Views & Reviews
Tackling the Border Problem
Can the 1925 British (India) Notification of Naga Hills district boundary be acceptable to the Nagas as the permanent Assam-Nagaland State Boundary ?
The new CM of Assam seems to be in a hurry to put an end to the impasse of the border disputes with all the neighbouring States of Assam, namely, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. His first task was to flex his muscle with his armed police forces along these disputed border areas. It perhaps an opportune moment for these states to initiate actions proactively in a coordinated manner by identifying issues common to all the states as well as of state specific concerns with Assam, for a fair and judicious solution.
As far as Assam & Nagaland are concerned, border dispute is intrinsically linked to two issues:
(a) Whether the British India 1925 Notification defining the boundary of the Naga Hills District with the adjacent districts of Assam e.g. Sibsagar, Nowgong and Lakhimpur should be declared as the permanent constitutional boundary between the two states (since it was adopted as the boundary at the time of creation of the Nagaland state).
(b) The demand of the Nagas for the return of the arbitrarily and unilaterally transfer of as many as 22 virgin Forest Areas of the Nagas along the contiguous border areas without the knowledge of the real owners should be restored back to the traditional rightful Naga owners as consistently demanded by the Nagas.
The 1925 British (India) Boundary Line between Assam-Nagaland: – Nagaland state was created on the basis of the 13th Amendment Act of the Constitution in 1962. At that time the archaic, erroneous and unverified 1925 boundary Line of the old Naga Hills District was adopted as the provisional boundary line of the two states which has become the perennial border row between the two states since then. Historically, the 1925 boundary line was basically notified by British India to solve their administrative problems created out of numerous boundary notifications. As many as 16 boundary lines and 6 Inner Line Notifications were issued between 1866 -1923 by British India after the creation of Naga Hills district in 1866 in Samargooting (Chumukidema ) as the first HQ. These Lines overlapped each others in some areas creating problems in administration and revenue collections. The frequent shifting of the Boundary and the Inner lines were done unilaterally mainly to usurp the ancestral virgin forest of the Nagas, which were rich in untapped forest resources and mineral wealth. Knowing its commercial values, besides the fertility of the land for expansion of the tea plantation, the British India had arbitrarily declared Reserved in as many as 22 forest areas(R/F) and subsequently transferred to the neighbouring districts of Assam for free commercial exploitation. It was an open looting of the Naga ancestral wealth and property. In order to formally legitimise all those irregularities and to streamline the administrative anomalies, issuance of this consolidated notification was required. But as testified by the Survey General of India, the line has never been verified on the ground as stated before the Supreme Court (SC) in connection with the case of a Writ filed by Assam in 1988 pleading for the declaration of that 1925 boundary Line as the permanent boundary line between the two states.
All along the Nagas were aware of these irregularities and daylight robbery of their wealth and territories by the Colonial British but were helpless. The Naga Club members had first brought this knowledge of injustice to the Nagas before the Simon Commission members during their visit to Kohima in 1929. Again in 1947 before the then Governor of Assam Sir Hydari Ali on 27-29th June 1947. In the 9 Points Agreement that followed, the return of the illegally alienated Naga ancestral land and forest was clearly incorporated under (Clause 6). This was once again reiterated in the 16 Point Agreement (Clause-13) with GOI during the Nagaland State formation. But the assurance for consideration of this demand under the constitutional provision especially under Art3&4 still remains unfulfilled.
After the statehood, as early as 1964, starting from the first Chief Minister of Nagaland, Late P. Shilu Ao, has written to the Central Government supported by a Resolution in the Assembly urging the GOI to constitute a Boundary Commission to examine and suggest solution to the problem on priority. It was also supported by the then CM of Assam, late Chaliha, who was a sincere friend of the Nagas. Over the years, almost every CM of Nagaland has written to the central government on the matter accompanied every time by fresh Resolution of the Assembly. But the GOI had not taken any firm -timely action in spite of the persistent demand and reminders for an early action to resolve the contentious boundary issued between the two States.
For not taking timely action, the first inevitable border clashes took place in Tuli-Amguri Geliky Sector in 1972, followed by series of incidents along the border in different sectors. In order to prevent such further clashes, preventive measures were required. Subsequently, 4 (Four) Interim Agreements were concluded between Assam and Nagaland in 1972. They are: (a) Geliky R/F and portion of Amguri-Tuli Road(31/03/1972). (b) Teok River to Desoi River (31/03/1972) (c) Desoi River to Gorarjan Stream & Kakadanga to Doyang River (2/5/1972) (d) Gorarjan toKakadanga (23/5/1972).
Again in 1979, 2(two) Interim Agreements were made under the chairmanship of the common Governor involving the CM of Assam and Nagaland, Home Minister GOI in Shillong on 28/01/1979 and in New Delhi on 11/04/1979. In the two Agreements, the harassment of Naga inhabitants at Diphu, Nambhor and Rengma R/F areas were taken up. The two Agreements had defined operational procedures of the ground rules for maintenance of the status quo on the ground tell a permanent solution is arrived it.
