A guide to resolving Assam Mizoram border issue

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: Resolving the Assam Mizoram border dispute

Synopsis: Both Assam and Mizoram need to be sensitive to the historical context of the border issue. Only then they can hope to solve the present dispute.


Note: Before moving forward, please go through the above link for a better understanding of the entire issue.

Historical context

Both Mizoram and Assam have their issues with the boundaries.

Mizoram: Almost one and a half centuries ago and 17 years before the Lushai hills was annexed to British Assam in 1892, the ‘inner line’ boundary of the Lushai hills was ‘fixed’ in 1875 on the southern border of Assam’s Cachar district. This boundary was however not ‘precise’ as it was drawn largely using natural markers such as rivers and hills. In post-independent India, the Mizoram government has accepted this boundary.

  • Revisions of the boundary not accepted: Subsequent revisions were made by the colonial govt, but they are not recognized by Mizoram govt because they fail to recognize the Mizo’s long-standing historical rights to use the un-demarcated southern border of Cachar as their hunting ground, for jhum cultivation, and as sites of their resource extraction including rubber and timber.
  • Encroachment by Assam govt: Assam government has enclosed around 509 square miles of the Lushai hills under the Inner Line Reserve Forest area via the Assam Forest Regulation, 1877. This is being cited as one of the glaring exemplars of ‘encroachment’ by the Assam government into the Lushai hills (now Mizoram).

Assam: Assam government considers Mizo plantation and settlements in the Inner Line Reserve Forest areas as an ‘encroachment’.

Core of the problem

The heart of this entire problem is the differing approaches of the two state governments.

Assam govt’s state-centric approach
  • This approach gives precedence to legal, juridical and administrative recognition and protection of the border.
  • Under this approach, enclosing a forest as a reserve forest is primarily an activity to augment state revenues. More important objectives like Forest conservation and the protection of tribal/indigenous land interests take a backseat.
  • The recent hints by Assam Chief Minister to approach the Supreme Court of India, and raise a 4,000-strong commando battalion to ‘protect’ the ‘forest reserve’ areas need to be seen against this backdrop

The main problem with Assam’s view –

  • Ignores historical context: Assam govt’s view ignores the fact that various villages and tea-estates in Cachar have deep-rooted associations with Lushai chiefs. For eg: Jalenga tea estate located in Tlangpui village and Paloi tea estate near Vairengte — both in Cachar — took their names after Zalenga and Palawia, two Lushai chiefs. Lushai are also among the earliest settlers of Cachar, many villages in Cachar (and Karimganj) have Lushai settlements.
Mizoram’s people-centric approach

In contrast, Mizoram government advocates a ‘people-centric’ approach.

  • This approach seeks to give a priority to the historical and traditional rights of the local indigenous people on the one hand and to the principle of uti possidetis juris (‘as you possess under law’, including customary law) on the other hand.
  • Mr. Zoramthanga and his predecessors have made concerted attempts to forge a consensus around this approach. The two-member boundary committee report of 1973 and the memorandum prepared by the Joint Action Committee, non-governmental organisations and all-political parties in Mizoram in 2018, which has been submitted to the Prime Minister of India, are pointers to this.
An ideal approach

An ideal approach to solve Assam Mizoram border dispute would be based on the following parameters:

  1. Sensitive to historical context: It should be sensitive to historical context in which local landowners and protectors have transformed overtime as ‘encroachers’ of land across the two States.
  2. Seeing forests as more than a source of revenue: It should be sensitive to the possibility of overlapping sovereignty, where forest ‘commons’ are seen not simply as sites of revenue-extraction but as powerful symbols of identity and sustainable livelihood resources for the local people.

Government’s role

  • Centre should set up a permanent inter-governmental forum to involve important stakeholders in order to effectively manage border and territorial conflicts.
Way forward

Deep historical knowledge, sensitivity and an accommodative spirit need to inform Assam and Mizoram even as they sit down peacefully to enter into dialogue and negotiation under the neutral supervision of the Centre

Terms to know

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