Assam and Meghalaya on Friday decided to set up two regional committees, each headed by a cabinet minister, to resolve the vexed border issue between the North-eastern neighbours, chief ministers of the two states said.
The five-member panels of the two states will initially aim at resolving the border disputes in a phased manner in six of the 12 disputed sides, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad Sangma told a joint press conference held after both the governments held talks on the issue in Guwahati.
If there is a need to redraw the borders, though chances are slim, both the state governments would recommend it to the Centre, Sarma said.
The committees headed by a cabinet minister will have bureaucrats and maybe a local representative as members and they will visit the disputed sites, interact with the civil society members and complete the discussions within 30 days, Sarma said.
“From Assam side, there is no dispute regarding the sites but the Meghalaya government claims that certain territories in these 12 sites belong to them. The talks held by both the governments here today took certain decisions to facilitate further discussions to resolve the vexed problem,” Sarma said.
The Meghalaya Chief Minister pointed out that both the state governments were very clear that they want a solution to the problem as it has been long pending while the people in these areas have suffered a lot.
“There is a strong political will to resolve these areas of differences and both the governments have decided to do so by being respectful to each other,” Sangma said.
The strategy that both the governments decided was to deal with the areas of differences in a phased manner as “some areas are less complicated, some a little more and some very complicated”.
Five aspects to be considered while resolving the disputes are historical facts, ethnicity, administrative convenience, mood and sentiments of the people concerned and the contiguity of the land, he said.
The six sites taken up in the first phase are Tarabari, Gijang, Hahim, Baklapara, Khanapara-Pilingkata and Ratacherra as the disputes there are not complicated and the committees will hold deliberations to narrow down the differences, Sarma said.
The areas fall in Cachar, Kamrup Metro and Kamrup Rural in the Assam side and West Khasi Hills, Ri Bhoi district and East Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya.
“Our job at the chief ministers’ level will be to authenticate the resolutions or to step in if the differences still exist and we will move on to the remaining six areas of disputes”, the Assam Chief Minister said.
Asked whether there was any possibility of the borders being redrawn, Sarma said, “It is not likely as the problem is of perception with Meghalaya claiming that some villages are legitimately theirs while we are saying it is not. Basically, we have to align the perceptions to resolve the disputes”.
If, however, in the process it is felt that there is a need to redraw the borders, “both the state governments will recommend it to the Centre as the Constitution permits only the Parliament to decide on the boundaries”, he said.
To a query about Assam’s border disputes with other North-eastern states, Sarma said that there can be no general formula to resolve the issues.
The dispute with Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are pending in the Supreme Court, the Assam CM said.
With Meghalaya and Mizoram, there is no litigation and the matter can be resolved through mutual negotiations, he said.
“Assam is in touch with Arunachal Pradesh to explore if any out of court settlement by mutual trust and confidence is possible but in the case of Nagaland, we are in favour of maintaining the status quo,” Sarma said.
When asked if a permanent solution to the problem was possible before Meghalaya’s 50 years of statehood next year, Sangma said, “it would be ideal but it is not so simple. Nevertheless, we will try to resolve it by working in a positive manner, by adopting a give and take approach, and by taking into consideration, the existing realities”.
“It is the duty of the leadership to give it a try and we want to assure the people of both the states that we are trying to find a way forward,” he asserted.
The meeting held here was a follow-up of the July 23 meet between the two Chief Ministers at Shillong.
Both the state governments gave presentations highlighting their perspectives on the border dispute.
Meghalaya was carved out of Assam as a separate state in 1972 and it had challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971 leading to disputes related to 12 areas in different parts of the shared 884.9 km long border.