The inbuilt weakness of the 6 Interim Agreements:- The arrangement was glaringly one-sided, putting Assam in greater advantages over the Nagaland for the following reasons.
1)Police: All armed police camps of both Assam & Nagaland would be closed and withdrew from the disputed border (D/B) areas within a week after the agreement. No new posts would be set up. As a result all the Nagaland police camps were closed as stipulated, but Assam had rather strengthened their Police forces
2)The Neutral Forces: The operational command of the Neutral Forces comprising of CRPF & Assam Rifle were placed under the control of the ADGP (Border) of Assam Police, as stipulated in the very Interim Agreements, thereby the meaning of neutrality was compromised right from the beginning of their operation. It was an unfair arrangement which was totally in favour of Assam offering the whole DAB R/Fs areas on a platter to Assam. How the Naga representatives had agreed to such terms is a mystery and beyond any logic. It was an open offer to Assam to control and manage in any manner they desire. And Assam is taking full advantage of this.
3) The Reserved Forests: Again the codition for the management of all the 8 (Eight) Reserved Forests (R/Fs) within the disputed areas (DAB) were also placed under the Assam Forest officials as the sole custodian and any entry from the Nagaland side were restricted, not even the Naga Forest Officials were allowed, nor was there any clause for a joint inspection incorporated in the Agreement. It was also one-sided in allowing free exclusive right of access to Assam officials. They were supposed to maintain the then status quo of the forest with no new leases to be granted by Assam side, nor allow any encroachment in all R/Fs. The existing Naga settlement within the forest areas was not to be disturbed. In Kakadanga R/F, cultivation done by the Yimpang/Champang old and Tessori villagers would be allowed undisturbed. All those agreed conditions were flaunted with impunity by the Assam. But no effective machinery/ conditions were incorporated to ensure compliance nor could impose penalty for abusing the trust.
The SOP issued by the Assam Police commandant to the Neutral Forces in the Border had specifically directed to protect the Civil and Forest Officials of Assam in DAB areas and to report any human movement other then officials and people with the permission from Assam District magistrates. The original design and agreement thereof was to strictly maintain neutrality to both the disputing party’s interest namely, Assam as well as Nagaland. But the inherent flaw of the arrangement under the Agreement has defeated the intended objective and effectively the Neutral Force has been reduced to the position of a surrogated Assam Police obedient to the direction of their commander (the Assam ADGP Border). This serious defects had been earlier pointed out to the joint meeting of Assam, Nagaland and GOI officials but so far no corrective measures has been made. Likewise, the Forests (R/Fs) management is fully in the hand of Assam and has virtually become their forest land putting the interest and claims of the Nagas meaningless
In this conditions the Naga demands, however legitimate it may be, will never be protected nor realised. Nagas are bound to lose everything on the ground unless drastic counter corrective measures are taken to protect the legitimate interest by the government and the people together, though it is late in the day, it is worth attempting.
Assam filed a Writ in the Supreme Court (SC):- Even after the Merapani clashes in 1985, against the spirit of the recommendation made by the Sashtri, one man Commission recommendation, Assam has filed a Writ in the Supreme Court to adjudicate by the Court to declare the 1925 boundary line as the permanent Constitutional boundary between the two states. Since then, for the last more than 30 years, we are bogged down wasting time, energy, resources and diverting the attention as per the far sighted territorial grabbing game of Assam. They have brilliantly hoodwinked both the GOI and Nagaland and aggressively consolidating their hold on the territories of the disputed areas under their full custody by virtue of one sided agreements. Past experiences clearly shows evidences that Assam is not sincere and reliable but an unscrupulous selfish operator to be bound by any agreements.
In this atmosphere of mistrust and manipulation by Assam compounded with no effective action oriented initiative on the part of the GOI, what can the government and the Nagas do to counter the aggressive and systematic encroachment of R/Fs disputed area territories before all is lost? The Supreme Court attempt to find solution outside the Court through a Local commission constituted in 29/9/2006 had failed. Another attempt was made by the appointment of two member mediators in Oct.2010 and in spite of their best of effort, failed to suggest any acceptable suggestion. The situation is back to square one with no immediate prospect of resolving the issues while Assam is systematically encroaching on all the disputed Reserved Forest Areas with one excuse or the other.
The brief summary of the two states (Assam and Nagaland) border areas management scenario as it exists today are :-
Assam side: They are in an advantageous position by virtue of favourable controlling authorities given to it in all the Interim Agreements as already described. Added to it, Assam has much better plan of comprehensive management of the Border areas affairs.
1) The Assam side of border areas are well guarded and protected with a string of Police Posts (Armed, civilian and Neutral forces) in all strategic locations.
