Assam-Meghalaya Border Dispute Resolution – UPSC GS3

Context : An agreement was signed between the Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya in the presence of the Union Home Minister to resolve the dispute along their boundary.
Assam-Meghalaya Border Dispute Background:
  • Meghalaya became independent from Assam in 1970 and became a full-fledged State in 1972.
  • The creation of Meghalaya was based on the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969.
  • The Meghalaya government rejected the Act because it was based on the recommendations of a 1951 committee to define the boundary of Meghalaya.
  • According to their recommendations, regions of the present-day East Jaintia Hills, Ri-Bhoi and West Khasi Hills districts of Meghalaya were transferred to the Karbi Anglong, Kamrup (metro) and Kamrup districts of Assam.
  • Meghalaya contested for these regions after the statehood, claiming that they belonged to the tribal chieftains of Meghalaya.
  • Assam argued that the Meghalaya government could not provide documents or archival materials to prove its claim over these areas.
  • After multiple claims, the dispute was narrowed down to 12 sectors based on an official claim by Meghalaya in 2011.
Dispute Resolution:
  • In January 2021, the Union Home Minister persuaded the north-eastern States to resolve their boundary conflicts by 15 August 2022, as the country celebrates 75 years of Independence.
  • In June 2021, Assam and Meghalaya resumed negotiations and accepted a “give-and-take” policy to settle the disputes.
  • Out of the 12 disputed sectors, six areas such as Tarabari, Gizang, Hahim, Boklapara, Khanapara-Pilingkata and Ratacherra were considered for negotiations in the first phase.
  • The States set up a regional committee for a district affected by the disputed sectors.
  • The committees, which were headed by cabinet ministers, undertook various surveys and meetings with the various stakeholders based on “five principles” which include,
    • Historical facts
    • Ethnicity
    • Administrative convenience
    • Willingness of people
    • Contiguity of land with natural boundaries such as rivers, streams and rocks.
  • Based on the recommendations of the committee, the two states signed a draft resolution in January 2022.
  • On 29 March 2022, an agreement was signed regarding six disputed sectors.
Outcome of Agreement:
  • According to the agreement, Assam will get 18.51 sq. km out of the 36.79 sq. km disputed region and Meghalaya will get the remaining.
  • Despite there being less clarity on the uninhabited stretches that would be divided, political parties and a few communities in Meghalaya are unhappy about the agreement.
  • The communities of the other six disputed areas namely, Langpih, Borduar, Nongwah, Matamur, Deshdemoreah Block I and Block II, and Khanduli feel that the agreement would adversely impact their interests.
  • The non-tribal communities have expressed displeasure as they could end up living in a “tribal Meghalaya with no rights”.
  • The fears are also the same for the residents of Assam in disputed areas along the border with other States.
The agreement between Assam and Meghalaya which is regarded to be historic and path-breaking is expected to address the issues not just in the Assam-Meghalaya boundary but also help resolve differences between Assam and other North-Eastern states.
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