By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, Oct 26: It is not just in recent times that Assam has had to taste the bitterness of an acrimonious relationship with most of its neighbouring States because of border disputes. Border row with neighbouring States was a problem faced by even undivided Assam. There are government records of many meetings between officials of Assam and other States like Meghalaya (after the division of Assam), Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. However, nothing substantial came out of these meetings and this explains why border disputes still exist between these States.
The Meghalaya Government has even gone on to claim that Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s official residence atop the Koinadhara hills has been built on Meghalaya’s land. The people of Golaghat district are being harassed by the people of Nagaland who are encroaching upon their land, while Arunachal Pradesh is encroaching upon Assam’s land in Tinsukia, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts. The Assam Government could never come up with a permanent solution to this border problem with neighbouring States in the past, and the situation continues to remain almost the same even now.
As per government records, a meeting was held on December 15, 1990 in Assam to discuss matters related to border areas. Present at the meeting were then Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, HN Das, then Commissioner of LAD, JP Rajkhowa, and other senior officers of the Border Areas Department and the Census Operation.
During the meeting, the then Director of Census Operation in Assam, NC Dutta, gave an account of the houselifting and house numbering operation done in the month of April to June in 1990, and said that as per reporters received from the districts, no houselisting/house numbering work could be done in 13 villages of Dhemaji, 17 villages of Sibasagar, 2 villages of Cachar and 60 villages of Golaghat districts, due to “obstruction” from the local administration of the neighbouring States or unwillingness of the residents themselves to cooperate. He feared that there might be some more villages in the interior areas dominated by Naga people or people from Arunachal Pradesh.
The Chief Secretary suggested that the villages should be placed in three broad categories – villages where census could be taken with difficulty, villages where both Assam and the neighbouring State took census and villages where the State census authorities could not take census. Deputy Commissioners were asked to take necessary action in this regard.
The Secretary of the Border Areas Department, TL Baruah, informed at the meeting that as per reports received by the Deputy Commissioners, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh were violating the Supreme Court’s orders and the Election Commission’s decision by setting up polling stations in the bordering areas. It was decided that the State Election machinery should take the initiative to set up polling stations in such areas where neighbouring States attempt to do so in order to stall their designs. In no case a vacuum should be left to pave way for others to fill up.
The Director, Border Areas, Assam gave a brief review of the law-and-order situation on the basis of a recent tour undertaken by him and on the basis of reports received from district administration and police sources. He said that there was “almost no problem” in the areas bordering Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal and Meghalaya at that time. However, the border with Arunachal Pradesh was not peaceful as people of that State, backed by their government agencies, were creating problems, particularly in the Amarpur area of Sadiya subdivision.
The Secretary of the Border Areas Department said that because of the existence of the Border Areas Department, other departments seldom took up development activities in the bordering areas. But it was not possible for the department to undertake an integrated programme commensurate with the needs owing to meagre allocation of Plan fund to the Department (that year’s allocation was Rs 170 lakh).
The Commissioner, Lower Assam Division, said that ample resources were made available by the Central Government under various development schemes like DRDA and Jahar Yojana. This opportunity should be used to take up suitable people’s participation-oriented schemes which would increase the people’s purchasing power, along with creation of assets in the areas.
It was also observed in the meeting that other departments should not leave the border areas solely to the Border Areas Department, but also take their share of responsibility to develop the border areas and bring them at par with the adjoining developed localities. It was also observed that schemes should be taken up as close as possible to the borders.
The Director, Border Areas, informed that physical monitoring of progress of development works to the extent desired was not possible on the part of the Directorate owning to paucity of officers. It was observed in the meeting that physical monitoring of progress was a must for achieving good results. Hence it was decided that Deputy Commissioners should be asked to do the job through officers under them. It was also felt that the government should provide necessary infrastructure like jeeps, officers and fund to the Deputy Commissioners for this purpose.
The decisions taken in the meeting were never implemented. Perhaps for this reason, even more than 15 years after that meeting, border disputes with neighbouring States still exist and the border areas in Assam continue to remain backward and underdeveloped.