2021: Mizoram sees massive Covid surge, border clash with Assam, refugee influx from Myanmar
Aizawl, Dec. 30 (PTI): Mizoram dealt with multiple crises in 2021, ranging from a massive spread of Covid-19 and interstate boundary clash with Assam to an influx of refugees from Myanmar.
The tiny northeastern state, which was nominally affected by Covid-19 last year, saw a massive upsurge in cases this year, prompting the state government to impose multiple lockdowns.
The state, which has a population of only 10.91 lakh, according to the 2011 Census, reported 1.36 lakh cases and 526 fatalities between April and December 26 this year, as compared to only 4,476 infections and 11 deaths from March 2020 to March 2021.
The sustained rise in Covid cases, with over 1,000 being reported day after day for several weeks, overwhelmed the health infrastructure, prompting the Centre to send experts to study the ground situation.
The festering interstate boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram resurfaced in February when Mizoram Power Department officials were allegedly beaten up by people from the other state in Zophai area in Kolasib district bordering Assam’s Hailakandi.
Tension erupted again in June as both sides accused the other of encroaching their land, with Mizoram alleging that around 100 officials and policemen from Assam entered Aitlang Hnar, a plantation area claimed by both states, and seized it.
The dispute took an ugly turn on July 26 as police forces of the two neighbouring states fought a fierce gun-battle near Vairengte village on NH 306, leading to the death of six policemen and a civilian from Assam, besides injuries to 50 others including a police superintendent.
The incident, along with subsequent economic blockade of National Highway 306 by locals of Lailapur in Assam, drew widespread criticism from various quarters. The escalating tensions were, however, defused after a series of talks between the two states following the Centre’s intervention.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga and his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma engaged in talks in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and agreed to maintain peace and amicably resolve the dispute.
The two states agreed to form their own committees involving various stakeholders and hold talks at the chief minister-level from time to time.
Three Mizoram districts — Aizawl, Mamit and Kolasib — share a 164.6 km-long boundary with Assam’s Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts. The decades-old dispute, which stemmed from two colonial demarcations, remains unresolved.
The tiny state was also burdened with thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including lawmakers and policemen, fleeing violence in the neighbouring country.
The Myanmarese refugees are currently lodged in relief camps set up by NGOs and locals, while many were accommodated in the houses of their relatives in the northeastern state.
Besides the state government, NGOs, churches, student bodies, village authorities and individuals have provided food, clothes and other aid to the refugees. The state government, on several occasions, also sought help from the Centre for assistance to the Myanmarese people sheltered there.
Mizoram was also hit by African Swine Fever (ASF), leading to the death of 29,821 pigs till December 24, and causing monetary loss of crore of rupees to the farmers. The first ASF case was reported in Lungsen village in Lunglei district in March.
A devastating forest fire damaged vast tracts of jungles, farmland and individual properties
Amid criticism over the disqualification of opposition Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) MLA Lalduhoma under the anti-defection law, the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) suffered a defeat to ZPM in the Serchhip assembly by-poll, but won the Turial seat and swept the Aizawl Municipal Corporation elections.
Mizoram also tussled with Centre over the appointment of chief secretary. The Union government had on October 28 appointed Renu Sharma, an AGMUT cadre IAS officer of the 1988 batch, as the chief secretary.
However, the state government on the same day issued a notification directing J C Ramthanga, additional chief secretary to the chief minister, to take charge as the chief secretary till further orders.
Zoramthanga requested the Centre to modify the order, and appoint someone with working knowledge of the Mizo language, but Sharma still continues to occupy the office.
The year ended with a political storm over a police complaint against Champhai District Magistrate Maria C T Zuali who had torched areca nuts allegedly being smuggled from Myanmar. The complainant claimed his consignment was burnt without verifying where it came from.
The opposition attacked the government alleging that smugglers have been emboldened to the extent that they are challenging law enforcement agencies.