The 90-kilometre road between Silchar in Assam and Kolasib in Mizoram serves as a lifeline for the state that has just one rail link, which also was reportedly damaged by miscreants in Hailakandi district in Assam.
The resulting blockade has prevented the entry of essential items including medicine and key medical supplies essential for dealing with the rapid surge in cases the state is dealing with. State minister Lalruatkima told ANI that Mizoram has had to cut down on coronavirus testing because the blockade has resulted in a shortage of reagents.
The state with a population of just over 1 million has been reporting more than 700 cases almost daily, with a seven-day moving average of 781.
The Mizoram government also ordered rationing of diesel and petrol as the movement of vehicles, including the tankers carrying fuel, continued to remain shut on National Highway-306.
"All filling stations are instructed not to issue petrol and diesel beyond the permitted quantities. Only those vehicles that go to filling stations will be issued oil," the order said.
The measures included capping the quantities of fuel allowed for various categories of vehicles, curtailing hours of operations of fuel stations and banning the sale of fuel in containers.
Assam steps in
Assam Ministers Ashok Singhal and Parimal Suklabaidya on Saturday visited the interstate border with Mizoram at Lailapur in Cachar district to persuade the locals to lift the economic blockade and allow vehicles to move to the neighbouring state, officials said.
As the ministers were engaged in discussions with members of the truckers association, the irate public started pelting stones and damaged two stranded trucks.
Police, including Cachar Superintendent of Police Ramandeep Kaur, rushed to the spot and brought the situation under control.
The local people and some organizations had resorted to an "unofficial economic blockade" in the area bordering Mizoram following the killing of six police personnel and a civilian in an attack from across the border on 26 July.
“We cannot forget the killing of 6 Assam police officers so easily. We have suffered enough and we want a permanent solution. We have seen several tweets from both governments talking about peace, but on the ground, nothing has changed. Mizoram did not withdraw its forces from Assam’s land and no action has been taken against the Mizoram cops who killed our cops. We are not against anyone but are demanding justice. We don’t understand why our government didn’t bother talking to us before allowing the vehicles to go,” one of the agitated locals had told Hindustan Times.
The ministers along with Deputy Commissioner Keerthi Jalli, the SP and other senior officials of Cachar held talks with the locals and urged them to withdraw the economic blockade and to create an atmosphere paving the way for the restoration of peace and tranquillity on the inter-state border.
"Met the representatives of civil society in presence of Minister Parimal Suklabaidya at Lailapur civil post.......discussed on facilitating smooth movement of goods and transportation in border area maintaining peace", Singhal, who is Cachar's guardian minister, tweeted.
Minister for Environment and forests Parimal Suklabaidya, who is the local MLA of Dholai under which Lailapur falls said that the "safety of the local people is our responsibility and we assure all necessary support".
Both the ministers urged the people to refrain from any further protests or any unwanted circumstances along the routes to Mizoram to ensure a smooth flow of essentials to the neighbouring state.
The local people resorting to economic blockade have agreed to withdraw the blockade and that movement of scores of stranded trucks on the Assam side of the border is most likely to begin tonight.
The chief minister had said on Friday that though precious lives were lost in the attack "we must move ahead on the path of peace and progress. We stand committed to protect the constitutional boundaries but I appeal to our people to allow movement of goods to Mizoram".
Singhal and Border Areas Development Minister Atul Bora had visited Aizawl on 5 August and a joint statement was issued by both the governments pledging to work for peace along the interstate border.
Following the release of the joint statement, the Assam government had withdrawn the travel advisory, issued on July 29 cautioning people from visiting Mizoram.
The Assam government has maintained that there is no official 'economic blockade' along the border but the vehicles were not moving towards Mizoram fearing attacks.
With inputs from agencies