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Complexities of Assam, Nagaland boundary dispute

Assam and Nagaland exploring an out of the court settlement to a decades-old boundary dis pute between the two states are laudable, but a permanent solution will remain elusive until the conclusion of the ongoing Naga peace talks.

Assam, Nagaland

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  28 Jan 2022 3:47 AM GMT

Assam and Nagaland exploring an out of the court settlement to a decades-old boundary dis pute between the two states are laudable, but a permanent solution will remain elusive until the conclusion of the ongoing Naga peace talks. The areas claimed by the Nagaland government overlaps with the map of 'Nagalim' of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the NSCN(IM) has been insisting that the final solution to be arrived at after the conclusion of the ongoing Naga peace talks must apply to all Naga-inhabited areas under 'Nagalim.' The two states getting an assurance from the Central government that the Naga peace accord will not lead to redrawing the boundaries settled mutually by the two states will be vital to proceed for an out-of-the-court settlement. Settling the boundary dispute between two neighbouring states without further delay is critical to ending the uncertainties gripping the people on both sides of the boundary due to the recurrence of incidents of violent clashes, skirmishes, intimidation by armed miscreants. A civil suit filed by the Assam government in 1988 pending before the Supreme Court for three decades speaks volumes about the legal complexities. The complexities of the boundary disputes between the two states are rooted in a set of notifications issued by the colonial British government. The Nagaland Government has been insisting on "historical boundaries" while the Assam government insists on "Constitutional boundaries" which left no room for resolution of the dispute. Two years after its creation as a full-fledged state, Nagaland raised the dispute in 1965 and requested the Central government to set up a boundary commission for redrawing the boundaries. Assam has been insisting on retaining the constitutional boundaries defined in the 1962 State of Nagaland Act. The Act defines Nagaland boundaries comprising Naga Hills district of Assam created in 1866 defined in a notification in 1925 and Tuensang areas defined in the Naga Hill- Tuensang Areas Act, 1957. Nagaland has been insisting on the transfer of 12,882 sq. km of Assam's land and claims that these areas were excluded by the British government while notifying the Naga areas "without the consent" of Naga people. The Assam government claims in official data furnished on the floor of the Assam Assembly that over 55,000 hectares of land are under encroachment of Nagaland. In 1960, the Naga People's Convention in its 16-point memorandum to the Government of India included the claim over areas that they alleged were excluded by the Colonial government. While negotiations between the NPC and the Government of India led to the creation of Nagaland in 1963, the boundary demarcation was done without settling the Nagas' claim over those areas. The Assam government pleaded in its suit before the Supreme Court to direct the Government of India to give effect to Report of the Sundaram Committee constituted by the Centre in 1971 and implement the report of Shastri Commission instituted to probe the 1985 Merapani clashes "for giving Assam full administrative control over areas within its constitutional boundary". Nagaland rejected both the reports as the Sundaram Committee found Nagaland's claims unsustainable except in the case of Dessoi valley reserve forest while the Shastri Commission justified the Assam government's claim of authority and control over areas within its existing constitutional boundaries. The Nagaland government has the mandate of the Nagaland Assembly to explore out of court settlement of the boundary dispute. Nagaland Assembly last year constituted a ten-member Select Committee and unanimously resolved outside the court by involving local communities on both sides of the boundary. The Assam government will also be under pressure to seek the prior mandate of the Assam Assembly before committing an 'out-of-the-court settlement' as the case filed by the Assam Government is pending before the Supreme Court and is in the trial stage. Negotiating the rights over reserve forests along the 512-km-long boundary between the two states and claim over natural resources in these forests and mineral resources along disputed boundaries to lay claim for a share of royalties will be crucial in settling the boundary dispute. The boundary dispute cannot be kept pending for an uncertain period and any initiative to resolve it is always welcome. Resolution of the dispute will help strengthen the age-old bond between people in both states. Transparency in the entire process will reduce the anxiety of people living along disputed stretches of inter-state boundaries and the opinion of people will also help the Assam government to articulate a pragmatic response. Even after the two states reached an agreement to settle the boundary, apprehension of the final peace accord to be signed by the Government of India with NSCN (IM) and other Naga rebel groups leading to fresh alteration will continue to grip the people living on the Assam side of the boundary. Only a clear assurance from the Central Government that boundary settled mutually by the two states will not be affected by the final peace accord to be signed with Naga rebel groups can remove such apprehension.

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