2) About 10,000 Village Guards in all recognised Border villages are available to protect their interest.
3) Well planned Socio-Economic development along the border areas are being implemented by providing good connectivity and other essential services and commodities.
4) ALL R/Fs in DAB area under Assam Forest Management and in violation of all agreements, the unrestricted settlement and urbanisation activities are going on with impunity.
5) The Revenue Depth is providing Land Pattas under Assam Land Revenue Act to all encroachers and settlers e.g. Advises, refugees, etc. to assimilate and consolidate the land holding into the Assam land Revenue maps.
6) New settlements are encouraged to settle in the border disputed areas.
7) There is proper coordination among the public, government agencies of administration, police and others for quick coordinated response in any exigency. The Assam govt has sound and well planned strategies for both short term and long term planning to protect and develop border areas. The state government is providing all necessary logistic and other developmental support by providing both community as well as people oriented development programmes and schemes beside assured security and protection.
Nagaland side: In addition to inherent disadvantages emanated out of the unfavourable terms& conditions formulated in the Interim Agreements, there is practically no proper plan to improve on the huge handicaps/deficiencies in all fronts putting the border areas of Nagaland vulnerable and exposed. The Nagas are mainly to blame for continuously putting the Nagas in this apparent sorry state of affairs giving more advantage to unrealisable Assam.
1) There is lack of basic infrastructure, e.g: road connectivity and other essential services, along the border. Most of the villages are not easily reachable from Nagaland side and are left to fend for themselves.
2) The Border areas are inadequately guarded and less protected. It is vulnerably exposed in case of any exigencies.
3) The Border Magistrate and Police are not adequately deployed and not strategically located for effective management.
4) There is no proper systematic plan to adequately take care of the basic minimum essential needs and infrastructures i.e. roads, electricity, water supply, medical facilities and so on, which are a must for the overall development, protection and well being of the inhabitants.
5) The land survey has not been conducted so far which is essential for proper planning and issuance of State and respective Village pattas for identification of the ownership and identity.
6) No proper coordination between the NGOs and the Govt agencies along the border.
7) Strategically important projects like the Foothill Road need to be taken up on top priority by the government in reality and not as mere political rhetoric since the statehood. In this context, the recent assurance of the present CM of Nagaland to give priority attention to take up with the GOI for adequate funding is a welcome prospect which the people are waiting hopefully for years. It will redeem the Nagas of humiliations and harassment meted out with flimsy excuses to extract money out of innocent travellers and exploitation of transporting essential goods passing through Assam all these years.
The Border area policy of Assam: Significantly Assam has much better border policy plan much ahead on two –pronged approaches, namely, through judicial intervention and on ground assault. If Assam succeed in their favour in the Writ filed in the SC in 1988 which is still going on since then, it will totally nullify the long Naga demand of rectifying the historical injustice done to the Nagas since the British colonial era. The demand of the Nagas which were recognised and recorded in the 9 point agreement in 1947, reiterated in 16 point agreement in 1962, will all come to nothing since the 1925 boundary line was meant to legitimise the arbitrary deprivation of the Naga territories made by British. In such an eventuality, the Naga peoples’ demand will be lost in perpetuity. Unfortunately, this 1925 boundary line was adopted as the (Provisional) constitutional boundary between the two states at the time of Nagaland state creation on political consideration. That has given a chance to Assam to file this Wrt in the SC, However, the line is not verified till now on the ground. Thus, it is still an imaginary line which cannot be verified by satellite imagery device correctly. Under any circumstances it may not be acceptable to the Nagas.
However, on the ground, Assam is aggressively going on consolidating the territorial hold and absorbing the DAB reserved Forest areas into the Assam land holding maps armed with the protection of the Neutral Forces. It is further strengthened by increasing their police deployment. Even recently, the Assam CM has boldly announced to establish Commando Battalion to guard their border areas with Nagaland. It is a challenge to the Nagas especially the government. All the R/Fs are also under their control to do whatever they wish. What then will the Nagaland Government do now is the moot question? Nagas cannot afford to remain mute spectators and complacent any longer on the vital border matters while the Assam is systematically perusing to achieve their planned objective. While we must engage proactively for an amiable and acceptable settlement on permanent basis, the government, the civil societies and people in general must take this vital issue as the most important common issue for a result oriented action plan to protect, counter the aggressive onslaught of Assam and ultimately settle for the final solution that is fair and just. In this context, the recent constitution of a High Powered Committee under the chairmanship of the CM, Nagaland to look into the border issues as announced in the Assembly is a welcome development. It should quickly come out with realistic strategies to effectively improve the weaknesses and tackle the border problem. The public need it and expect the peoples’ government to look into the matter without delay. People will surely appreciate such an initiative and will be willing and ready to cooperate for an achievable action plan.
T N Mannen