Tension flared along the Assam-Mizoram border on Monday over an ongoing land dispute between the two states resulting in violence and vandalism. According to reports, stones were pelted, shots were fired injuring people, including policemen, farmers’ huts were set ablaze, and government vehicles vandalised. While Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga traded charges, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked the two leaders to find a way to resolve the dispute.
What Happened Today?
The two sides have been engaged in a dispute over alleged encroachments in each others land. On Monday, eight farmers’ huts were set ablaze by unidentified miscreants, police said. Mizoram Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Northern Range), Lalbiakthanga Khiangte, told PTI that at least eight unoccupied farm huts near Aitlang stream in the trouble-torn area were torched around 11.30 pm on Sunday. He said these belonged to farmers from Vairengte, the nearest border village from Assam.
Meanwhile, at least seven Assam police personnel were reported to have been injured during the clashes in Lailapul of Cachar district of south Assam along the Assam-Mizoram border. While the official vehicle of the deputy commissioner of Cachar was vandalised, firing reported was from the Mizoram side.
Locals on the Assam side alleged that miscreants armed with sticks, rods and even rifles, attacked personnel of the Assam Police at Lailapur and damaged several vehicles, including those belonging to the office of the Deputy Commissioner.
What is the Assam-Mizoram Dispute All About?
The situation along the Mizoram-Assam border has been on the boil since June-end when Assam Police allegedly took control over an area known as ‘Aitlang hnar’ about 5km from Vairengte, accusing the neighbouring state of encroaching on its territory. Three districts of Mizoram — Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit — share about a 164.6 km border with Assam’s Cachar,Karimganj and Hailakandi districts.
On June 30, Mizoram accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kolasib district which borders Assam while the Assamese officials and legislators accused Mizoram of building structures and planting betel nut and banana saplings allegedly ten kilometers inside Hailakandi in Assam.
Kolasib district’s superintendent of police Vanlalfaka Ralte claimed that over a hundred officials and policemen led by Assam’s Hailakandi district deputy commissioner and SP entered Mizoram’s territory and were camping there.
The area, locally known as ‘Aitlang hnar’ or the source of river Aitlang, is considered to be part of Mizoram and is about 5 km from Vairengte village in Kolasib district which borders Assam. However, Katlicherra’s AIUDF MLA Suzamuddin Laskar alleged that residents of Mizoram have encroached around ten kilometers of Assams land in Chuninullah, Aisonanglon villages under Dholcherra-Phaisen bordering area.
Assam government officials added that a team from Hailakandi comprising Divisional Forest Officer Montaj Ali, Border DSP Nirmal Ghosh and others rushed to the border but were stopped by Mizo encroachers and forced to return. The residents of Vairengte work on plantations in the area, which they claim belongs to Mizoram since time immemorial, Ralte had said. A host of district officials and police personnel from Assam arrived and forcefully seized the area on June 29, he had alleged. “It is pure aggression by the neighbouring state as the area belongs to Mizoram. The local farmers were forced to flee for fear of being attacked by armed personnel," Ralte had told PTI.
Officials of both states held a discussion at the site that day but Assam officials refused to withdraw from the area, he alleged. Residents of Vairengte, who rushed to the site, were however sent back home to prevent violence, the police officer added.
Further, several crops and betel nut trees belonging to a Mizoram farmer were also reportedly damaged during the “eviction drive”, as claimed by Assam Police and officials at Buarchep near Phainuam village, on July 10. On the same day, a grenade was allegedly hurled on an Assam government team visiting the border by unknown people. Both the states have been blaming each other for two back-to-back explosions across the border in the early hours of July 11.
The Long-drawn Conflict
The border dispute between the two neighbouring states is a long pending issue. Several dialogues held since 1995 to resolve the dispute yielded little result. After a massive tussle in 2018, the border row resurfaced in August last year. The matter further escalated in February but was defused after a series of parleys with the intervention of the Centre.
The dispute originates from a notification of 1875 that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933 that demarcated a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
According to a report by The Indian Express, Mizoram believes the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873. Mizo leaders have argued in the past argued against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted. MZP’s Vanlaltana said the Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation, and that was the point of conflict.
In February 2018, the MZP had built a built a wooden rest house in a forest, which they claimed was meant to provide the farmers a place to rest. They were demolished by the Assam police and forest department officials saying it was built on Assamese territory. The members of MZP had clashed with Assam personnel, who had also thrashed a group of Mizoram journalists who had gone to cover the incident.
Where Do the Assam and Mizoram Governments Stand?
As the tense situation prevailed along the disputed Assam-Mizoram border, chief ministers of both states were locked in a war of words on Monday, blaming each other’s police for the violence, and sought the intervention of the central government. As the two leaders traded charges on Twitter, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he has spoken to his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga and his police force will maintain peace.
Zoramthanga accused the Assam Police of resorting to lathi-charge and lobbing tear gas shells while Assam Police claimed that a large number of “miscreants" from Mizoram were indulging in stone pelting and had attacked the Assam government officials.
Zoramthanga posted a video in his Twitter handle of a stand-off between Assam police personnel and a group of stick-wielding youths. “Shri @AmitShah ji….kindly look into the matter. This needs to be stopped right now. #MizoramAssamBorderTension," he said, tagging the Prime Minister"s office and Union Home Minister"s office, Sarma and officials of Assam"s Cachar district.
Zoramthanga also alleged in another tweet that “an innocent couple" on their way back to Mizoram via Cachar was “manhandled" by “thugs and goons". “How are you going to justify these violent acts?" he asked.
The Assam chief minister tweeted: “Honble @ZoramthangaCM ji , Kolasib ( Mizoram) SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won’t listen nor stop violence. “How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest @AmitShah@PMOIndia," he tweeted along with a video of the situation. Later, Sarma said he has spoken to his Mizoram counterpart and reiterated that Assam Police will maintain the status quo and peace along the border.
The issue was taken up in the recently concluded meeting of the chief ministers of the northeastern states with Home Minister Amit Shah in Shillong. Shah had urged all sides to resolve border issues urgently and amicably, specially ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Zoramthanga had raised the border issue during the meeting as he informed the Union Home Minister that border disputes among states of the region is a legacy issue of the colonial era. Zoramthanga had also said that large tracts of land claimed by Assam to be within its constitutional boundary have been used for collection of forest produce and cultivation for more than 100 years by the people of Mizoram.