Dispur needs to back border district officials
At last the Assam government is showing some gumption in safeguarding the State’s borders. Dispur has now made it clear that district officials will be held responsible if there is any further encroachment by neighbouring States. This has come about after a high-level State government team visited Behali Reserve Forest in Sonitpur district recently. Behali has been a flashpoint after armed miscreants from Aruchal Pradesh killed a woodcutter on the Assam side a few days back, igniting tension in the area. This is the same area where border clashes over encroachment last year claimed 15 lives and left many others injured. There is now a move to set up a camp of the Forest Protection Force in Behali on the Assam side of the border. After the recent spell of violence, Chief Ministers Tarun Gogoi and bam Tuki were on the hotline, striking the right notes to defuse tension. Dispur may now put the onus of safeguarding State borders on officials of the districts concerned, but will it back their efforts on the ground to the hilt? Maging inter-state borders require respective State governments to show firmness, as well as act with foresight and finesse. This is where successive Assam governments have failed over the years, allowing border disputes with neighbouring States to fester and become intractable, while mostly neglecting security at the State borders and leaving residents in bordering areas at the mercy of encroaching marauders. This lack of spine has cost Assam dear, with almost 10,000 square kilometres of its area in 14 districts now disputed over encroachment allegations and counter-allegations with neighbours.
There are only around 80 border outposts to safeguard more than 3,000 km long border that Assam has with neighbouring States. Most of these outposts are under-manned with woeful infrastructure. The security personnel are poorly armed with hardly any transport while there is little scope to supply them with required logistics, given the dilapidated conditions or total absence of roads. As far as the Assam-Aruchal border is concerned, key border outposts at Likabali, Dimou, Bandardewa, Simoluguri, Dholpur, Chauldhowa, Balichang and other places have not been strengthened enough to guard against border incursions. Far more serious however, is the border dispute between Assam and galand which has claimed more than 160 lives since 1972. Golaghat has been the district worst affected, followed by Sivasagar, Karbi Anglong and Jorhat districts. As revealed by the State Parliamentary Affairs Minister in Assam Assembly last March, over 59,000 hectares of land belonging to the State, is presently under encroachment of galand. The Supreme Court is now hearing a case filed by the Assam government seeking a permanent solution to the boundary dispute, but it all depends how strongly Dispur argues its case in the apex court.
The major problem for Assam has been the agreement in 1979 signed by its the government with the galand government, under which a ‘neutral force’ was deployed at sectors A, B, C and D in Golaghat district. But with this so-called neutral force mostly siding with the district administration on the galand side, Dispur effectively lost control over this long section of the Golaghat border for the last 35 years. The Diphu, mbor, Rengma and Doiyang reserved forests in these four Golaghat sectors have been under heavy pressure from ga encroachers. After the reverse at Merapani in 1985 in which several Assam battalion personnel lost their lives, Dispur learnt no lessons and has been on virtual retreat ever since. Border disputes between Assam and Meghalaya too at Lampi, Jirikinding, Khanduli and other places have bedevilled relations between the two sister States with Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s official residence itself at Koidhara supposedly in disputed territory. It is high time Dispur takes firm and long-term steps to guard the State’s borders on the ground while pro-actively moving to settle border disputes by taking it up with neighbouring State capitals.