It is indeed unfortute that Assam’s border dispute with galand should have turned out to be so completely beyond an amicable settlement despite years of effort and the setting up of committees to resolve the issue. galand, which was a part of Assam, broke away and became a separate State in 1963. The boundary dispute between the two States started immediately after the creation of galand. What has made the resolution of the dispute virtually impossible is the fact that galand has been insisting on a solution on the basis of history and traditions—a modus operandi extremely difficult to implement in the best of conditions. What has made matters worse is that the conditions have been far from ratiol and fair as far as galand is concerned. When any State insists on the resolution of border disputes on the basis of history and traditions, it is dealing with factors that are very difficult to define. It is an accepted fact that history is extremely selective, and leaves out much more than it can encompass. One can seldom find accurate and reliable records of border alignments in any historical work. As such, much that is being claimed as being historical fact in respect of the border of the earlier ga territory is bound to be actually no more than hearsay. What we call tradition is likely to be even less reliable in the absence of actual records and literary work. In any case, since the various tribes of galand have to rely almost entirely on oral literature (if any) and since the languages of these tribes are not understood outside the State, total dependence on such evidence can be a very risky undertaking for any arbiter of disputes. What has made the situation even more difficult is the unwillingness of galand to accept the verdict of any process of arbitration that its State government had earlier agreed to. It will be recalled that the government of India had set up the Sundaram Committee in 1971, with KVK Sundaram, the then Chairman of the Law Commission of India at its head to examine the claims of galand that a resolution of the border dispute should be arrived at on the basis of history and tradition. At the end of the exercise, the galand government refused to accept the report of the Sundaram Committee for resolution of the boundary dispute even though the Assam government was ready to accept it. In 1988, the Assam government (then under the AGP) petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking its intervention to resolve the boundary dispute with galand. But even the mediators appointed by the Supreme Court failed to find a solution to the problem. The apex court then directed the government of India to facilitate a solution to the boundary dispute through political dialogue between the two State governments. We are all aware of how even this initiative has failed to yield any tangible results. What happened in the intervening years was that galand encroached 59,159.77 hectares of Assam’s territory— 36,013.48 hectares in Golaghat district, 18,871.29 hectares in Jorhat district and 4,275 hectares in Sivasagar district. What is worse is that ga miscreants have evicted people in the territory of Assam from their homesteads by force, and in the process, have killed 161 persons since 1972.
The recalcitrance of galand and its refusal to abide by either the proceeds of arbitration or by the Constitution of India has created a major problem not only for its neighbouring States but also for the territorial integrity of India. As a consequence, the ‘origil suit’ on the Assam-galand border dispute filed by the then AGP government in the Supreme Court in 1988 has now reached the trial stage after all the initiatives by the apex court to secure a resolution by other means have failed. Since ‘origil suits’ are State versus State cases pertaining to issues like territory, water disputes, etc., at the trial stage of such cases both the parties would have to produce their witnesses. The galand government is reported to have submitted a list of 250 witnesses which the apex court wants cut down drastically. This is most likely because in origil suits witnesses are examined directly by the judges and the counsels cannot assist witnesses at the time of examition.
Given the circumstances of recalcitrance on the part of the galand government, the violence unleashed by ga miscreants with the blessings of the government and the huge tracts of Assam’s territory encroached by galand, this is perhaps the best solution one can think of. At the same time, it is difficult to overlook the long years wasted by both the States on senseless disputes, the misery of those thrown out of their own homes in Assam territory by the gas and the lives of 161 innocent people lost at the hands of ga miscreants. The border dispute is, by now, more than half a century old and even the origil suit was filed in the Supreme Court 28 years. And even though the origil suit has reached the trial stage, there is understandable concern about how much longer a resolution might take and whether those wrongfully and forcibly evicted from their own homes will ever be able to return to where they belonged and whether the 59,159.77 hectares of Assam’s territory illegally encroached by galand ever be returned to Assam. It is well known that our legal system is painfully slow and that our initiatives relating to arbitration are not any speedier. In both legal and arbitration processes there is a marked disregard of the fact that such delays actually constitute denials of fundamental rights ensured to us by our Constitution. It is high time our politicians, who are past masters at the game delay and dither, realized the great injustice that they do to common people by deliberately refusing to resolve disputes that affect their lives.